'Teams that handle the downtime best have a greater chance of success'
Dealing with boredom at a tournament is a problem that has foxed England in the past
Saturday 02 June 2012
While the decision of the former England manager, Fabio Capello, to set up camp in Poland's second city, Krakow, has been widely derided as ludicrous given that the team's group games are all being played in neighbouring Ukraine, it might well be that the choice is considered particularly shrewd come the end of Euro 2012.
When mapping out the competition logistics, it was clear that the Italian was mindful of the flaws that conspired against England in South Africa two years ago. They were cooped up in a hotel complex playing video games and missing out on the World Cup carnival across the country. They were there to focus and do a job, but they ended up doing it excruciatingly badly.
England are now led by Roy Hodgson and they will visit Auschwitz next week ahead of their first game, providing a chance to reflect and to bond. Capello's squad were not stimulated nearly enough in 2010, and a lapse in preparation can separate the eventual winners from the perennial underperformers, according to former Scotland defender David Weir.
"The boredom is a struggle to be honest. It depends a lot on your location and we were fairly isolated," Weir said, looking back on his own experience at France in 1998. "The teams that handle it best are the ones who have the greater chance of success, because you can't manufacture the home environment.
"There is definitely a danger that the longer you are in that closed environment it becomes a strain and you're almost relieved when it ends. You start focusing on that rather than the football. If you do get a break from it you generally handle it better, otherwise it can end up being a chore."
Realising the need for respite from the tedium, Hodgson will allow his players to explore Krakow in the afternoons after training sessions. They are, after all, likely to be inquisitive as to what a place has to offer. The fact that they have been deprived of that in the past is wrong, says Derek Fazackerley, who was Kevin Keegan's assistant manager at Euro 2000: "When you go to these competitions, not being able to drink in the culture is sad in some ways for the players because they are fantastic occasions. The colour and entertainment that fans from all the regions of Europe bring is fantastic. "
Hodgson has the temperament to strike the balance between the two tournament managers who preceded him. Capello was too strict; Sven Goran Eriksson too soft. This England manager aims to get it just right.
Weir believes there is a definitive art to organising a trip like this, stating that the senior players have a huge role to play behind the scenes. "They have to make a comfortable environment for everyone. Invariably it's not your first-choice XI that become the team in the games that really matter, so everybody needs to feel needed, because they will play a role at some point," he pointed out.
Technological advancement since Weir was involved means there are more distractions than ever. The defender said he read books, watched DVDs and pined for home. But now, unlike defending champions Spain, England players are able to use Twitter to communicate with supporters, hopefully forging a relationship with the public, while Fazackerley was keen to point out that external business interests, used in a positive way, can also help.
But the former assistant's verdict was clear: "If they win the games, boredom won't even be mentioned. If you lose, people ponder over whether enough preparation was done planning the downtime."
Capello was clearly attempting to rectify his previous poor judgement. It is now the turn of his predecessor to leave absolutely nothing to chance in order to create England's winning environment.
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