LONDON: England manager Sven-Goran Eriksson says he wants his players to have a four-week break between the end of next season and the start of the European Championship – they might be lucky to get four days.
European football is in meltdown.
The “winter game” is now a non-stop merry-go-round and governing bodies FIFA and UEFA, who could be preventing it, instead appear to be at the root of the problem.
Between them the two Swiss-based organisations could have inflated a fleet of hot air balloons with their talk of the need to limit and control the amount of football being played.
In the so-called fallow year of 2003 – between the World Cup and the European Championship – FIFA have asked eight nations, including two from Europe, to take part in the third Confederations Cup.
It is a competition that very few, except FIFA president Sepp Blatter, welcome.
Club and international managers, the exhausted players, the fans and even TV companies have had little good to say about the tournament.
Despite the presence of world champions Brazil and European champions France, it carries about as much prestige as the now-defunct Anglo-Italian Cup.
Not content with that, FIFA want to fill the next fallow year – 2005 – with a repeat dose of another unloved competition, the Club World Championship.
European governing body UEFA are at least against that event but they have their own responsibilities having allocated June 7 and 11 2003 as dates for Euro 2004 qualifying games – a month, for example, after the English Premier League finished.
The Spanish First Division does not end until June 22 with the Cup final on June 28 and the Second Division finally grinding to a halt a day this side of July.
By then the Intertoto Cup, now turned into something money-hungry clubs want to play in because of its three UEFA Cup places, will have been in full swing for nine days.
All Europe’s leading teams will have had their players back in training long before then.
The French and German leagues kick off on Aug 2, with England two weeks behind them.
The new “slimmed-down” Champions League begins its qualifying competition on July 16, ending 10 months later with the final in Gelsenkirchen on May 26.
Those players lucky enough to have made it to Germany will probably immediately join their international squads preparing for Euro 2004, which kicks off in Portugal on June 12.
It ends on July 4, just in time for the following season’s Intertoto and Champions League qualifiers to start all over again.
While the governing bodies have failed to control the spread of summer football, the big clubs are hardly blameless.
Managers and players complain about burn-out and an increasing injury count, only for their clubs to send them on pre-season tours to Asia and north America in a bid to “capture the market”.
Players of all levels need time for their weary bodies to recover from a long, hard season.
They also need a mental break from the game. Even the keenest player can become stale after 12 months of the same relentless regime and surroundings.
Everyone, including FIFA and UEFA know it, yet the problem gets worse year by year.
There is an easy solution – no club or international football in June or July unless it is the World Cup or European Championship.
The chances of that happening are about the same as Eriksson getting his wish – nil. – Reuters