How will the FIFA World Cup affect club football this year?

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The announcement of the host nation for the FIFA World Cup 2022 was met with shock from the moment the name “Qatar” was spoken from the podium. Among all of the geopolitical questions, which continue to ring out, two more prosaic sporting questions were posed. Firstly, was it right to award the hosting to a country that has never qualified for a World Cup in its history? Secondly, June and July, the traditional months when the tournament is held, are prone to the sweltering heat of a kind that is unsuited to top-level football – would it even be safe to play so many matches in a time-limited period in that weather?

The first question is a live one, for sure – although 1994 in the USA and 2010 in South Africa saw the tournament hosted in countries with a limited pedigree in the sport, both countries had at least qualified for a World Cup under their own steam. But money talks in football, and Qatar has a lot of it. The second question saw the tournament moved to the end of the year – the final will take place in mid-December when temperatures in the Gulf state have usually fallen to a more reasonable level. The remaining issue, then, is that this World Cup will fall right in the middle of the football calendar of most of Europe, which is where most of the players involved play their club football. What does this mean for the coming season?

Mid-season breaks for the top leagues

For a selection such as the US men’s national team, many of the players involved will have just completed their season. The MLS wraps in late autumn, so titles will have been awarded, sportsbook promos in PA will have paid out on the winners, and players such as DeAndre Yedlin will have clocked off from the day job. For leagues in England, Spain, Germany, France, and Italy, though, it will be in the middle of the campaign, and those leagues have announced that a six-week break will be taken to allow players to participate in the summer spectacular. This will result in a certain amount of fixture congestion, with more midweek games scheduled to accommodate the break.

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Tough acclimatization for the best players?

The teams who make the final of the FIFA World Cup 2022 will play seven games (as will those in the Third/Fourth place play-off, but the teams involved in that usually field a rotated side). This could mean that a player such as Neymar or Bernardo Silva will have played an extra tournament’s worth of games in the middle of their league campaign, and teams who have a significant number of top-level internationals could be at risk from burnout issues as the season draws to a close next May. This may benefit Italian sides in European competition, as the national side has not qualified for the finals.

Will the adjustment have a bearing on the winners?

It should be noted that most World Cups cut into the league season of at least some countries competing. Usually, the MLS season is affected, as is Brazil’s Series A and the Argentine Primera Division among others. It’s hard to say how this affects national team performance, as most of the players involved ply their professional trade in Europe. However, European countries, for whom the tournament comes at the end of most of their seasons, have won every World Cup since Brazil’s 2002 triumph.

It may be that the schedule favours the selections with more players who have played a full season and are match-honed. In truth, though, we may not notice much of a difference, as big data and sports science will adjust training schedules and tactics to account for the change. Brazil may start the tournament as favourites, but that’s often been the case in the last two decades and they’ve not won it in that time.

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