Premier League clubs’ World Cup plans will be crucial, claims fitness guru
The coming season presents an unparalleled challenge for clubs and coaches and how they navigate their players through the World Cup period could be the difference between success and failure.
Around a quarter of all Premier League players will travel to Qatar in November, representing their country on the biggest stage of what could become a jam-packed 60+ game campaign, while the majority will not be involved.
Clubs like Manchester City and Chelsea are set to lose well over half of their 25-man senior squad. Others, like Newcastle, Everton and Southampton, might be barely affected. In any case, this poses problems.
Manchester City are set to lose more than half of their first squad for the Qatar World Cup
“This World Cup could be the difference between teams that finish in the Premier League,” says Ade Mafe, a former Olympic sprinter turned fitness guru, who spent 10 years in Chelsea’s coaching staff before moving to Millwall.
“It’s unique, an unprecedented situation and it will depend on who handles it best.” This could be a season where you see a team creating an upset.
In the final round of international fixtures earlier this month, there were around 150 players called up from clubs in England and Wales, with around 80 per cent from the Premier League, the rest from the EFL, to represent the 32 nations at the World Cup. in Qatar.
Some have been called up, released and replaced. Some countries, including England, have called up more than the 23 they will bring to the tournament.
The numbers will change as more and more players change clubs, complete or start loans or transfers, sustain injuries or drift in and out of form and favour, but it can be expected that they are broadly similar by November.
They say nearly 20% of the 782 players traveling to Qatar are likely to come from English football, and nearly a quarter of the 500 players signed up for Premier League club senior teams next season will leave for the World Cup.
Fitness guru Ade Mafe (above, left) says preparing clubs for the tournament will be crucial
That still leaves more than three-quarters of Premier League players under the control of their clubs, and those who have left will return at different times, leaving coaching teams with the puzzle of how to navigate the void.
There will be time to rest but they will also need to stay in shape, maybe a mini pre-season or a hot weather training camp. More importantly, they will need to play games to stay sharp and competitive.
This could be with the Under-23s or in ad hoc friendly fixtures.
“Nothing can replace games,” says Mafe, now a personal trainer in west London. “You can do so many things in training, but you have to give them games for that extra 10%. All clubs will be looking to organize friendlies to keep them up to date.
Within this will be the psychological balance of the players. There will be those who were hoping to be in Qatar but failed to make the cut and need a different training plan than those who have known for months and are looking forward to a few days in the sun with their families.
Harry Kane will lead the line for England, and the stars playing in November will face the Countess matches
Premier League clubs have the sports science departments and staff levels to deliver very detailed bespoke programs and modern elite players rarely struggle to motivate themselves when out of competition.
For some, this erratic schedule can represent an opportunity. Mo Salah started last season in explosive form only to fade understandably as the rigors of chasing four trophies caught up with some of Liverpool’s players.
Next season, with Egypt having failed to qualify for the World Cup final, he has a rest built into his season, a chance to recharge and refresh when the Premier League returns the day after Christmas.
Erling Haaland, Riyad Mahrez, Andy Robertson, Dejan Kulusevski and Jorginho are among the big stars who are certain not to be in Qatar as their countries failed to qualify.
Those who make it to the World Cup will be split into two categories, those who play regularly and those who don’t. Clubs will be less concerned about who is playing. They will maintain their pace and recover between games.
Liverpool and Jurgen Klopp could also be hit hard and coaches will want to avoid injury
Those who end up on the sidelines are perhaps the cause of clubs’ greatest concern. They are out of control and could return without having played a game for six weeks. Will they be in the mental and physical condition to run again?
“If I worked at a club now, my main objective would be to liaise with the physical trainers of the various international teams,” explains Mafe. “These guys will be responsible for conditioning and coaching our players for a long time.”
“Every player is different, has different needs and I would like to make sure they know what we want for our players. It will be easier with some national teams than with others.
“The other thing is that I would like to be sure that we have friendly matches before we start again.”
Mohamed Salah started last season explosively but then disappeared fighting on four fronts