Pete Jenson: What England could learn from Spain (and it's not the benefits of a midwinter break)

A Different League: Placing greater importance on the forming of young England teams is just as important as giving senior players a rest

When is a midwinter break not a midwinter break? When a club uses it to travel to Qatar to play a football match. Real Madrid and Qatar-owned Paris Saint-Germain have both flown to Doha for a friendly that will be played on Thursday.

This is the gravy train that the Premier League's biggest clubs will climb aboard as soon as the first midwinter break is given the go-ahead in England. It will be lucrative. Just don't hold your breath on it transforming the national team's fortunes in major tournaments.

As Graham Hunter's recently published account of Spanish football's historic treble Spain makes clear, the relationship between rest and results is not always clear. No set of players played more from 2008 to 2012 than the Spanish national side, and yet no team won more.

In his account of their unprecedented three straight trophies he writes about the kind of shape the Spanish were in going towards their third tournament win at Euro 2012. Most of the players had averaged 4,000 minutes of playing time in the season leading up to the tournament and many had gone well over 5,000.

From 2008-12 the Spain players only had one summer off due to participation in the Confederations Cup in 2009 and the World Cup in 2010. La Liga's midwinter break only amounts to one weekend's fixtures anyway and for the Barcelona players in the squad in 2009 and 2011 the effects were hardly felt because of the demands of travelling to the UAE and Japan to play in the World Club Cup. In December 2009 Barcelona also managed to fit in a friendly in Kuwait.

Stopping the Premier League for one weekend in mid-January would do no harm to England's tournament chances but the clues as to what the real priorities should be – as the Football Association begins to look at the evidence assembled by its England Commission – are contained elsewhere in Hunter's brilliant telling of the Spain story… and will be far less appealing to most Premier League clubs.

One statistic jumps off the page: Spain have won 14, and finished as runners-up in six, of the 43 Uefa youth tournaments played between 1997 and 2013. The fact that Spain have also won three major tournaments in that time suggests it might pay to start looking at sub-senior level tournaments in a completely different light.

Hunter describes how winning an Under-16 Euros and then being knocked out of an Under-17 World Cup at the group stage together cemented the relationship of Fernando Torres and Andres Iniesta. Their shared journey went all the way to the World Cup final.

Then there is the bond formed between Xavi and Iker Casillas, first formed when they survived the fleapit hotels, cockroaches and (real bullet) shoot-outs of the 1999 Under-20 World Cup in Nigeria that they won, 11 years before winning the real thing in South Africa.

Underpinning Spain's various youth category sides is a network of voluntary scouts, all briefed by the Spanish FA to come up with a top 55 of 14- to 15-year-old players every July. These players' clubs are informed of their status in what is known as "the magic 55" and they are obliged to release them to the national centre of excellence three consecutive days of every month from September to January; and then again from January to July after the group's number has been culled to 33.

The big clubs in England have got their way over youth development with the Elite Player Performance Plan that allows them to pick off the best of the rest at cut-down prices; returning those players to a national coaching body on a regular basis would be a way of giving something back in return.

The bigger clubs will welcome a midwinter break; they might need to welcome some less self-serving alterations if things are to really change.

If the team that have won the last three major trophies are a guide, then placing greater importance on the forming of young England teams is just as important as giving senior players a rest.

There's nothing secret about agents' awards ceremony

It was All Fool's Day in Spain on Saturday with the kind of spoof stories reserved for 1 April in England given an airing. It was reported that Real Madrid were saving money by reducing the size of their directors' box; Manchester United agreed a deal to sign Atletico Madrid's Koke; and a member of Barcelona's coaching staff had found a dusty old file on the club's former defender Dmytro Chigrinsky and were now trying to sign him again. Nothing could top the "real" news story two days later, however, that for the fourth year running Jorge Mendes has been voted agent of the year at the Globe Soccer Awards. He has won it every year since being the force behind the foundation and subsequent promotion of the annual event.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Kim Wilde began gardening in the 1990s when she moved to the countryside
peopleThe singer is leading an appeal for the charity Thrive, which uses the therapy of horticulture
Alexis Sanchez celebrates scoring a second for Arsenal against Reading
Life and Style
An easy-peel potato; Dave Hax has come up with an ingenious method in food preparation
voicesDave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Japan's population is projected to fall dramatically in the next 50 years (Wikimedia)
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

Let the propaganda wars begin - again

'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

Japan's incredible long-distance runners

Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

Tom Drury: The quiet American

His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

Beige to the future

Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own