World Cup silences the new season

Glenn Moore on why the Premiership has already ground to a halt
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The Independent Online
Arsenal's players will all be in action this afternoon. Overmars speeding to complete his househunting, Seaman concentrating hard on his fishing line, Bergkamp gliding between the potted plants at the garden centre and Vieira tackling his English textbook. None of them, however, will be playing football, today or at anytime this week.

Apart, that is, from training. Arsenal are due to train this morning after which, like thousands of football fans, they will suffer from a certain emptiness. One week into the season and the Premiership has downed boots. What is going on?

The root of the problem is in Helsinki. That is where Norway are playing a World Cup qualifier on Wednesday and, in the modern Premiership, that means most clubs have lost a couple of players. Not that the Norwegians are the only ones: almost every country in Europe, not to mention South America and Africa, are engaged in World Cup matches over the next eight days. Which is why the Premiership, with 88 players away, has ground to a halt.

Bizarrely, it is Arsenal, with 12 foreigners on their books, who are least affected, as the handful of uninvolved countries include England, Scotland, France and the Netherlands. The only Arsenal player absent is Luis Boa Morte, away with Portugal's Under-21 side, but he is yet to break into the club's first-team squad. So Arsenal could have played today - but they could not have found any opposition. Glenn Hoddle, incidentally, decided it was better to let England's players rest as it was so early in the season and so soon after Le Tournoi.

Why, however, start the Premiership last week knowing it would have to stop immediately? To give England time to prepare for the World Cup finals (assuming they get there); if they had waited until next week the fixture list would have become more congested.

Frustratingly, the Premiership, after resuming on 23 August, breaks again three games and 10 days later to allow England to prepare for the visit of Moldova on 10 September. There are further scheduled breaks in October, for England v Italy, and November, for the second leg of the World Cup qualifying play-off. If England have qualified, they will use that as a training weekend.

If they have not qualified, the weekend fixtures before the play-off first-leg, 25 October, will probably be re-arranged as well. Even if England are not involved several clubs will lose players, and the chairmen decide next month whether they should be allowed to postpone matches.

It comes down the usual problem: too much football. Uefa, European football's governing body, has proposed to Fifa, the global authority, that, in future, countries play double-headers, as England did notoriously in Poland and Norway in 1993, to reduce the number of international weeks.

However, Uefa could stop extending its club competitions and force countries such as San Marino to pre-qualify. Meanwhile, the Premiership could fulfil the promise of its foundation, and reduce to 18 clubs. Neither scenario is likely, because revenue - the driver behind most policy decisions - would be affected.

THE PREMIERSHIP INTERNATIONALS

List includes Premiership players on international duty next week. Injured players excluded.

Arsenal (1): Boa Morte (Por U-21).

Aston Villa (4): Staunton, Townsend (Rep of Irl), D Hughes (Wal), Nelson (Por).

Barnsley (2): Tinkler (SA), Hristov (Mac).

Blackburn (7): Dahlin, Andersson (Swe), Kenna (Rep of Irl), Worrell (Rep of Irl U-21), Thomas, Williams (Wal U-21), Donis (Gr).

Bolton (5): Taggart (N Irl), Blake (Wal), Branagan (Rep of Irl), Frandsen (Den), Bergsson (Ice).

Chelsea (5): Petrescu (Rom), Flo, Grodas (Nor), M Hughes (Wal), Poyet (Uru).

Coventry (5): Haworth (Wal), Hedman (Swe), O'Neill (N Irl), Boland, Breen (Rep of Irl U-21).

Crystal Palace (3): Quinn (Rep of Irl U-21), Zohar (Isr), Hreidarsson (Ice).

Derby County (3): Trollope (Wal), Laursen (Den), Poom (Est).

Everton (6): Southall, Oster, Speed (Wal), Phelan (Rep of Irl), Farrelly (Rep of Irl U-21), Thomsen (Den).

Leeds (5): Radebe (SA), Haland, Halle (Nor), Kelly, Harte (Rep of Irl).

Leicester (3): Lennon (N Irl), Savage (Wal), Kamark (Swe).

Liverpool (5): Leonhardsen, Bjornebye (Nor), Babb, Kennedy (Rep of Irl), Roberts (Wal U-21).

Manchester Utd (7): Berg (Nor), Schmeichel (Den), Poborsky (Cz Rep), Keane, Irwin (Rep of Irl), Mulryne (N Irl), Giggs (Wal).

Newcastle (7): Asprilla (Col), Tomasson (Den), Ketsbaia (Geor), Given (Rep of Irl), Gillespie (N Irl), Gudjonsson (Ice), Srnicek (Cz Rep).

Sheffield Wednesday (1): Nolan (N Irl).

Southampton (4): Ostenstad, Johansen (Nor), Magilton (N Irl), P Jones (Wal).

Tottenham (6): Nielsen (Den), Carr, Fenn, Maher (Rep of Irl U-21), Iversen, Bardsen (Nor U-21).

West Ham (6): Miklosko (Cz Rep), Rieper (Den), Berkovitch (Isr), Lomas, Hughes, Dowie (N Irl).

Wimbledon (3): C Hughes (Wal), Cunningham (Rep of Irl), Murphy (Rep of Irl U-21).

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