The short-list for 2010′s PFA Player Of The Year (Drogba, Rooney, Fabregas and Tevez) contained four of the Premier League’s most talented and proven names. This year’s short-list for the same award, however, highlighted the poor showing from many of the Premier League’s top stars as they were all absent. In their place were unfashionable players, basically the type that don’t usually get nominated for awards. So it begs the question, where were the stars, why were Rooney, Drogba, Terry, A.Cole, Gerrard, Lampard, Torres, Fabregas and co. not present on the short-list?
Midway through last season’s Premier League season, a previously inconsistent and anonymous Nasri in years past, was evidently performing at a level above everyone else at that time. This got me thinking, why didn’t Nasri get selected for the France World Cup 2010 squad? From that point, I speculated that perhaps he was excelling because he didn’t get selected. So while the supposed stars of the Premier League participated in the World Cup, straight off the back of a tiring domestic season, Nasri was afforded a lengthy post season break. Leaving him fresh for the 2010-2011 league season.
With the exception of Van Persie and van der Vaart, as they also both benefited from sustained rest periods themselves (the first through injuries and the second with a winter break at Real Madrid), the only attacking Premiership player that you could emphatically state had a good season and also went to the World Cup is Tevez.
I believe the players were tired and burned out due to the lack of a Premier League winter break coupled with the 2010 World Cup. This is the main reason for the lacklustre performances of the other top Premiership players last season. The player goal and assist statistics (table 1 above) suggest not — with an overall drop in goals scored and assists credited when comparing the seasons before and after the last World Cup. The fact is that all the star names that underperformed in the Premier League last season also happened to be present at the World Cup. It’s the one thing they share in common.
Although it’s not just below par players. This season’s two biggest under-performing Premier League teams, Chelsea and Liverpool, are also the two teams that sent the most players to the 2010 World Cup with 12 each.
England underperformed themselves at last year’s World Cup (as did most of the Premier League based players) and the players that made up that England squad continued to falter throughout the 2010-11 Premiership season. Within that squad, Crouch, Rooney, Defoe, Heskey, Gerrard, Lampard, Milner, Lennon, Johnson, J.Cole, Carrick, Upson and Ferdinand were definitely inferior versions of their usual selves. The other squad members I don’t feel I’m in a position to judge accurately, but none of them stand out as having performed at the level I’m used to seeing from them in previous years.
In recent years England’s players have consistently failed to carry their club form over to the national team in major International tournaments. I’m of the opinion that part of the reason for this is because they are mentally and physically drained at the end of every Premier League season.
With the quadruple handicap of a frantically paced and more physically demanding Premier League game, no winter break, more domestic competitions than the rest of the major European leagues leading to fixture congestion, and then international tournaments, it’s no wonder they’re exhausted. With all that, not only do the players lack the energy to perform at their optimum during the post season International tournaments, but the lack of an uninterrupted mid-season or post season break noticeably hinders their performance levels for the following league season.
This goes to explain why this past Premier League season has been about the lesser teams and the lesser players, and perhaps why Manchester United won the Premier League title with only 80 points, the joint lowest points total for a league winner in 12 years. Last season’s Premier League was more exciting than we’ve come to expect, but that came at an expense, the expense of quality. The big stars fizzled, coming off the back of the previous league season and straight from the 2010 World Cup without adequate rest. This created the condition for a level playing field, with the lesser players, the underdogs, able to outperform the established. This lead to a tighter contested league, and the top teams winning with fewer points than usual..
In an effort to up the quality of the Premier League and improve the England national team, there needs to be a winter break (as repeatedly called for by previous England managers Capello and Eriksson). A mid-season break could be accommodated by revamping the Carling Cup. You could do this by authorizing that Premier League teams can only use reserve and U-21 players in the League Cup. Most Premier League teams use the Carling Cup to field fringe players and as a testing ground for youth players anyway, so I see no harm in enforcing that they all do it. Plus I see it as a diluted version of the FA Cup anyway. I mean what does it offer that the FA Cup doesn’t? Without the Carling Cup this would then mean Premier League first teams have two domestic competitions to concentrate on, which is in-line with the other major European leagues, who do have a winter break, do. With this new set-up, the yearly football calendar could then allocate space for a break of at least 2 weeks midway through the Premier League season, which would act as a winter break.
Whatever the solution, something has to change. Otherwise the quality of the Premier League and its most talented players will continue to suffer, as will the England team at major tournaments. It’s insane to expect players to perform at their best throughout the whole season and the World Cup or European Championships, without any rest breaks in-between. Einstein stated “insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results”. But isn’t that exactly what we are asking of Premier League and England players by not granting them a winter break but still demanding they play at their best for the whole season?
Editor’s note: Read more of David’s articles at www.footiegambler.com