England manager Roy Hodgson has voiced his frustration that clubs and players are treating international breaks as holidays, and an excuse to "go off to Dubai".
Harry Redknapp's QPR players went to the Middle East in February and Manchester United's Rio Ferdinand departed for Dubai and Qatar shortly after telling the manager that his fitness programme prevented him playing against San Marino and Montenegro last month.
In a discussion of the England team at the SoccerEx convention in Manchester which revealed the manager's "worries" about the way that clubs and players are relegating international football to "a lesser stage", Hodgson said: "It concerns me that we are guilty of accepting [international breaks] as an excuse to give players time off, go to Dubai and give people a break. I would like to see it as more important than that."
The manager also said that the Football Association's attempts to help give players a longer summer by staging internationals earlier than usual had been thwarted by Manchester City's and Chelsea's decision to go on post-season tours. Hodgson said he had not accounted for this "new" phenomenon, which will mean that the two clubs' players are scheduled to make a Transatlantic flight into Britain on the day that the squad assemble for fixtures against the Republic of Ireland and Brazil. "We've been a bit unlucky because we decided [to change from] the official Uefa mid-June [international] dates when we get access, meaning a good break. But of course we didn't factor in that some clubs are going to go on post-season tours."
On the day England dropped three places to seventh in the latest Fifa world rankings, behind Portugal and Croatia, the debate between Hodgson, Kevin Keegan, Bryan Robson and Michael Owen focused on the way England's prospects are being ruined by the huge number of foreign players in club football. Hodgson's coach Gary Neville argued the same case.
During the debate, Keegan said: "What Roy needs is four, five or six players who can be generals. You need those really top-class players and I don't think we've got that at the moment." Hodgson said that generally he "could not agree more with what's being said".
Hodgson also described his astonishment at being told that nearly 60 players had withdrawn from an England Under-20s squad. "I don't understand how so many people could be denied the chance to play at international level. Would could be going on at their clubs that should deny them the chance?"
The manager was also dismissive of the idea that players could suffer burn-out by having to juggle Premier League and international football. "The thing about overplaying..." he said. "I was asking our IT guy to tell me how many games [my players] have played for their team and it's 15 to 19 games some of those players have played. OK, the season could be 55 games long but you show me today the players in those club games who have played those 55 games. In our set-up it's Steven Gerrard and Joe Hart who have played far more games than the rest. We take these things as read because it's being fed to you, but burn-out?"
Hodgson warned against the debate becoming a "lament" and pointed to work under way from new director of elite development Dan Ashworth. "My regret is that, having followed the England team, I have seen very many great players and sometimes you look back at the names and you think that was a good team with good players. We still have some good players but we are going to have to build a team around a nucleus. A lot of the others are not going to do that at 18, 19 and they are going to take time," he said.