The controversial decision to hand Qatar the hosting rights to the 2022 World Cup has come with a host of difficulties – not least the fact that the tournament lands slap bang in the middle of the European club season.
It means that UEFA’s representative nations, the confederation with the most World Cup countries, head into the flagship event having already endured a gruelling three-month domestic campaign with no respite.
Other nations, such as Brazil and Argentina, have picked squads made up of largely European-based players, and so they too face competing for the World Cup with a leg-weary squad.
That has been the major finding of FIFPRO, anyway. The representative group of more than 65,000 professional players around the globe have found that Portugal, Mexico and Brazil – the bookmakers’ favourites to lift the trophy in December – are suffering more than any other country when it comes to the overworking of their players heading into the World Cup.
Using data from the accumulated matches played so far in 2022/23 by each member of a World Cup squad, FIFPRO found that Portugal’s squad has so far averaged 5,200 minutes of action each – the equivalent of 58 games in around 14 weeks of domestic action.
And the Portuguese and Brazilian squads have played a combined total of more than 30,000 minutes since the start of August – double that of some other nations competing in Qatar.
Fatigue could be an issue then, but so too could the threat of muscle injuries, as the average total recovery time for players contesting the World Cup this term has been just 7-8 days….more than four times less than normal.
There’s bad news for England supporters and Tottenham fans in particular. Son Heung-min played more than 600 minutes of back-to-back football in October, which greatly increases the risk of fatigue-related injury. Next on the list of overloaded players are Harry Kane and Kylian Mbappe.
There could be repercussions for the return of domestic football too, with the players that reach the business end of the World Cup enjoying just eight days of recovery time prior to the restart of the club season – typically, that gap is an average of 37 days.
Burnout or a Hot Hand?
There’s plenty who believe that momentum and confidence are two of the key weapons in a sportsperson’s armoury.
That would suggest that players who ply their trade for European clubs should head to Qatar in a good place, with plenty of match practice under their belt.
But players like Kane are already ‘really, really tired’ according to their club managers before a ball has even been kicked at the World Cup, and you wonder how the physical and emotional toil of big tournament football will hamper the progress of teams with a European-based core.
Gareth Southgate himself admitted back in the summer that he feels ‘burnout’ could hamper England’s bid to win the World Cup, and there could be ramifications for the second half of the Premier League campaign too.