The Premier League is regularly touted as being the best in the world. The pace and physical nature of its games make for exciting football that people from all corners of the globe cannot wait to see from week to week. Unfortunately, whilst the fortunes of the Premier League have significantly grown, the same cannot be said of the country's national team.
England's dismal performances in recent years have been hard to ignore. The Three Lions have whimpered rather than roared at the last two major international tournaments and failed to qualify at all for the one before that. England haven't even progressed beyond the quarter finals of any competition since 1996 and that was on home soil. Despite possessing numerous elite level players over the last two decades, England haven't reached the semi-finals of a World Cup since 1990, before the birth of the Premier League.
Looking specifically at Euro 2012 and the World Cup in 2010, England's performances, under two different coaches no less, looked lacklustre and tired to say the least. Such displays have lead some people to suggest that by the time English players reach the end of the Premier League season they are simply too physically exhausted to perform at the necessary level in international summer tournaments.
At face value it would certainly seem like a reasonable assumption. At Euro 2012, England simply couldn't get close to Italy as Andrea Pirlo calmly dictated play from midfield, while at the World Cup two years earlier, Germany were free to run riot all over the pitch. As recently as last month, former Three Lions boss Fabio Capello, who was forced to look on in 2010 as his side crumbled in South Africa, offered his thoughts and said that "England are always tired because they play too many games".
However, the issue of tiredness and blaming the Premier League schedule seems like it is too much of a convenient excuse, masking deeper lying problems.
The idea of a mid season break is often put forward as a solution to tiredness, but whilst a break might seem like a good idea, there are many questions about the benefits it would actually give. Teams in the Premier League still only play the same number of games over a season as their counterparts in La Liga and Serie A. As a result of the breaks in those countries, it is often the case, particularly in tournament years when time comes at a premium, that clubs in Spain and Italy actually cram their games into a shorter period of time. Having no reasonable window to rest between games can be just as tiring as not having a break at all, so the Premier League isn't exactly worse off.
If the Premier League did adopt a winter break, it would also be more or less guaranteed that several clubs wouldn't even use the time to rest, instead embarking on mid season tours to play lucrative friendlies around the world, much like Barcelona or Real Madrid.
It must also be pointed out that numerous foreign players ply their trade in the Premier League, enduring the same 'hard' season without suffering from the same tiredness issues in summer tournaments. Emmanuel Petit and Cesc Fabregas are both notable examples, World Cup winners in 1998 and 2010 respectively after full Premier League seasons with Arsenal.
Perhaps England players just need to put a greater emphasis on general fitness. When Guus Hiddink took over South Korea prior to the 2002 World Cup, he placed a huge premium on increasing fitness levels. The team unexpectedly reached the semi-finals, arguably a greater achievement than the home advantage alone would have given them. The Koreans' superior fitness got them through periods of extra time in both the last 16 and the quarter final against opposition who flagged as the games wore on. The same thing could also be seen in Hiddink's Russian team at Euro 2008.
But England's greatest flaw still remains sub-par technical and tactical abilities. Fitness can only get teams so far and the Three Lions have been given the run around in their last two summer tournaments by very technically able teams. In the Euro 2012 quarter final, Italy kept the ball extremely well, while England were barely able to hold on to it. Even in international friendlies over the last few years, the team's inferiority on a football level has shown. Recent performances against Chile and Germany in 2013 serve as fine examples and with such games coming mid season, tiredness can hardly be considered a factor behind those poor displays. Technically and tactically, England have been left behind by the world and the FA's only option remains overhauling development at a youth and coaching level.
Simply blaming the Premier League for making England players too tired at international tournaments is a poor and lazy excuse. Domestically, England has things no worse than other major European countries, while foreign Premier League players still manage to cope with the demanding schedule. Clearly, England's problems do lie at a deeper level. While improved fitness would be a reasonable short term fix, it is the much needed technical overhaul of the national game which still holds the real key to England's future success.
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