As we enter another international window with England competing in the SheBelieves Cup, it’s time again to revisit the old club versus country argument.
First, it has to be said that the FA has been bankrolling clubs since the FA WSL inception with up to £70,000 per season in FA WSL1 and it will go up to £92,500 next season.
The FA have clear power over ‘smaller’ teams with less money than the top three teams whose budgets are over the £1,000,000 threshold, as they could threaten to cut the supply if they wanted to.
In the six years of the League, I have not seen scheduling that fits the clubs needs. Everything has always been geared towards the England team and most of the time, English teams suffered in the Champions League because of it.
If we recap the last six years’ results:
- 2010/11 Everton eliminated out of season in QF by Duisburg, Arsenal eliminated by Olympique Lyonnais in semi-final with the FA WSL League opener played on a bad pitch between the two legs.
- 2011/12 Bristol eliminated in Round 1 by Energia Voronezh, out of season for 3 weeks, Arsenal eliminated by Frankfurt in SF.
- 2012/13 Birmingham eliminated in R1 with title deciders spread around the WCL games. Arsenal eliminated by Wolfsburg in SF.
- 2013/14 Arsenal eliminated QF out of season by Birmingham, Birmingham eliminated by Tyreso in SF with a game played prior to the first semi-final.
- 2014/15 Liverpool eliminated in R1 with a title deciding League game played between the two legs. Bristol eliminated in QF out of season with their first domestic game placed in between the two legs.
- 2015/16 Liverpool eliminated by Brescia, first leg three days after final League game. Chelsea eliminated by Wolfsburg in R2 one month out of season.
- 2016/17 Chelsea eliminated in R1 by Wolfsburg, Man City through to the QF to be played out of season and three days after first competitive game in FA Women’s Cup.
The fixtures list is just a mess, year in year out.
There is no balance at all and teams can be idle for long periods and then play twice a week for a month. Most of the seasons, the excuse of having an international tournament like in 2011,12, 13 and 15 meant extra long England camps, and therefore less time to schedule League games.
But during the 2014 and 2016 seasons with no tournament, the League still featured long breaks in the Summer, which is ironic for a Summer League.
The FA could have teams play through May, June and July, but chose not to, compressing the fixtures in to other months during those two years. We know that the FIFA dates are set and nothing can be done about them, the same for the Champions League dates. But there are still plenty of options, even taking into account the FA Women’s cup dates as well.
The Sports scientists at clubs must have a lot of fun every year trying to guess how to spread the physical workload with stop-start seasons like this. I mean, having no games for a while then a big batch of matches followed by player release to the England teams, all year round with no real pattern.
The fact that players get injured, come back and then get injured again is not a surprise. All you need to look at is someone like Fran Kirby who has not played many games since signing for Chelsea. She is probably not the sole example of players with repetitive injuries after England camps.
Scheduling that leaves teams with two, three or even five games in hand in a fourteen-game season is just ridiculous. Would Premier League teams accept having five, eight or even 12 games in hand at any point during the season on a regular basis?
If the 20th ranked team in the Premier League had only played seven games by Matchday 19, there would be outrage as the competition would not be fair at all. This happened last season in FA WSL1 with the Belles.
Even in the nine game Spring Series, designed to bridge two seasons as they move from a Summer League to a Winter one, there is again a massive cock-up with Doncaster having 33% of their games postponed.
Would the Premier League accept any team to starting only on Matchday 12? Thank god there is nothing at stake in the Spring Series otherwise Doncaster could feel hard done for the second season in a row.
Seeing the FA putting England above club interests is not a surprise, but in the end it does not really work because the players’ bodies ultimately suffer and they can’t perform at their best – for club or country.
Let’s hope the 2017/18 season will have a balanced and properly organised fixture list.