Gareth Southgate’s phone will have been ringing off the hook for the past few days with messages of congratulations, but also a few of concern from Premier League managers.
Mentally drained and physically depleted, England’s 23-man squad are amongst the 107 Premier League footballers returning from the World Cup, and being plunged back into their club structure.
How these players are managed over the next two-to-three months will determine both the amount of transfer activity in the January window, and potentially where the top places in the league go next May. And considering the needs of the players, by giving them time to recover rather than just offering quick fixes, will reap much greater benefits in the long run.
With the Premier League season kicking off on Aug 10, there is little time for respite. Many clubs who want a fast start to the season will be allowing their players the minimum of a three-week break, as demanded by the Professional Footballers’ Association. Others, such as Arsenal, under their new manager, Unai Emery, have opted for a longer four weeks.
The past three days will have been full of calls to agents and family to hastily arrange holidays. Sir Alex Ferguson, when he was in charge at Manchester United, took a different and perhaps enlightened approach. He asked the players to return after two weeks, especially when the national teams went deep in the tournaments. He did, though, promise them their own mini-winter break with up to 10 days off later in the season.
World Cup 2018 | Premier League players in the semi-finals
The balance between time away from the club now and the need for a pre-season, both in terms of tactical cohesion and physical readiness, is the big equation for the clubs to solve. If they look to the scientific literature they will be keen to start the World Cup returners’ pre-season as quickly as possible.
A study by the Football Research Group after the 2002 World Cup concluded that the likelihood of injury during the season increased when pre-season training was lighter. On top of this, rugby union and Australian Rules Football have concluded there is a sweet spot for the amount of training needed, individually and collectively, to prevent injuries during the season. Less training equals more injury risk, and this is compounded where the team has a new manager and a squad returning at different times.
Premier League 2018/19 fixtures: Unai Emery faces daunting start as Arsenal manager
Spurs and Manchester City, who have had the highest number of players in the semi-finals, seem the clubs at most risk of a very disrupted August and September, and potentially corrosive impact on the season. This is particularly true for Spurs: stripped of many of their stars for their lucrative pre-season tours, they need to move stadium and also manage four games in three weeks, before the next international break, with a much shallower squad than their other rivals.
Mauricio Pochettino’s skill and rapport with the returning players will be tested as he seeks to combat fatigue, oversee sufficient injury prevention work and carefully align the physical fitness of the whole squad so the team can begin to train and play as one unit.
Michael Davison is managing director of Isokinetic