How the World Cup will play havoc with the 2022-23 football calendar
With only the small matter of the Champions League and a few play-off finals still to be decided, coaches and players from clubs who are not required to report for international duty can go on holiday to re-energise before a busy 2022-23 campaign. Next season will be unlike any in modern memory, with a four-week break in the middle to accommodate Qatar’s hosting of the World Cup. It remains to be seen how the winter World Cup will affect domestic football next season. One thing is for certain: the 2022 World Cup will have a profound effect on the schedule because of its unusual start date. The Athletic breaks down the timeline from now until Senegal and the Netherlands kick off in Doha on November 21. With no World Cup and no European Championship, will men’s players be on holiday until the start of next season? Owing to the shortened summer break during the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 and the European Championship last year, lots of players in England’s top two divisions have played virtually non-stop for two years. But with the Nations League shifting forward to accommodate the winter World Cup, there is no end in sight for European players selected for their national teams, either. The Nations League kicks off on June 1 with Poland against Wales. Wales could still qualify for the World Cup (Photo: Ryan Pierse/Getty Images) Liverpool’s Trent Alexander-Arnold will join the England camp shortly after Saturday’s Champions League final for four Nations League matches in 11 days, with away trips to Germany and Hungary next week. On the same day as the Nations League begins, Wembley will host the 2022 “Finalissima” between Italy, winners of Euro 2020, and Argentina, the holders of the Copa America. Italy will return to Wembley after winning Euro 2020 (Photo: Christian Charisius/picture alliance via Getty Images) Clubs are expected to return to pre-season training earlier than usual this summer. With Nations League fixtures ending on June 14, players involved in internationals will have less than two weeks between campaigns. Ten Hag will have his first crack at playing Liverpool in Thailand as Premier League clubs travel for their first global pre-season tours since the outbreak of COVID-19 in 2020. Lucrative pre-season tours are back on the agenda this summer (Photo: Andrew Powell/Liverpool FC via Getty Images
Arsenal are heading to the United States on their pre-season tour, with matches against Everton, Orlando City and Chelsea scheduled for July 16, July 20 and July 23. Premier League champions Manchester City will begin their season in Houston, Texas, against Mexican side Club America on July 21. The Premier League will begin on August 6, one week earlier than last season. Premier League winners Manchester City and FA Cup holders Liverpool will meet a week earlier for the Community Shield on July 31 as Pep Guardiola’s side look to improve on last year’s 1-0 defeat by Leicester City at Wembley. Leicester won last season’s Community Shield (Photo: Alex Pantling – The FA/The FA via Getty Images) The English Football League season will also start a week earlier than usual, beginning on the weekend of July 30-31. Celtic will begin their defence of the Scottish Premiership title on the weekend of July 30-31. Ligue 1, France’s top division, will follow the same schedule as the Premier League. How will the 2022-23 domestic season be affected by the World Cup? Before the Premier League pauses for the World Cup on November 13 after 16 rounds of matches — eight days before the first match of the World Cup on November 21 — players across the world will return to their national teams during the autumn international break in late September. When the World Cup finishes, the traditional “winter break” will continue to be observed on the continent. However, should a Premier League player reach the World Cup final on December 18, they will have eight days to recover before the Premier League resumes on Boxing Day. The Premier League will conclude on May 28, with all matches kicking off simultaneously as is standard for England’s top division. The Championship will pause on the same weekend as the Premier League for the World Cup group stage but will resume on December 10, while League One and League Two will continue throughout the tournament. The Scottish Premiership will pause at the same time as the Premier League but will resume on the same weekend as the World Cup final. The winners of Saturday’s Champions League final between Real Madrid and Liverpool will take on Eintracht Frankfurt, who beat Rangers in the Europa League final, for the Super Cup in Helsinki on August 10. Rangers lost in this year’s Europa League final (Photo: Jonathan Moscrop/Getty Images)
The first Champions League group games will take place on September 6 — one week earlier than the 2021-22 season, with qualifying scheduled to take place between June 21 and August 24. Group matches will be played on back-to-back weeks, rather than the usual two- or three-week gaps, with the final match day of the group stages on November 2. The Champions League final will take place at the Ataturk Olympic Stadium in Istanbul on June 10, the venue of Liverpool’s historic comeback against AC Milan in 2005. The Europa League and Europa Conference League group stages begin the same week as the Champions League and finish on November 3. West Ham must get through a two-legged play-off match in August to confirm their group-stage place. The Europa League final will be on May 31 in Budapest and the Europa Conference League final will be on June 7 in Prague. With only 100 days between the start of the Premier League and the pause for the World Cup, teams that qualify for Europe will play 23 matches (16 in the Premier League, six in the group stage of European competition and one in the Carabao Cup) — which is an average of almost a game every four days. There have been differing opinions regarding the mid-season World Cup from the football world. Maheta Molango, the head of the Professional Footballers’ Association (PFA), disagrees with Dalic’s assertion. “There was almost a unanimous position in saying we play too many games,” Molango told The Athletic’s Business of Sport podcast in October 2021. FIFPro, the organisation representing 65,000 professional footballers worldwide, is also crying out for reform to the football calendar. “The problem is the accumulation,” says Jonas Baer-Hoffmann, general secretary of FIFPro. Guardiola and Jurgen Klopp, the Manchester City and Liverpool managers, have echoed Baer-Hoffman’s concerns, voicing their complaints on several occasions about the busy schedule in England. Darren Burgess, who served as Arsenal’s head of elite performance between 2017 and 2019, is working with FIFPro to help address the growing concerns about player welfare. “The feeling I’ve had from fellow professionals is that it’s about time this issue was raised,” he told The Athletic in 2021. FIFPro has targeted “the critical zone”, where a player has not been afforded five days of rest or recovery, as the urgent issue. “If these rules (limits to the number of games played in a critical zone) are in place at the start of a season, then it allows a performance coach or a doctor, coach and fan to understand this is being done to promote performance and protect players.
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