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Insight

Unchartered territory

The impact of the World Cup could be far-reaching as we enter the home straight of the Champions League

WORDS Simon Hart | ILLUSTRATION Neil Stevens

The word ‘UNIQUE’ can be overused, but when it comes to the 2022/23 season there is no doubt we are in uncharted territory. The squeezing of the Qatar World Cup into November and December necessitated the pausing of the European club campaign and guaranteed a later finish than usual, with the Champions League final scheduled for 10 June. The impact it will have on players and teams between now and then will be intriguing to see. Real Madrid coach Carlo Ancelotti, for one, cited the World Cup factor when his side made a stumbling return to action over Christmas.

In England, Pep Guardiola had already warned in the autumn that Manchester City’s mid-season purple patch of a year earlier – 12 straight league wins from 6 November – “isn’t going to happen”, not with an international tournament to disrupt their flow. The question of rhythm is one he has returned to since, the City manager observing that those players who were at the World Cup returned in a “better condition” than those who had stayed at home, such as Erling Haaland and Riyad Mahrez.

A conversation with an official at Atlético de Madrid shed light on one simple reason why the World Cup period was challenging for coaches back at home: in Atleti’s case, with 12 players at the World Cup and their junior teams still active in their own competitions, there was a shortage of players to do meaningful work on the training pitch. When players did return, in most cases after a five-day break, they would have one day’s individual training before rejoining the group. Another problem clubs faced was finding facilities for training camps abroad, with popular venues facing too much demand.

Paul Balsom, a member of the UEFA Fitness For Football Advisory Group and fitness coach for Sweden’s national team, offers his perspective on the difficulties the World Cup has presented for players and those tasked with preparing them at their clubs. “Normally you’d have had a longer preparation leading up to the World Cup and then a break after. This time you’ve got this team of, say, 30 professionals and some are ready to go, some have just got back from the World Cup, some have got back late, some will have come back mentally exhausted, some will have played in the World Cup, some won’t. There are so many different variables for the fitness coach and coaching staff to deal with.”

The word ‘UNIQUE’ can be overused, but when it comes to the 2022/23 season there is no doubt we are in uncharted territory. The squeezing of the Qatar World Cup into November and December necessitated the pausing of the European club campaign and guaranteed a later finish than usual, with the Champions League final scheduled for 10 June. The impact it will have on players and teams between now and then will be intriguing to see. Real Madrid coach Carlo Ancelotti, for one, cited the World Cup factor when his side made a stumbling return to action over Christmas.

In England, Pep Guardiola had already warned in the autumn that Manchester City’s mid-season purple patch of a year earlier – 12 straight league wins from 6 November – “isn’t going to happen”, not with an international tournament to disrupt their flow. The question of rhythm is one he has returned to since, the City manager observing that those players who were at the World Cup returned in a “better condition” than those who had stayed at home, such as Erling Haaland and Riyad Mahrez.

A conversation with an official at Atlético de Madrid shed light on one simple reason why the World Cup period was challenging for coaches back at home: in Atleti’s case, with 12 players at the World Cup and their junior teams still active in their own competitions, there was a shortage of players to do meaningful work on the training pitch. When players did return, in most cases after a five-day break, they would have one day’s individual training before rejoining the group. Another problem clubs faced was finding facilities for training camps abroad, with popular venues facing too much demand.

Paul Balsom, a member of the UEFA Fitness For Football Advisory Group and fitness coach for Sweden’s national team, offers his perspective on the difficulties the World Cup has presented for players and those tasked with preparing them at their clubs. “Normally you’d have had a longer preparation leading up to the World Cup and then a break after. This time you’ve got this team of, say, 30 professionals and some are ready to go, some have just got back from the World Cup, some have got back late, some will have come back mentally exhausted, some will have played in the World Cup, some won’t. There are so many different variables for the fitness coach and coaching staff to deal with.”

Read the full story
Sign up now to get access to this and every premium feature on Champions Journal. You will also get access to member-only competitions and offers. And you get all of that completely free!

Balsom co-authored a paper in the Aspetar Sports Medicine Journal in the lead-up to Qatar 2022. It cited a study which found that “professional players feel they are required to play too many matches and their recovery, performances and health are impaired, specifically during international competitions with excessive travelling”.

Balsom wrote the article together with Richard Hawkins, head of physical performance at Manchester United, and Tony Strudwick, head of performance for the Football Association of Wales, and in conclusion they argued that “player safety and well-being are now being seriously challenged” by fixture congestion. And this was before the World Cup.

Speaking to this column, Balsom says, “There is no conclusive research saying performance output is decreased during fixture congestion, but they have showed an increase in injuries. So the occurrence of injuries is increased with fixture congestion.”

Players need as long as 72 hours (or more) to recover after a match, although that applies to the full 90 minutes, meaning that rotation and the use of all five substitutions will be significant in the months ahead. “Clubs with bigger squads are likely to have an advantage,” says Balsom. “For a player, playing 60 minutes is a very different physiological challenge to playing 90 minutes.” At Man City, for example, Phil Foden’s first three appearances after Qatar were off the bench and he did not play more than an hour of any game until 8 January.

Tournament football takes an emotional toll too. One female international footballer, looking back on last summer’s EURO, told me recently: “Even within two weeks I’d not processed everything I’d gone through.” Tottenham Hotspur goalkeeper Hugo Lloris would doubtless concur. His first match after captaining France in the World Cup final was 14 days later, a home Premier League fixture against Aston Villa. His spilling of a long-range shot allowed Emi Buendía to open the scoring in a 2-0 defeat for Tottenham. After subsequent goal-costing errors against Arsenal and Manchester City, Lloris admitted: “When you’re involved with the national team and you go until the last day of the World Cup, you come back and miss mental freshness.”  

The English Football Association’s media team sought to limit the World Cup baggage brought home by England’s players by encouraging as many of them as possible to speak to the press immediately after their quarter-final against France. This included Harry Kane, Lloris’s Spurs team-mate, who addressed his penalty miss there and then rather than fly home with things unsaid – and questions still left for the press to ask.

As for where all of this leads in this one-off season, time alone will tell. If there is a cost, it could come in the springtime. “As a scientist I don’t like to speculate,” says Balsom, “but it will be interesting to see what does happen towards the end of the season.”

The word ‘UNIQUE’ can be overused, but when it comes to the 2022/23 season there is no doubt we are in uncharted territory. The squeezing of the Qatar World Cup into November and December necessitated the pausing of the European club campaign and guaranteed a later finish than usual, with the Champions League final scheduled for 10 June. The impact it will have on players and teams between now and then will be intriguing to see. Real Madrid coach Carlo Ancelotti, for one, cited the World Cup factor when his side made a stumbling return to action over Christmas.

In England, Pep Guardiola had already warned in the autumn that Manchester City’s mid-season purple patch of a year earlier – 12 straight league wins from 6 November – “isn’t going to happen”, not with an international tournament to disrupt their flow. The question of rhythm is one he has returned to since, the City manager observing that those players who were at the World Cup returned in a “better condition” than those who had stayed at home, such as Erling Haaland and Riyad Mahrez.

A conversation with an official at Atlético de Madrid shed light on one simple reason why the World Cup period was challenging for coaches back at home: in Atleti’s case, with 12 players at the World Cup and their junior teams still active in their own competitions, there was a shortage of players to do meaningful work on the training pitch. When players did return, in most cases after a five-day break, they would have one day’s individual training before rejoining the group. Another problem clubs faced was finding facilities for training camps abroad, with popular venues facing too much demand.

Paul Balsom, a member of the UEFA Fitness For Football Advisory Group and fitness coach for Sweden’s national team, offers his perspective on the difficulties the World Cup has presented for players and those tasked with preparing them at their clubs. “Normally you’d have had a longer preparation leading up to the World Cup and then a break after. This time you’ve got this team of, say, 30 professionals and some are ready to go, some have just got back from the World Cup, some have got back late, some will have come back mentally exhausted, some will have played in the World Cup, some won’t. There are so many different variables for the fitness coach and coaching staff to deal with.”

Unchartered territory
Insight

Unchartered territory

The impact of the World Cup could be far-reaching as we enter the home straight of the Champions League

WORDS Simon Hart | ILLUSTRATION Neil Stevens

The word ‘UNIQUE’ can be overused, but when it comes to the 2022/23 season there is no doubt we are in uncharted territory. The squeezing of the Qatar World Cup into November and December necessitated the pausing of the European club campaign and guaranteed a later finish than usual, with the Champions League final scheduled for 10 June. The impact it will have on players and teams between now and then will be intriguing to see. Real Madrid coach Carlo Ancelotti, for one, cited the World Cup factor when his side made a stumbling return to action over Christmas.

In England, Pep Guardiola had already warned in the autumn that Manchester City’s mid-season purple patch of a year earlier – 12 straight league wins from 6 November – “isn’t going to happen”, not with an international tournament to disrupt their flow. The question of rhythm is one he has returned to since, the City manager observing that those players who were at the World Cup returned in a “better condition” than those who had stayed at home, such as Erling Haaland and Riyad Mahrez.

A conversation with an official at Atlético de Madrid shed light on one simple reason why the World Cup period was challenging for coaches back at home: in Atleti’s case, with 12 players at the World Cup and their junior teams still active in their own competitions, there was a shortage of players to do meaningful work on the training pitch. When players did return, in most cases after a five-day break, they would have one day’s individual training before rejoining the group. Another problem clubs faced was finding facilities for training camps abroad, with popular venues facing too much demand.

Paul Balsom, a member of the UEFA Fitness For Football Advisory Group and fitness coach for Sweden’s national team, offers his perspective on the difficulties the World Cup has presented for players and those tasked with preparing them at their clubs. “Normally you’d have had a longer preparation leading up to the World Cup and then a break after. This time you’ve got this team of, say, 30 professionals and some are ready to go, some have just got back from the World Cup, some have got back late, some will have come back mentally exhausted, some will have played in the World Cup, some won’t. There are so many different variables for the fitness coach and coaching staff to deal with.”

Penalty Pedigree

Etiam erat velit scelerisque in dictum non. Dictum non consectetur a erat nam at. Scelerisque felis imperdiet proin fermentum leo. Nibh tortor id aliquet lectus proin nibh nisl. Nulla at volutpat diam ut venenatis. At urna condimentum mattis pellentesque id nibh tortor id aliquet. Leo a diam sollicitudin tempor id eu nisl nunc mi. Dui vivamus arcu felis bibendum ut. Pharetra convallis posuere morbi leo urna molestie. Adipiscing at in tellus integer feugiat scelerisque. In arcu cursus euismod quis. Dictum non consectetur a erat nam at lectus urna duis. Facilisi nullam vehicula ipsum a arcu cursus. At tempor commodo ullamcorper a lacus vestibulum sed arcu non. Ipsum dolor sit amet consectetur adipiscing elit pellentesque habitant. Vitae sapien pellentesque habitant morbi tristique senectus. Eget nullam non nisi est sit amet facilisis. Ipsum consequat nisl vel pretium lectus quam. Elit sed vulputate mi sit amet mauris commodo quis. Pretium fusce id velit ut tortor pretium viverra suspendisse potenti.

The word ‘UNIQUE’ can be overused, but when it comes to the 2022/23 season there is no doubt we are in uncharted territory. The squeezing of the Qatar World Cup into November and December necessitated the pausing of the European club campaign and guaranteed a later finish than usual, with the Champions League final scheduled for 10 June. The impact it will have on players and teams between now and then will be intriguing to see. Real Madrid coach Carlo Ancelotti, for one, cited the World Cup factor when his side made a stumbling return to action over Christmas.

In England, Pep Guardiola had already warned in the autumn that Manchester City’s mid-season purple patch of a year earlier – 12 straight league wins from 6 November – “isn’t going to happen”, not with an international tournament to disrupt their flow. The question of rhythm is one he has returned to since, the City manager observing that those players who were at the World Cup returned in a “better condition” than those who had stayed at home, such as Erling Haaland and Riyad Mahrez.

A conversation with an official at Atlético de Madrid shed light on one simple reason why the World Cup period was challenging for coaches back at home: in Atleti’s case, with 12 players at the World Cup and their junior teams still active in their own competitions, there was a shortage of players to do meaningful work on the training pitch. When players did return, in most cases after a five-day break, they would have one day’s individual training before rejoining the group. Another problem clubs faced was finding facilities for training camps abroad, with popular venues facing too much demand.

Paul Balsom, a member of the UEFA Fitness For Football Advisory Group and fitness coach for Sweden’s national team, offers his perspective on the difficulties the World Cup has presented for players and those tasked with preparing them at their clubs. “Normally you’d have had a longer preparation leading up to the World Cup and then a break after. This time you’ve got this team of, say, 30 professionals and some are ready to go, some have just got back from the World Cup, some have got back late, some will have come back mentally exhausted, some will have played in the World Cup, some won’t. There are so many different variables for the fitness coach and coaching staff to deal with.”

Read the full story
Sign up now to get access to this and every premium feature on Champions Journal. You will also get access to member-only competitions and offers. And you get all of that completely free!

Balsom co-authored a paper in the Aspetar Sports Medicine Journal in the lead-up to Qatar 2022. It cited a study which found that “professional players feel they are required to play too many matches and their recovery, performances and health are impaired, specifically during international competitions with excessive travelling”.

Balsom wrote the article together with Richard Hawkins, head of physical performance at Manchester United, and Tony Strudwick, head of performance for the Football Association of Wales, and in conclusion they argued that “player safety and well-being are now being seriously challenged” by fixture congestion. And this was before the World Cup.

Speaking to this column, Balsom says, “There is no conclusive research saying performance output is decreased during fixture congestion, but they have showed an increase in injuries. So the occurrence of injuries is increased with fixture congestion.”

Players need as long as 72 hours (or more) to recover after a match, although that applies to the full 90 minutes, meaning that rotation and the use of all five substitutions will be significant in the months ahead. “Clubs with bigger squads are likely to have an advantage,” says Balsom. “For a player, playing 60 minutes is a very different physiological challenge to playing 90 minutes.” At Man City, for example, Phil Foden’s first three appearances after Qatar were off the bench and he did not play more than an hour of any game until 8 January.

Tournament football takes an emotional toll too. One female international footballer, looking back on last summer’s EURO, told me recently: “Even within two weeks I’d not processed everything I’d gone through.” Tottenham Hotspur goalkeeper Hugo Lloris would doubtless concur. His first match after captaining France in the World Cup final was 14 days later, a home Premier League fixture against Aston Villa. His spilling of a long-range shot allowed Emi Buendía to open the scoring in a 2-0 defeat for Tottenham. After subsequent goal-costing errors against Arsenal and Manchester City, Lloris admitted: “When you’re involved with the national team and you go until the last day of the World Cup, you come back and miss mental freshness.”  

The English Football Association’s media team sought to limit the World Cup baggage brought home by England’s players by encouraging as many of them as possible to speak to the press immediately after their quarter-final against France. This included Harry Kane, Lloris’s Spurs team-mate, who addressed his penalty miss there and then rather than fly home with things unsaid – and questions still left for the press to ask.

As for where all of this leads in this one-off season, time alone will tell. If there is a cost, it could come in the springtime. “As a scientist I don’t like to speculate,” says Balsom, “but it will be interesting to see what does happen towards the end of the season.”

The word ‘UNIQUE’ can be overused, but when it comes to the 2022/23 season there is no doubt we are in uncharted territory. The squeezing of the Qatar World Cup into November and December necessitated the pausing of the European club campaign and guaranteed a later finish than usual, with the Champions League final scheduled for 10 June. The impact it will have on players and teams between now and then will be intriguing to see. Real Madrid coach Carlo Ancelotti, for one, cited the World Cup factor when his side made a stumbling return to action over Christmas.

In England, Pep Guardiola had already warned in the autumn that Manchester City’s mid-season purple patch of a year earlier – 12 straight league wins from 6 November – “isn’t going to happen”, not with an international tournament to disrupt their flow. The question of rhythm is one he has returned to since, the City manager observing that those players who were at the World Cup returned in a “better condition” than those who had stayed at home, such as Erling Haaland and Riyad Mahrez.

A conversation with an official at Atlético de Madrid shed light on one simple reason why the World Cup period was challenging for coaches back at home: in Atleti’s case, with 12 players at the World Cup and their junior teams still active in their own competitions, there was a shortage of players to do meaningful work on the training pitch. When players did return, in most cases after a five-day break, they would have one day’s individual training before rejoining the group. Another problem clubs faced was finding facilities for training camps abroad, with popular venues facing too much demand.

Paul Balsom, a member of the UEFA Fitness For Football Advisory Group and fitness coach for Sweden’s national team, offers his perspective on the difficulties the World Cup has presented for players and those tasked with preparing them at their clubs. “Normally you’d have had a longer preparation leading up to the World Cup and then a break after. This time you’ve got this team of, say, 30 professionals and some are ready to go, some have just got back from the World Cup, some have got back late, some will have come back mentally exhausted, some will have played in the World Cup, some won’t. There are so many different variables for the fitness coach and coaching staff to deal with.”

Penalty Pedigree

Etiam erat velit scelerisque in dictum non. Dictum non consectetur a erat nam at. Scelerisque felis imperdiet proin fermentum leo. Nibh tortor id aliquet lectus proin nibh nisl. Nulla at volutpat diam ut venenatis. At urna condimentum mattis pellentesque id nibh tortor id aliquet. Leo a diam sollicitudin tempor id eu nisl nunc mi. Dui vivamus arcu felis bibendum ut. Pharetra convallis posuere morbi leo urna molestie. Adipiscing at in tellus integer feugiat scelerisque. In arcu cursus euismod quis. Dictum non consectetur a erat nam at lectus urna duis. Facilisi nullam vehicula ipsum a arcu cursus. At tempor commodo ullamcorper a lacus vestibulum sed arcu non. Ipsum dolor sit amet consectetur adipiscing elit pellentesque habitant. Vitae sapien pellentesque habitant morbi tristique senectus. Eget nullam non nisi est sit amet facilisis. Ipsum consequat nisl vel pretium lectus quam. Elit sed vulputate mi sit amet mauris commodo quis. Pretium fusce id velit ut tortor pretium viverra suspendisse potenti.

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