As the country where football originated, and having one of the most watched top football leagues, the world’s eyes are always pointed towards England whenever there’s a big tournament coming up.
The expectations are always set high, but ever since they won the World Cup in 1966, England’s side struggled with living up to those expectations.
In 1986 Maradona ended England’s dreams with his Hand of God goal. (https://www.theguardian.com/football/blog/2014/apr/08/world-cup-moments-maradona-hand-god)
At France 1998, again facing Argentina, David Beckham got sent off with a red card which preluded the end of that campaign. (https://www.sportskeeda.com/football/iconic-world-cup-moments-david-beckham-red-card-kicking-diego-simeone)
And 20 years after missing the WC in the US, 2014 might be seen as England’s statistically worst World Cup performance ever, ending up with just one point after two losses to Uruguay and Italy and a goalless draw with Costa Rica in a dead rubber.
But now there’s Russia 2018.
The official tournament draw felt like a slice of dreamland for Gareth Southgate, with Belgium, Tunisia and Panama in their group. From an historical perspective, it really could not have been better – given that on only one occasion since records began have any of the three actually beaten England: Belgium, in a friendly on May 9, 1936, when it went 3-2 to the home side in Rotterdam. (http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sport/football/article-5137175/World-Cup-2018-verdict-History-Englands-side.html#ixzz5FBRsS2DZ)
So will 2018 finally be England’s year to shine at the world’s biggest football stage?
Maybe, because there might be a very important opponent they did not yet take into account…
Why the Premier League’s lack of a winter break might undermine England’s performance at Russia 2018
Burnout? Yes, burnout.
This is why: The Premier League suffers fixture congestion.
The Premier League started on August 11th and ended on May 13th. All the players from England’s National team play in the Premier League. Including the pre-season this means continuous training and playing during 10-11 months, without a winter break, which is a big external factor to take into account.
This affects the players fitness and freshness in the run-up to the World Cup hugely… which compares to having a (temporary) after-season-burnout.
The situation is even worse for the players of Manchester United, Chelsea and Liverpool. Man U and Chelsea played the FA Cup final on May 19th, and Liverpool played the Champions League final on May 26th. This equals respectively 1 and 2 more weeks added to the season, which means again less time to regain freshness after the season.
I don’t say you have to change X-mas football, but minimum a 1-2 week break somewhere in December or January – like in all other European top competitions – in combination with 3 recovery days between all League, Cup and European games would surely mean a big difference. Players deserve better.
How England’s staff should tackle this after-season-burnout
- Adjust World Cup training sessions to the player’s lack of freshness
A World Cup preparation doesn’t start at the first training session right before the tournament. It starts already weeks, months and years prior. The lack of a player’s freshness thus means a huge external factor with negative consequences for England’s side.
In general, you can say that players in the national selection for a tournament are fit but they lack freshness after a long season. It’s all about regaining that freshness while maintaining fitness.
Given all possible recovery strategies that you can apply; the right planning of training sessions is the biggest thing what the coaching staff will have to take into account, because there’s the fact that players will be extremely fatigued… and the right planning will provide fit, fresh and injury free players at the start of and during the tournament.
Advice: during the mini-preparation for the World Cup, it’s best to do 1 short and sharp training session a day. Quality above quantity! To absolutely avoid: double sessions, conditioning sessions, or limiting the free days between the season and the preparation for the World Cup.
- Individual periodisation within the team periodisation is necessary
Every player’s situation is different. This means it’s extremely important to plan the maximal amount of rest days, to give certain players more days off and/or to ‘save’ some players during the first friendly against Nigeria on June 2nd.
Never train with a fatigued player. The same principles apply during the World Cup.
And of course there has to be an important focus on applying optimal recovery strategies like sleep, active recovery, optimization of a player’s biorhythm, nutrition, hydration and supplementation.
- Travel fatigue is a real thing to take into account
England has their base camp situated 40 km (about a one hour drive) outside of Saint-Petersburg. During their 3,5 hour flight (2500 km) from London to Saint-Petersburg, they will cross 2 time zones.
England however is one of the only teams that won’t play a ‘home game’ in their base camp city… and therefore they will have to fly to a different city for each game, even after the group phase!
Teams can’t avoid travelling, and travelling in itself is fatiguing, so the only thing they can control (and influence) is the way to deal with it.
It’s smart to train first and travel second. Training after travelling is risky: you’ll then train more tired because you’ve traveled.
During Champions League, Europa League or any tournament, most teams prefer/have to train in the stadium in the evening on the day before the game. That means you’ll have to travel two days before the game or to travel first and train second on the day before the game.
Some players will experience travel fatigue, which results in for example stiff hamstrings or other restraints. Start your training with an extensive warming-up and watch out during shooting exercises.
Freshness will determine World Cup success, not fitness
After a long season without a winter break, making sure the players regain their optimal freshness by the start of the World Cup and retain it during will be the key to success for England.
But, although external factors (like an exhausting season without a winter break) can have their effect, they can never be used as an excuse after losing a game, after players get injured or if the team performed poorly.
It's all about how you deal with external factors to keep your team fit, fresh and injury free at all times… which is a staff’s responsibility.