I always think that international competitions like Euro or the World Cup provide much needed correctives.
Fernando Torres muscled his way past Philip Lahm in one of the more indelible images of Euro 2008 to provide Spain's winner. The Liverpool striker was one of the heroes in his country's win against Germany. However his Premiership compatriots Cesc Fabregas and Michael Ballack had a more muted final as the players from the Bundesliga and La Liga provided the most highlights. The final showed Iniesta, Xavi, Senna, Silva, Ramos and Marchena at their sparkling best as they ran over Germany who relied once again on Podolski and Schweinsteiger to spare the blushes.
When you compare the big four contribution to national squads, La Liga and Serie contributed 38 apiece and the Bundesliga topped out with 59 players with the largest numbers going to their own teams. The English league even without England's participation provided 47 players, far ahead of La Liga and Serie. Squads with large representations included Portugal and Netherlands, who despite their bright start could not take their game to the next level. This in some aspects is a reprisal of the 2006 World Cup where the English league found its influence on the wane as the tournament went deeper despite the FA touting publicly the maximum number of players to the national squads.
One wonders why this is so? The English League is overwhelmingly the largest in terms of viewership and revenues. With many of its clubs under the control of deep pocketed ownerships, it doles out the biggest chunk of change for the best talent and the largest overseas contingent of players is evidence of where the sport has shifted. Their clubs took three semifinal spots in the CL cup this year.
But all this is for nought because once again as demonstrated in the Euro it was the other leagues that provided the impact players when national pride was at stake.
One of the biggest differences between the English league and other leagues is the intensity of scheduling and the amount of recovery time it gives its players. The English league with its packed domestic fixtures and international obligations for revenue reasons does not give a winter break to its players, a month which finds other leagues enjoying a breather and players recuperating from niggling injuries. This is especially crucial in years when international competitions take center stage with little lag from the end of the league season. For elite Premiership clubs playing this year's CL, recovery gets even more abbreviated. Players from Man U and Chelsea hyperventilating from the grueling CL final literally flew into Klagenfurt or Geneva from Luzhniki Stadium the next day to start their Euro campaign. Fatigue is cumulative and fresher legs do count for a lot more.
The other reason is more controversial and insidous. The English League's combative attitude frequently pushes players to choose club over country. Jose Mourinho was so incensed by Michael Ballack's ankle surgery peformed by German doctors that he was seriously considering shipping Ballack off. Jogi Low had to eat humble pie. Everton's David Moyes threw a fit when he said that witch doctors were trying to force Tim Cahill's recovery for Australia's World Cup 2006 opener against Japan. Sir Alex considered a lawsuit against the FA if Rooney came back as damaged goods from the World Cup. Obviously such measures are protective in nature and serve the club's self interest but they also sub-consciously create conditions where players have to choose between their bread and butter and abstractions such as national pride. Doubts like these can lead to fluctuations in motivation and performance as can levels of fitness and fatigue.
Factors such as these are partly responsible for England's failure on the international level apart from a whole horde of tactical shortcomings and perceived lack of talent. But all these factors put together also affect English League overseas players when they play for their national squads.