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Time for English football to break away from tradition?

The FA's chief David BernsteinEngland’s preparations for Euro 2012 have been hampered by the news that Frank Lampard will join fellow midfielder Gareth Barry in missing the tournament through injury while Scott Parker is doubtful to be fit.

This summer isn’t the first time England enter a major tournament at a disadvantage to their rivals but considering none of the squad have been rested during the season, isn’t it time The FA finally scheduled a Winter Break?

It’s been nearly a decade since Sven Goran Eriksson called for changes to be made but nothing has progressed since then other than England have endured more failure. The Swede’s recent evidence suggests the nation’s governing body should sit up and take notice.

“Owen Hargreaves was the fittest [in tests before the 2002 World Cup] because he had the long winter break [with Bayern Munich]. Uefa did medical research into injuries in the big leagues in Europe from March 1 to the end of the season and England were higher with injuries than anyone else. You don’t learn, because the Premier League want games to be played all the time. So people can watch it everywhere.”

The Premier League provides so much excitement that it draws the attention of fans from all over the world. It’s a global package that offers the most fast paced style of play in Europe yet for some reason England is the only country not to employ a Winter Break. How can the most physically demanding competition provide the least amount of recovery time? Wouldn’t it create an ever better standard of football if players were given more time to recuperate?

Fatigue may not be the only reason why England have often fallen short at International level but fans are used to hearing the standard set of biannual excuses claiming the players were jaded and couldn’t handle the heat. England physio Gary Lewin has endorsed better preparation and conditioning and feels that a Winter Break would have a big say in squad fitness.

“Ask the foreign coaches who come here and they’ll tell you that the physical demands of every game are identical. It doesn’t matter if you are playing Wigan or Manchester United – it will be demanding. With due respect to Spanish and Italian football, which technically are amazing, you watch some games and they are like testimonials. You could never say that about the Premier League. Every opponent will fight to the end.”

His comments raise an interesting point as Italy and Spain utilize a midseason break and both have enjoyed International success in recent years. History further demonstrates the importance of late season fitness for in the years their national teams were lifting trophies, their domestic clubs weren’t challenging in the final stages of any European competition. Lewin went on to echo Eriksson’s earlier sentiments.

“Uefa have even done studies which indicate that a player is four times more likely to be injured in the last three months in the Premier League than other leagues in Europe.

“That’s why, like a lot of coaches, I’m a strong advocate of the winter break. Even if you didn’t cut down on the number of games, it would help, mentally as well as physically.”

With so many experts citing the benefits experienced by other Leagues, it’s hard to understand why England wouldn’t implement a similar system but the biggest problem with any new format is where to place it in an already hectic calendar. Our fans enjoy a traditional jam packed festive period while other countries are at home putting their feet up and unlike the rest, England also has two domestic cups to accommodate.

There are other options, namely a January break perhaps after the FA Cup third round but traditionalists don’t approve. At least it would allow the Christmas fixtures to remain the same and at a time when the League Cup is drawing to a close, it would seem like the most obvious solution.

When players and coaches alike are all championing the same cause, it’s seems preposterous that the authorities would remain unmoved after so many years spent lamenting the same lacklustre performances. Former manager Fabio Capello was openly critical following 2010 World Cup.

“All the English players were really tired at this competition.

“I spoke with the coaches and they all told me the physical and mental situation of the players was not like the players we know.

“All the players were not as good as I know they are because they played not as fast and quick like in the other games.”

It means the last two coaches to lead the side at an International competition, plus the current national team physio, are all in agreement that the team have never been properly conditioned prior to a tournament. It’s a worrying trend that’s set to continue this summer and is something Roy Hodgson has already experienced firsthand given the amount of players who’ve already withdrawn through injury.

If England are to compete with the best nations then they must learn from their previous failures and follow the example set by the rest of Europe. Otherwise all our fans will be hearing come early July is the same old story of how Hodgson’s men were exhausted because the weather was too hot.

Should the FA schedule a winter break? Would it improve England’s chances at major tournaments?

Let me know your views and opinions by following me on twitter – Tweet me @Alex_Churcher

Article title: Time for English football to break away from tradition?

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