England’s stars may have been watching the European Championships from their living rooms in sadness and disbelief this past summer, but their pain could turn to gain when the new Premier League season gets underway this weekend.
After woefully dismal failures against Russia, Macedonia and twice Croatia in their qualifying campaign, the nation’s heroes had turned to zeros in a matter of months. Of course, Rio Ferdinand and his fellow English Manchester United teammates went on to achieve something very special with their club following their embarrassing contribution to the country’s footballing hopes, but heartache would still have been felt throughout the weeks of June.
Watching the tournament may not have been such a bad idea for England’s players, as they could have learned from the very best nations competing at the top of the international game, but some would have still attempted to get as far away as possible and recharge their batteries ahead of another grueling nine-month slog.
The experience is much better than that description if their team is successful, and to make sure that happens the most appropriate summer must be planned by the individual to get him in peak mental condition before preseason.
And whilst the majority of the best European players playing their trade for top clubs in the Premier League were battling it out at full throttle in Austria and Switzerland for three weeks, England’s footballers were relaxing at home or on a beach. They received more rest than their foreign friends, and began preseason right at the start. This head-start may just propel them into an absolutely rip-roaring campaign.
A determination to succeed after such failures may produce more moments of triumph for them as well, although the confidence gained by Spain’s heroes may well give them an even greater push. Liverpool could be in luck there.
Despite letting so many avid supporters down by crashing out of Euro 2008 before the main tournament had even begun, there is no doubt that England’s best players have world-class talent in their boots. We know this not because they have performed spectacularly on the international scene, but because they have done so for their clubs on a weekly basis. Why they cannot reproduce their best form for their country is a puzzle to be solved and resolved by Fabio Capello in the coming months.
To the average supporter, it seems as though England’s players feel much more comfortable and relaxed when they play for their clubs, and this allows them to express themselves more often and to better effect. They also form the spine of the team in a number of cases, giving them more responsibility on the park and more opportunity to take the leading role. Steven Gerrard is the perfect example of this, as he constantly drives Liverpool forward in search of goals, while for England he has to contend with a more restrained role alongside the likes of under-performing Frank Lampard — whose greatest attribute is also attacking.
Players have played better for their clubs for quite a number of years now, but this season their domestic performances might be even better than ever before. Fitter, more determined and better prepared individuals are more likely to succeed, and the country’s top clubs whose best English players were unusually training on the first day of preseason will be the lucky ones.
Chelsea and Manchester United showcased eight England internationals in the Champions League final in May, and all of them will be better prepared than their European counterparts for the first time in a while. Liverpool will also benefit, although Arsenal won’t.
The top three may well be stronger for that fact this season, and Arsenal may well struggle to keep up with them, let alone the likes of Tottenham and Aston Villa. Whilst foreign talent from the more successful Euro 2008 nations may take time to once more get into their stride early on, England’s fresh players will be raring to go with all guns blazing on the opening weekend in only a matter of days.
John Terry, Rio Ferdinand, Wayne Rooney, Steven Gerrard and co. may well prove to be the stars of this season in the Premier League. We can worry about their international form when those matches come around in September.