Is burnout undermining football’s biggest spectacle?

by Matt Carter

Screen Shot 2014-07-15 at 17.26.58The dust may have long settled on the 2014 World Cup with eyes now having moved firmly towards the impending domestic football juggernaut, yet cast your mind back to a month or so and ask yourself the question – did any Premier League player have a genuinely excellent World Cup?

It is a query that is likely to generate significant head scratching, with the stark reality being that identifying such an individual represents a futile task.

Plenty will quote external circumstances for this, whether they be injuries – Sergio Aguero for instance – personal issues – such as those experienced Yaya Toure – or simply being part of campaigns which were failures as a collective – you might use the latter of those excuses for those involved with England or Spain for example. On the other side of that coin however it could be argued that a substantial portion of the blame for those respective torturous campaigns fell at the door of the underperforming players themselves.

Of the Premier League star names who did advance to the business end of the tournament – Robin Van Persie, Oscar, Eden Hazard and Vincent Kompany to name but a few – none could be considered anywhere near the shining lights of World Cup. Van Persie and Oscar started encouragingly enough in their specific opening encounters but faded badly, whilst the Belgium duo of Hazard and Kompany never quite reached optimum level.

Digging deeper there were a small selection of Premier League players doing the division justice – Ron Vlaar, Tim Howard and Wilfried Bony could all be satisfied with their efforts – yet none of those are what you would consider the gold standard of a league dubbed by many as the world’s best. Andre Schurrle debatably signifies the one shining light amidst the disappointment, yet his season for Chelsea was hardly gruelling and in the grand scheme of things his role for Germany merely an impact one.

This is no flash in the pan either with South Africa 2010 painting a similarly depressing picture – again it is difficult to recollect a standout performer of Premier League origin – that in spite of players based in England contributing more players to the tournament than any other nation.

All this mounting evidence spawns the question – why is the peak of Premier League talent consistently disenchanting on football’s grandest stage?

It goes without saying that ability is not the issue – only the most ardent critic would argue against the dearth of talent the division is able to boast – however it might just be that the Premier League’s biggest asset is its most significant stumbling block when it comes to showcasing itself on a World Cup level.

The full throttle high intensity nature of Premier League football is undoubtedly one of its biggest draws, yet that facet is draining on players – particularly accounting that this is one of the few top leagues in Europe not to utilise a winter break. With that in mind it is hardly surprising that by the time World Cup rolls into town players are left running on empty – further to that it is only inevitable that rather than grow into the tournament Premier League players are burning out come crunch time.

Unlike the majority of Europe’s elite leagues, there are no easy rides in Premier League football – in terms of both mental and physical exhaustion the English top flight leads the way. Arguably closest on the energy sapping scales in the 2013/14 season was La Liga and therefore it wasn’t eye raising to witness several of the Spanish league’s best assets appearing somewhat drained in Brazil – this being a critical factor in Spain’s disintegration, whilst Lionel Messi resembled in the large part only a pale imitation of the magician we’ve become so accustomed to. At the same time an extensive campaign clearly took its toll on Cristiano Ronaldo, similarly his teammate Angel Di Maria was well short of the figure who starred in the Champions League final.

So although the issue is fatigue is most prominent in those players based England, it is not an exclusive problem. Analysis of Brazil 2014’s outstanding performers offers yet further sustenance to those lamenting the impacts of burnout, with the majority of those individuals enduring less taxing campaigns than those based in say England or Spain.

For instance James Rodriguez – the man many believe to be the true player of the tournament – didn’t endure the toils of Champions League football, whilst Ligue 1 is relatively low intensity compared to certain other leagues. At the same it could be argued Germany were benefitted by Bayern Munich wrapping up the Bundesliga at a canter – thus allowing for the mainstay of their World Cup squad an opportunity to drop down in gears through the closing stages of the season.

For all the merits of Brazil 2014 – the common consensus being this was the best World Cup for several decades – there was still a nagging feeling that we again failed to see the world’s finest players performing at optimum level on the grandest stage of all. Unfortunately the ever-increasing problem of player weariness – none more so than in the case of those residing in England – currently means the chances of that changing in the future are being severely hampered.

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