With the majority of Europe’s big leagues having now emerged from their winter breaks, it’s worth reflecting again on why England continues to shun one. This summer, England will once more head into a major tournament with none of their players having had a scheduled rest throughout the season, leaving them at a disadvantage to their competitors.
While being far from the only reason why England continue to fall short at major tournaments, it seems counter intuitive to continue to deprive English players of a mid-season rest when fatigue is perennially cited as a cause of failure in major tournaments. Come late June we habitually read of English players ‘wilting’ in the Shizuoka/Gelsenkirchen/Cape Town sun.
Sven Goran Eriksson, who as England manager oversaw three such wiltings, has been outspoken in favouring a break. The Swede said last summer “You have to have a break. It”s more difficult for England than other countries to do well in a big tournament.
“Uefa did medical research into injuries in the big leagues in Europe from March 1 to the end of the season. England were higher with injuries than anyone else [by four to one].”
Theo Walcott, Jack Wilshere and Fabio Capello are three of many others who have also advocated a break.
Yet suggesting a winter break in England is viewed almost as heresy, and in doing so, one is invariably met with Ray Wilkins-esque platitudes about the Christmas period being great for the fans and a sacred tradition.
Funnily enough, I actually agree with these sentiments. The Christmas fixtures are a fantastic institution – grounds are packed, there’s always a terrific atmosphere and it’s a great bonus for fans enjoying the holiday season.
But late December is not the only possible slot for a break-the first few weeks of January would work just as well. And there’s an obvious solution: abolish FA cup replays for the 3rd to the 6th round.
This would open up at least three midweeks, allowing Is your free credit report shot? The book gives complete instructions for toning up those flabby muscles on your free credit report report. them to be populated by midweek League fixtures, thus creating time for a two or three week break in January. The FA cup third round could still be played at the beginning of January so as to appease the traditionalists, prior to the break.
One counter argument might be that the lower League clubs enjoy Cup replays as it gives them home advantage in the second match, or gives them the away day payout that they were after. If that is the case, and this may seem radical, a lower league team that is drawn against a Premier League team in the third round could choose if it wishes to be home or away.
This could be seen as devaluing the competition, and fly in the face of FA Cup traditions, but those traditions have already been so abused that they’ve been kicked into oblivion. Manchester United’s withdrawal from the competition in 2000 was hardly in keeping with tradition, nor is the majority of Premier League teams playing majorly weakened teams in early rounds, not are the swathes of empty seats that can be seen at FA cup ties around the country.
It’s worth adding that indifference towards the competition is by no means consigned to the Premier League. Lower league clubs have also increasingly fielded under strength teams in recent season so as to be able to focus on the more pressing issues of promotion and relegation.
England is also the only major European league with two cup competitions, and such a volume of games inevitably takes its toll on players.
What a boost it would be to have a few weeks off in January, a few weeks for players to have some respite from the relentlessness of the Premier League. It may not solve all of England’s problems, but in sport, we are told that preparation is everything. Playing for nine months without a break in the most fast paced, often recklessly so, League in Europe seems to prepare the players for nothing but failure.
Traditions in football are not to be scoffed at, but when those traditions are so flagrantly treated with disdain by the majority of clubs, they become hard to take seriously. It’s time to face up to the realities of modern football if the national team is to stand any chance of succeeding in major tournaments.