Connor Southwell: The EFL are letting Norwich City down
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
Football has been a rare ray of sunlight during what has been an incredibly tough period for so many, given the pandemic which is being grappled with all over the world, the concept of international football is baffling.
In years to come, the word 'unprecedented' will accompany any recollection or description of this season. The grounds are empty and the tension seems to have escaped almost all of the encounters, regardless of what is at stake or the magnitude of the fixture.
Yet, as we have all lost grasp of the normality we once took for granted, football has offered that consistency and purpose throughout the course of the last year.
It's the footballers who have offered respite and joy. They have given supporters something to look forward to and have lifted spirits around the nation but they aren't superhuman.
The decision to cram three international fixtures in a two-week period is baffling at best and dangerous at worst. Compromise was pivotal during a season that poses questions of footballers that simply haven't been asked before.
Norwich City are relentless.
Their style of play involves pressing high and playing at a high intensity for long periods. They have been a joy to consume and an excellent advert for all that is good below the Premier League.
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- 5 Banning orders and revenge mission wide of the mark for City chief
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- 8 Operation Bounce Back: The story of City's promotion success
- 9 Farke's personal message to City fans
- 10 How Trent and Walker are shaping City star's progression
And yet, they are being let down.
The current scheduling of the Preston North End isn't just wrong but it's reckless. Players are now being forced to seriously weigh up whether they can go again less than 48 hours after their last international fixture.
For Ollie Skipp, Todd Cantwell and Max Aarons, these are European Championships, not an international friendly against semi-professional players. The demands are so high. To pit that competition against promotion to the top-flight isn't a trade-off they should be forced to make.
Speak to any medical or sports science professional, it's placing so much stress on athletes who are already being pushed close to breaking point.
Make no mistake, decisions like this will increase the risk of injury. It could affect their mental health or wellbeing. It's a judgement that flies in the face of all logic and every ounce of progress made in fitness and sports science in recent years.
Some will opt to point to their salaries as a counter-argument. But that doesn't provide them with a superhuman power that makes them indestructible. They are human beings. Recovery is a pivotal part of the game.
This is before we get into the risk of contracting coronavirus and allowing thousands of people to travel abroad during an epidemic that has touched every corner of the globe.
Is there a real clamour amongst football supporters to witness international fixtures? Not at the expense of their best players returning injured or unhealthy.
Norwich have been so dominant this season and they shouldn't be punished for possessing internationals in their ranks.
Most of all, the EFL are setting a dangerous precedent by not pushing the game back an additional day.
If this decision is accepted, then it normalises a shorter period between fixtures. It risks the physical and mental health of those concerned and lowers the quality of the competition due to a lack of training time.
City possess a deep squad. But what if it was Barnsley? They have been on a remarkable run and worked themselves into the play-offs. This is a genuine shot at reaching the Premier League. The rewards are so high.
If they were witnessing nine of their first-team squad jet away to link up with their countries ahead of the Championship run-in, not only could it derail careers, but it could snatch a once in a lifetime opportunity for their players.
If broadcasting companies are permitted to pick slots at will and move games without consideration or care for supporters or clubs, then why can't the governing body dictate when a fixture should be played under extreme conditions?
Daniel Farke is right. The EFL is quick to champion Norwich. It is quick to put on mental health awareness days but actions are louder than words.
City are being asked to take a leap of faith by fulfilling a fixture that puts the health and safety of their players at risk.
The EFL have a duty of care to ensure all the players in their competition are safe and playing in a league where fair play is paramount. On this occasion, that is not the case.
Let's be clear. If Norwich were in Preston's position, they would seek to gain a competitive advantage. That is the same for every club in global football. This isn't their fault.
The issue is that, given the circumstances, a decision shouldn't have to be ratified by their opponents. The EFL should be taking the lead on this and common sense should prevail.
But it hasn't. Norwich will be forced to deal with the conditions. It is yet another hurdle they will be asked to clear on their way to securing a top-flight return.
If there is a major injury or fatigue does cost the Canaries crucial points, then that would lie squarely at the door of the EFL.