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John Brewin profile picture Posted by John Brewin
Jul 17, 2014

Winter break answer to fatigue issues

FC's Steve Nicol and Craig Burley react to Ashley Cole's comments regarding English players needing to play in Europe.

Lionel Messi ran out of gas and missed destiny's call. Cristiano Ronaldo was carrying an injury and could not carry Portugal. Spain's team finally showed the wear and tear of not having a proper summer off since 2007. While England's problems ran deeper than mere energy levels, they were leggy in each game, and especially after trying to play a high-tempo game in the Amazon.

Fatigue is little aid to invention. The ability required to pull off winning strategies and deliver key moments is best met when fresh. Mario Gotze's World Cup-winning goal was delivered by energetic legs and mind.

"We are empty," said Javier Mascherano post-match at the Maracana. Argentina, a blend of players largely from the Premier League, La Liga and Serie A, retreated into tired shells in extra time. Germany pushed on eventually for Gotze's golden goal.

Javier Mascherano, right, was exhausted after the World Cup. The Germans were not. What was the difference?

What was the difference? Europe's best-performing teams were Germany and Netherlands. Can there be coincidence in that each of their domestic leagues, from which a sizeable proportion of World Cup players derived, there is a winter break? A chance to recharge batteries, and regroup before rejoining a helter-skelter towards the domestic season's climax does seem to have helped both of ahead a tournament in which preparation was always going to be vital.

Brazil was no place to turn up with tiredness in the body, and the hosts themselves were definitely harmed by relying on so many players who had endured hard seasons in Europe, with Neymar leading the list after his inaugural campaign at Barcelona. In Pele's day, the Selecao would spend months in training camps, something not possible for the modern Euro star.

The winter break has had plenty of advocates in English football, including Sir Alex Ferguson, who made it such a hobbyhorse that anyone asking about it at his meagre-rationed weekly news conferences would receive death stares from the other Manchester-pack hacks; Ferguson would fill his allotted time with his beliefs in its benefits. Ferguson, no lover of the England team, or particularly hopeful for Scotland, instead suggested that a break in January would mean that English teams -- i.e., Manchester United -- would be better set to challenge for the Champions League.

Meanwhile, in 2014, club football's most coveted trophy looks to have had an unhappy residual effect on the participants in its final on May 24. Diego Costa was supposed to be the new prong to extend defending champions Spain's reign as a continuing force. Instead, he arrived wracked by the same thigh injury that was recklessly risked by Diego Simeone in last season's Champions League final. In fact, few of Atletico's and Real Madrid's stars particularly shone in Brazil. Diego Godin played well against England and Italy for Uruguay, but was torn apart by the James Rodriguez show in the quarterfinals.

He who carried best from Lisbon's final to the Maracana looked to be Sami Khedira, who only made his return to Real Madrid's team in the closing weeks of the season after making a six-month recovery from a cruciate rupture. Then he too succumbed, missing the final after suffering a calf strain in the warm-up for the final. May 24 was clearly too close for players to be able to sustain form on an entirely different continent. Angel Di Maria, the match winner that night for Real, had looked as if he were capable of bucking the trend, only to suffer his own muscle injury against Belgium in the quarterfinals, thus robbing Messi of his most reliable foil.

Messi's Barcelona do get something of a break but not enough considering La Liga went down to the very last match. Last season they did not play from Dec. 22 to Jan. 5, the type of time off a British office worker takes over Christmas, but of the Argentina players, only Mascherano could sustain himself throughout the campaign. Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund, who supplied the greater number of members of the Germany squad, were able to enjoy a gap from action from Dec. 21 through to Jan. 21. Equally, the German title race was wrapped up in record time.

Experts have said it for years, but maybe World Cup woe will make England consider a winter break during the domestic club season.

In the post-World Cup afterglow of trying to follow the German model, then English clubs might consider that mid-season part of the world champions' success. Traditionalists who want their Christmas fixtures to be followed by January's FA Cup third round need not be robbed. January could be when legs are rested, pitches recover, in the three weeks between the third and fourth rounds, with two Premier League matches in between kicked later on.

It is worth mentioning that the Bundesliga has only 18 teams at this point, which the Premier League's 1992 original blueprint contained, only for turkeys to refuse to vote for Christmas -- or a break.

At the heart of such debate remains the clubs' attitude to their international adjunct. The multinationals that elite outfits have become cannot ignore the World Cup, and benefit hugely from the limelight their players receive. Yet at present, only Germany and the Netherlands are doing much to aid international success.

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