Earlier in the summer, England boss Roy Hodgson feared that his England boys would not get enough rest before September’s crucial World Cup qualifiers against Moldova and the Ukraine and that fear has become a reality after a well-publicized commercial telecast battle between Sky and newcomers BT Sport for the live broadcast of the 2013-14 Barclays Premier League matches has sadly become a priority over the national team’s prospects in next summer’s World Cup in Brazil.
The schedule reveals that on Sunday, September 1, five days before the Three Lions host Moldova and then fly off to far flung Kiev on 10th September, Liverpool host champions Manchester United while there is a little matter of the North London derby to look forward to right after the Anfield clash.
Both the Sunday matches are live on Sky but while there is a lot of wonderful televised Premier League football to look forward to as far as an English football fan is concerned.
The schedule will annoy Roy Hodgson more than anyone as the former West Brom manager warned the Premier League in June that playing big matches on Sunday just before the England games could tire out his star players and there could be some inevitable injury concerns right after the high profile games.
Yet, the FA, in order to allow an economically viable broadcasting battle between Sky and BT to take shape, ignored the 65-year old’s heartfelt requests not to jeopardize England’s chances for next year’s FIFA World Cup.
With the home clash against Moldova being predicted to be a straight forward win for England, any slip up against Ukraine in Kiev four days later could prove to be fatal for Frank Lampard and company in their bid to automatically qualify for Brazil 2014.
The inability of the English FA to look after its national team’s interests puts serious question marks on the organisation’s commitments towards the wholesale development of English football.
It is crystal clear that the £3 billion that Sky and BT paid for sharing the telecast of the Barclays Premier League between them for the next three years played a pivotal role in the FA’s decision to wilt under the broadcasters’ commercial pressure. This is certainly not good news for the English national team.
The Premier League, in the past, has been accused of failing to do enough to help English clubs in Europe, with other leagues often allowing its teams competing in the Champions League to bring their domestic fixtures forward to a Friday night. A lack of patriotism and hunger for lucrative business as far as the Premier League is concerned does not augur well for English football.
England lie second in Group H, two points behind Montenegro with the latter having played a game more. If September’s Sunday Premier League fixtures proving to be annoying for Roy Hodgson, October’s is equally disturbing when England play two of the most important home fixtures that could decide the group.
Both Chelsea and Arsenal have tough away matches against Norwich and West Brom respectively on Sunday, October 6, with England scheduled to face league leaders Montenegro at Wembley and a talented yet unpredictable Poland four days later at the same venue.
With the likes of Jack Wilshere, Theo Walcott, Alex Oxlade Chamberlain, Frank Lampard and Ashley Cole involved in the Sunday games, an injury to any of these key players would concern the England coaching staff and fans alike.
If that is not enough, should the national team be involved in the November play-offs, Spurs host Newcastle, Manchester City travel to the Stadium of Light to face Sunderland and Manchester United host Arsenal at Old Trafford on Sunday, November 10 with the two-legged ties scheduled for November 15 and 19.
Roy Hodgson would certainly hope that England’s prospects do not hinge on the tricky play-offs and the job is done well before that.
Yet in any eventuality, the Premier League and and to a greater extent the Football Association, which failed to lobby the national team manager’s fears in case it annoyed Sky, have lacked vision and patriotism in allowing the bitter broadcasting battle between Sky and BT to throw up such intriguing fixtures, which by all accounts would generate remarkable worldwide TV revenues, but made England’s passage to Brazil all the more difficult.