Players prepare for first World Cup held in middle of club season
World Cup matches have been played at altitude and at sea level, in torrential rain and in blazing sunshine.
But there has never been a game in autumn, in the middle of the club season. That will happen this year when Qatar hosts the first World Cup in the desert in November.
And no one seems sure how to go about it.
“I don’t know, to be honest. There has never been anything like it in history,” said Rodri, a Manchester City midfielder who is hoping to represent Spain at the tournament.
“It’s going to be difficult,” agreed Juventus midfielder Ángel Di María, who will represent Argentina in his fourth World Cup. “You have to adapt. You have to work [for your club] until the World Cup comes, then when you come back from the World Cup try to keep it up.”
A World Cup in the fall changed schedules and routines in other ways as well. With league schedules starting earlier, many players reported fit at training camp rather than trying to get in shape in preseason and preseason games. And they must maintain that fitness through an unusually long, tripartite and grueling season that will include up to 22 games leading up to the World Cup, the World Cup and then five more months of club games.
“You want to be fit for the first part of the season. Then it’s on to the World Cup. And of course every player wants to be in the best possible form to play at the highest level,” said German goalkeeper Marc-André ter Stegen, who plays for Barcelona. “Then we still have months to finish the season in our clubs. So it’s definitely a tricky situation.
“It is difficult to have the goal [of the] World Cup, but also the goal to be in perfect shape for the rest of the season afterwards.”
Rodri added: “It’s going to be very demanding on us physically.
“It’s going to be a long season. … The last month will be tough.”
This balancing act becomes even more difficult for young players who are still trying to carve out a place in their club and national team. The youthful midfielder Jamal Musiala made his debut for Bayern Munich in June 2020 at the age of 17 and played his first game for the German national team 10 months later. But he still has a lot to prove and can’t afford to put one team above the other.
“It’s very different from what happened before,” he said. “We have to go with the same mentality. Just start the season well, because club football is very important. And just keep the World Cup in mind. Stay healthy and go into the World Cup in good shape.”
Staying healthy will likely be a top concern for many players this autumn, especially those struggling with nagging injuries as the World Cup break approaches. But Musiala says this can’t determine the players’ performance.
“Personally, I wouldn’t think so,” he said. “I wouldn’t have thought about being afraid of getting injured because thinking like that opens up possibilities of actually getting injured. You just go into each game like you normally would.”
“It’s going to be a long season. …The last month will be tough.”
— Midfielder Rodri of Manchester City and Spain
Di Maria agrees. He attacked the pre-season, his first at Juventus, to prove his fitness. The team open their Serie A season on Monday, welcoming Sassuolo.
“You have to work the same way, you have to prepare the same way you always do,” he said in Spanish. “Trying to be at your best physically gives you the opportunity to be able to perform well [league season]. And if the [national team] selection comes up, continue in the same way.
“That the daily work is important – even more so in this phase of the pre-season to be physically healthy.”
The new schedule has positive aspects. The emphasis on conditioning, for example, combined with a World Cup being played in the middle of the club season rather than at the end, results in fresher, fitter players and a tournament that is becoming better played and more competitive.
Consider that the 2018 World Cup opened just 19 days after Cristiano Ronaldo and Real Madrid, after they ended a tiring nine-month, 62-game club season by beating Liverpool in the Champions League final. Real Madrid’s season will be just 20 games old during the World Cup break this fall.
And the fact that the tournament will be held in tiny Qatar, where the longest distance between two stadiums is just 34 miles, will also help as players can sleep in the same bed and not have to travel. At its last World Championship in 2014, the US team covered 10,758 miles in 18 days for four games.
“It will make a big difference,” said Yaya Touré, who played for Ivory Coast at three World Cups and is now a World Cup Ambassador.
However, even the positive aspects have trade-offs. Ter Stegen wonders if players in teams going deep into the tournament will struggle to return to the club environment as Premier League sides return to play eight days after the World Cup final.
“I have no experience with it like everyone else. But I can imagine who will win the tournament, it’s probably the highest moment of your life and then you have to go back to the team and perform immediately,” he said. “I’m excited to see how they’re going to pull it off, whoever it’s going to be.
“Of course I hope that it will be Germany. But then you have to deal with your feelings. You have to be super strong mentally. I’m excited to see who will lift the trophy and who can master this difficult situation.”
https://www.latimes.com/sports/soccer/story/2022-08-12/first-fall-world-cup-2022-qatar-players-middle-club-season Players prepare for first World Cup held in middle of club season