When Son Heung-min went down clutching his face in Tottenham’s Champions League match with Marseille last week the pain was not confined to his fractured eye socket. The shockwaves were felt all the way back in his homeland South Korea as the nation feared the worst ahead of the World Cup. Image Credit: AP

Professional footballers spend years preparing for the opportunity to play on the greatest stage on earth – the FIFA World Cup. However, an innocuous trip, a tweak, or a tear has been ruling several out of the tournament only days before it kicks off. Just look at Chelsea full back Ben Chilwell, Manchester United centre back Raphael Varane or Tottenham striker Son Heung-min. All three have recently seen their hopes of playing in the tournament dashed by injuries sustained in the last couple of weeks as clubs have been forced to cram extra fixtures in to their domestic seasons.

Football leagues all around the world are heading for a winter break as the big kick off approaches where the tournament in Qatar has created a number of firsts. This will be the first time that the World Cup will be held in the Middle East. It is also the first time the global showpiece has moved from its traditional timing of June and July to November and December so that matches can be played when temperatures are cooler in the host nation.

Major headache

However, this has created a throbbing headache for many league chiefs across the globe. The World Cup kicks off when the vast majority of the major domestic competitions are still in action.

There is no doubt the break will affect all of the major leagues. We saw something similar happen during the COVID-19 lockdown. The 2020/21 Premier League campaign had to be shortened to fit in all the matches after the season got underway a month late. That meant far more midweek games as the top-flight was fast-tracked to accommodate for the rearranged European Championships. Players had little time to rest ahead of last season and as a result they suffered more injuries.

The same thing is happening all over again. The league and all of the teams and players will have to deal with major disruptions that the Qatar World Cup will cause when it takes over from November 20. The Premier League will break this weekend and then resume six weeks later on Boxing Day. Players will only get a week to prepare with their national teams before heading out to Qatar. Should their country reach the final on December 18 it will mean they will just have eight days to recover in time for the league’s resumption during the festive period which is one of the busiest times of the season.

More injuries

The increase in the volume of games along with a reduction in recovery time between matches will likely cause more injuries to players. There are concerns for player welfare and fitness across the Premier League what with stars not only cramming in extra games in for their clubs, but then they’ll be playing at the World Cup and then come back to their respective teams for the conclusion of the season. They will be totally exhausted.

Managers have been expressing their concerns that the fixture list has been having on their players and they have been rotating their squads more often than they usually would. By trying to reduce player workloads this has lead to poor performances by teams and some surprise results too. We will continue to see this trend after the tournament and if the top sides lose their best players for lengthy periods it would seriously damage their chances of domestic success and allow teams with fewer players heading to Qatar to mount a surprising challenge for titles. On one hand this sounds exciting, but on the other it seems unfair.