England’s woeful performance in South Africa has reignited the debate surrounding season lengths in the UK and Europe. Could player fatigue be the excuse every fan so desperately needs? Not unless you include Maicon and Xavi, argues Robert Collins.
The 2009-2010 campaign saw the majority of the England squad played between 40 and 60 games,leading some to question whether the demands of the English football calendar have taken their toll on their international performances. That football has reached saturation point in terms of coverage is undoubtedly true, but it would be a mistake to claim that some nations suffer more than others because of demanding fixture programs .
Read through the England squad, and it is difficult to see why so many believe that they have suffered from the amount of football they have played. 5 of the final 23 turned out for Spurs last season, who had the benefit of a large squad, and had no European fixtures. Chelsea’s contingent exited the Champions League early, leaving the final months of the season relatively fixture light in comparison to seasons past.
Conversely, Fulham’s season lasted a full 10 months en route to the UEFA Cup final, yet Clint Dempsey had a vibrant tournament whilst also managing to play the Confederations Cup in 2009, resulting in close to 2 years of constant football.
Looking at the squads that have performed well at the World Cup , it is noticeable that the large majority of the squads are likely to have played more than their English counterparts at both domestic and international level. Brazil faced the grueling South American qualifying campaign, the Confederations Cup, and their star turns playing a full season of European football. Maicon and Lucio, for instance, completed a treble with Inter, under the demands of close to 3 years non-stop football.
Equally, Barcelona have provided an impressive number of players Spain’s march to the final. Xavi and Puyol have had to contend with deep runs in the Champions League 2 years running, a Euro 2008 win, a clean sweep of tournaments in 2009, and appearances at the Confederations Cup. Both have maintained a high level of performance throughout.
It is also worth bearing in mind that a huge number of players at the World Cup are employed in Europe, and therefore face largely similar fixture lists to their counterparts. Wesley Schneijder may well finish as Golden Boot winner, having completed a tiring campaign for Inter Milan.
FIFA have learnt from their mistake of the Japan/South Korea Cup in 2002, where they scheduled the tournament on a distant continent, unrealistically close to the climax of the European season. South Africa 2010 started a full month after the close of most European leagues, where the majority of players in the tournament ply their trade. As a result it is not unreasonable to expect that players are relatively fresher compared to tournaments gone by.
That the game has become more physically demanding cannot be disputed. Studies have documented the rise in distance covered by players in contemporary football compared to 25 years ago, with players now covering between 10 and 12 kilometres compared to 5 kilometres in the 70s and 80s. However, this must also be taken in the context of improved physical preparation and fitness – something that the Brazilians have excelled at for decades.
Rather than focusing on the amount of games that players are required to play, perhaps it may also be sensible to look closer to home, and consider whether many nations are being left behind in the race to be fit.