Atlanta (CNN) - As the road to the 2012 European Championship begins with a ludicrously timed set of international friendlies that come too soon after the World Cup and too close to the start of the European club season, English football is in a quandary.
The English Premier League prides itself, rightly or wrongly, on being the best league in the world, yet the abject failure of the England team at the World Cup made it the laughing stock of the tournament. And it wasn’t just because Fabio Capello’s men underachieved, it was because so much of England’s failure was self-inflicted.
At club level, the physicality of the English game is unmatched. And, at the pace and intensity it demands, you just can’t play football for 11 months of the year and expect to stay fresh. But still, that’s what the England players are required to do, and will continue to do until the powerbrokers in the English game put aside their egos and mercenary mentalities.
Clubs can help by resisting the lure of the lucre and bringing an end to their increasingly expansive pre-season tour schedules. Manchester United, for example, played seven matches in 22 days in five different countries by way of preparation for their Premier League opener. Add to that the pointless midweek internationals and that’s an awful lot of low-stakes football being played even before the start of the “long hard season” so often blamed for the England team's failure.
And it's not just an English problem. I mean, ask yourself, aside from Argentina's Carlos Tevez and Cesc Fabregas, who played a bit-part role for Spain, how many other English-based players shone in South Africa? Answer – none!
Personally, I share the view of the Tottenham boss Harry Redknapp, who bemoaned the lack of time for pre-season training. After all, in terms of match play, how much of a tune-up do you need when you’ve hardly had to time to wind down?
The Premier League could do its part by following the example of countries like Germany, Spain and Italy by introducing a winter break. Or, at the very least, putting an end to the tradition of intensifying the English league program over the Christmas holidays. Presumably, the aim is to cash-in on the season of excess by playing as many games as possible over the festive period. But that idea was born during leaner times for English football.
According to the Annual Review of Football Finance from the Sport Business Group at Deloitte, Premier League clubs are defying the global recession with revenues tipped to rise to £2.2 billion in the upcoming season. Therefore, stuffing the schedule like a Christmas turkey is unnecessary. What’s more, football is ubiquitous in the 21st century so there’s no need to binge. Surely a couple of weeks off could have a rejuvenating effect on players and fans alike, with benefits at club and international level.
Finally, the powers that be in English football have to become more united and less self-serving. At present, the English game is governed by the Premier League, the Football League and the Football Association. That’s three sets of suits, each with a vested interest, only one of which – the F.A. – has the success of the national team as a top priority.
That would be fine if the nation was ambivalent about international success, but the English are not. National pride comes not from the trophies lifted by the cosmopolitan ranks of Manchester United, Chelsea or Arsenal, but from England doing well.
Yet the players and manager are expected to achieve at international level within a system that’s counterproductive to their success. It’s a club football feast and an international famine, and until they set the balance right or abandon all pretence of England being a title contender the sniggers will continue.