“Germany are always in good condition at World Cups because the Bundesliga is suspended for a month. In Italy, Spain and other countries they have two weeks, but in England it is impossible because we have four competitions. Other countries have three, but in England all the competitions are really hard and the same teams arrive at the final. They are the teams with the best players, and they are the players I need.”
This explanation seems to have more merit after a fresher England squad easily disposed of Bulgaria and Switzerland in its first two European qualifying matches. Tor-Kristian Karlsen, a respected soccer consultant\pundit\twitter addict, tweeted after England’s 3-1 victory over Switzerland Tuesday, “personal opinion: the international calendar is out of sync with the form cycle of british players. wc failure due to jaded squad.” London Times soccer writer Oliver Kay responded to Karlsen’s tweet by simply stating, “Agreed.”
Can England’s failure at the World Cup really be pinned on its domestic league?
There is anecdotal evidence supporting the “England was just too tired” theory. Premiership players from other nations struggled at the World Cup (Fernando Torres). Like Capello said, the EPL doesn’t have a mid-season break like the Bundesliga.
But these are just anecdotes; it’s just as easy to come up with anecdotal rebuttals. Diego Forlan and Wesley Sneijder played an awful lot of club football last year and they were pretty good in South Africa. Bayern Munich played 27 matches after Jan. 15, Manchester United played 21 and United’s season ended two weeks earlier.
In short, anecdotes can be spun both ways.
The biggest problem I have with blaming the Premiership on England’s failed World Cup is I’m not sure if the premise is true. Are we positive the Premiership is the most demanding European league? Is it really significantly more difficult to play at Chelsea than Barcelona? A lot of people say it is; the EPL doesn’t have a break and from top-to-bottom it has the best players (in my opinion). But I can’t prove this. I’m just making a reasonable guess the EPL is the most demanding league and I’m self-aware enough to realize reasonable guesses are often wrong.
This is the problem with objective soccer analysis in general. In American sports, we’re used to having a mountain of statistics to help us compare two players, or how one strategy is more likely to succeed than another. For example, we know Albert Pujols is a better baseball player than Justin Morneau, this isn’t up for debate. But we don’t really know if Nemanja Vidic is a better center defender than, say, Thomas Vermaelen. One might think he is and one might be able to put together a convincing argument, but they don’t know it.
Of course, just because you don’t know something to be true, doesn’t mean you can’t have a strong opinion. Circumstantial evidence can still lead to a conviction. But in the case of the Premier League being at fault for England’s 2010 World Cup, I find the evidence sorely lacking. The European club schedule is hard on everyone, not just English clubs. England didn’t play to its potential, but maybe it was because Fabio Capello didn’t prepare the squad properly, maybe England wins its groups and goes deep in the knockout stages if Robert Green doesn’t commit his blunder, maybe Germany was just way better. I might not know the single reason (if there is one), but I can confidently say the Premier League season wasn’t it.