Reese James will not be present at the winter World Cup. Neither will Diogo Jota. It will be a World Cup without N’Golo Kante. One without Alexander Isaac and Pedro Neto. And now Raphael Varane could be absent.
The Manchester United defender is not yet sure if he will be able to play. Scans will provide answers, but the way Varane walked off the field in tears at Stamford Bridge, consoled by his teammates, suggests he fears the worst knowing what is at stake.
This happens when you’re planning the World Cup in the middle of the season. It’s a point in the calendar where a tight schedule causes injuries to spike and pushes even more games to make up for a lost time.
As we are closer to the days until the World Cup, the less time one has to recover. There are only eight days from the last premier league match before the World Cup to the opening match in Qatar. In just a few weeks, even the slightest blow can be disastrous for a player on the edge of history.
If you are Kevin De Bruyne at 31 and at the peak of power, how will you navigate the next few weeks of the Premier League and Champions League?
When asked by Sky Sports last week whether Belgium would win the World Cup or the Champions League with Manchester City, he was barely silent, “Belgium winning the World Cup.”
Will De Bruyne, Jesus, and Harry Kane keep trying and reach more to catch the ball? Or will they persevere and make their way to Qatar easier?
“A World Cup is something that can define your career,” a former Premier League player said in The Mail on Sunday. “Fans and clubs won’t want to hear it but players will start pulling out of challenges, they won’t run quite as hard so they don’t pull a muscle or tear a hamstring.”
“In a few weeks, we might see a few players on the beach as you do at the end of the season.”
Several football managers regarding this matter
Guardiola seems to have shared his opinion that he won’t stand for it. “They will not play if I smell this,’ said the City boss. I’m really good at smelling this. Tactics not, but smelling I’m really good.”
On Sunday The Mail stated, “Inevitably, there will be some players who will try to stay out of trouble in the last week before the World Cup, but not many.”
“Personal pride and competitiveness kick at the moment, taking over the concerns of whatever is around the corner. I’ve never done it and don’t think I’d be capable.”
“I think it’s risky to play any game of football at a professional level holding back or protecting yourself. A gestured tackle can lead to worse injuries than a fully committed one.”
Danny Murphy knows all too well the misery of missing out on the World Cup through injury. He was part of the England squad for his 2002 tournament in South Korea but broke his leg during training before the tournament.
The numbers suggest that it hasn’t happened yet, quite the contrary actually. In the first six weeks of the game, he averaged 251 sprints completed in the Premier League. Since then, it averaged 266 by the end of the week. Players ran 133.7 miles per game in his first six weeks, and since then he has run 135 miles.
Of course, some players will use the next few weeks to make final offers for seats on planes for their country. A last-ditch effort by James Maddison or Callum Wilson to put his Gareth Southgate into action.
West Ham manager David Moyes believes his players can start defending themselves. With Lucas Paqueta sidelined with a shoulder injury, he too has been on the verge of injury. The Brazilian is back in time for Qatar after the Hamers’ record signing seemed to miss the World Cup.
“It’s started to come to everyone’s attention recently because of the injuries which are being picked up,” said Moyes. “I think the difference this year is you are going from one game from a Saturday or Sunday to a game at the World Cup the following weekend.”
“I think there could be situations where players may look to protect themselves but it will be difficult to actually spot that and see it exactly.”
Fulham manager Marco Silva has several players with Qatar in mind. Joao Palhinha, Aleksander Mitrovic, Antonee Robinson, Kevin Mbabu, Welsh trio Dan James, Harry Wilson, and Luke Harris hope to make an impact in the Middle East. However, he maintains that their dedication and professionalism are beyond doubt.
“The players know how important it is for them to be well in their clubs because after the world cup they will be in good shape, the confidence they will get. You don’t get this type of situation when you are doing well at your football club.”
“The good professionals, the guys that really take care of themselves, they will be in full focus of their football clubs. I think we have some good examples of those players at our football club. Some of them have had injuries in the last few games.”
“Harry Wilson got injured in the game before the last international break, Mitro is another good example as well, he got injured on international duty as well.”
“They are all playing with a will, and a desire to do the right things and show again how good these professionals are.”