The Antagonist - Domestic demands have ravaged England
Published: 28 May 2010 - 07:13:39
The optimism that followed England's impressive performances in World Cup qualifying is beginning to dissipate into genuine concern that we are going into the Finals carrying the burden of an overly congested domestic season - which has left our top players physically and mentally shot.
It continues to worry me that the ravages of life in the Premier League have left their physical scars on at least 10 players who could possibly be in Fabio's potential starting line-up.
Rio Ferdinand, Ledley King, Ashley Cole, Glen Johnson, Joe Cole, Steve Gerrard, Gareth Barry (scan permitting), Theo Walcott, Aaron Lennon and Wayne Rooney have all suffered, and often played through, debilitating injuries this season, some of which could well resurface under the stress of a major tournament.
From a psychological perspective, I sensed a distinct impression of apathy and staleness amongst the team against Mexico on Monday and, Johnson's goal aside, a genuine lack of creativity and urgency which would have seen them suffer at the hands of quality opposition.
Pre-tournament friendlies like this are notorious for proving nothing. Their function appears to be a way of scaling down the squad from 30 to 23 by eliminating those who underperform.
Of course, the counter argument is that they identify those who are making a late run for the squad but in the Mexico match this proved to be an irrelevance. Carrick, Baines and Milner were disappointing and two of these can probably book their holidays for next week. The rest just about did enough against technically skilful, but ultimately toothless, opposition.
Why not pick your 23 straightaway and use the friendly matches in a more meaningful way? After all, Capello and his associates have had a whole season to evaluate players in club games. He should be brave enough to make his final decision on that basis.
An individual player can have a 'mare' in any particular game just as, for no particular reason, on another occasion, everything he touches turns to gold (witness Walcott against Croatia). Is it sensible, therefore to base a player's selection on a performance in a meaningless friendly?
The 'squad trimming' exercise can also have a detrimental effect on team morale during the period of uncertainty preceding the cull, and a devastating effect on those rejected at the eleventh hour. It's all totally unnecessary and, in most cases, merely delaying the inevitable.
Many of the players have been under enough stress throughout the season and to add to this pressure by introducing an X Factor type scenario can, surely, only be counterproductive.
On the whole, I agree with Fabio's more regimented, disciplined approach in the build up to South Africa but, I feel he has to take into account that the players need a bit of a break now and again. I have written before in this blog about peaks and troughs in form and fitness. Top sides get this timing right and gradually crank up the pressure as the tournament progresses.
Hopefully, Fabio will appreciate the need for his players to recharge their batteries and regain their appetites for the game by occasionally setting aside the boot camp mentality and allowing time for some harmless frivolity.
Unfortunately, I don't think 'frivolity' figures in Mr Capello's limited grasp of the English language and is a concept as alien to his psyche as rain dancing was for his predecessor.
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