England manager Gareth Southgate is not unaware of the fact that his best players have been playing what some have said are far too many matches in the early part of the season. England defeated Spain 3-2 in Sevilla on Monday, a match in which Harry Kane had two assists but also one missing Danny Rose and Dele Alli, both of whom are out with muscle injuries.
That became a point of inquiry in the post-match press conference, and when asked about England players and their post-World Cup recovery time, Southgate put the blame on the Premier League’s decision of when to start the new season, suggesting England’s deep run in the tournament took everyone by surprise.
“I don’t really understand why our league started so early but they did, so it’s been a really difficult situation for the clubs. Look at Tottenham Hotspur, who had so many players in the semi-finals of the World Cup. They had to put players straight into matches on the back of very little pre-season. It was an impossible situation for the coaches, really.
”I didn’t really know [why] and I hadn’t looked into when the season started until when we got back from the tournament. Maybe they were expecting us to be back by the end of June. I assumed the rest of the world were going to be there until the middle of July.
“It’s always easy to make a comment like that and not know the complex scenario the decision-makers had to go to, because that happens to me quite a lot. But everybody knew when the final was going to be, and the semi-final, and that the players would be away for a period of time.
”It’s a bit like our clubs in the Champions League. Some of the rest of the leagues in Europe help them and adjust the fixture list [to allow teams more recovery time around Champions League games]. I’m sure our clubs would appreciate that because, in the end, they’re representing English football and we want them all to do well.”
Spurs certainly have been hit with the injury bug in the first part of the season. Of the nine players who went to the World Cup semifinals — Harry Kane, Dele Alli, Eric Dier, Mousa Dembele, Kieran Trippier, Danny Rose, Jan Vertonghen, Toby Alderweireld, and Hugo Lloris — five of them have already missed time due to muscle injuries, and that’s not including Harry Kane who was slow to recover from an ankle injury sustained before the World Cup.
Southgate is an international manager, so naturally his focus is on his side of the equation. With the creation of the Nations League and a sudden importance on what used to be meaningless international friendlies and are now part of a new international tournament, Southgate is under more pressure to field his best players earlier, at a time in the World Cup and Euro cycle when usually you look to reserves and younger players and develop them. On the flip side are clubs and fans who feel like national teams are playing footballers who really could use a rest. It depends on which side to which you feel the closer allegiance.
So I get that Southgate would want to blame the Premier League for starting early and not giving the World Cup players time to recover. I’m sure he feels as though he’s right, even as he receives criticism for calling up those same players to get extra matches during league breaks.
What’s clear is that right now there are too many matches, and all of them are important. That’s not sustainable and something will need to be done to protect the players or the combined league, cup, and international schedule will drive them into the ground.