The Hard Tackle takes a view of how the infamous international breaks have their effects on club football – positive and negative
The dreaded fortnight-long international break is finally over, and club football action is set to resume again this weekend. But that is not before everyone associated with clubs, that had their players in action, fretting over the possible consequences of one bad move, especially at this early juncture of the season.
We have often heard managers of several clubs air their grievances, often publicly, against international breaks, and the period is never short of controversy due to a constant club vs. country tug-of-war. We take a look at the kind of knock-on effects that the fortnight-long breaks for international fixtures have on club football.
A Chance To Regroup
Club football usually takes a fortnight-long break once each in September, October and November before one final round of international fixtures in March. The first three breaks, though, are during the first half of the season, when teams are looking to build momentum towards achieving their objectives for the season.
However, there are certain teams that are bereft of any early season momentum, heading into these breaks. For them, this period without a game on a weekend couldn’t come at a better time to allow them to take stock of everything that’s going wrong and shake off the early season cobwebs.
For instance, this season, Arsenal seem to be going through a rut that has become all too familiar around Emirates in recent seasons. But, the international break has given Arsene Wenger the chance reclaim his wits about him and start with a clean slate again.
With some of his key players enjoying an upturn in form, a similar swing of results could help Arsenal and Wenger immensely and kickstart their Premier League title challenge. And the international break may have been the catalyst for the same.
Getting The Head In The Right Space
There are certain players who have their club futures up in the air around the time the international breaks swing in. The heaviest speculation tends to be around the time the first break of the season begins, right around the end of the summer transfer window.
The players who have uncertainty surrounding their respective positions at their respective clubs are prone to having a growing sense of disinterest in representing their sides, although some player are ever the consummate professionals and turn up for their teams irrespective of the rumours surrounding their futures.
Nevertheless, constant speculation linking them with an exit one day and then the exact opposite the next is hardly ideal for the psyche of the player. This time around, players like Alexis Sanchez and Philippe Coutinho are two of the most prominent viable names.
While Sanchez did not refuse to play for Arsenal, even as he was being linked with Manchester City, his demeanour in the Gunners’ 4-0 loss to Liverpool did leave a lot to be desired. Often downtrodden and embattled, the Chilean’s persona took a completely different turn as he represented his national side.
Meanwhile, Coutinho reportedly refused to train with Liverpool, and a back injury was attributed as the reason for his absence in the first month of the season. But, once he joined his compatriots on Brazil duty, there were no signs of any fitness issue.
Perhaps, the two instances serve as a fine example of how reporting for international duty could help these players clear their heads and approach the return of club football with a better state of mind.
A Period To Grow
While a lot of players leave their clubs temporarily to join with the national sides for about two weeks, there are a few who are not picked to represent their countries, and end up staying at the training bases to continue with the usual regimen at their domestic outfits.
These fringe and young players get an opportunity to continue training, albeit briefly, under their managers, possibly doing them a world of good. Not only do they get a chance to get acclimatised to the manager’s style of play, but they also build up their fitness to provide their bosses an additional option.
This can particularly come in handy if injuries and fatigue are starting to take a toll on some of the more pivotal and prominent names in the first-team setup, handing their managers a timely reprieve to tackle the immediate future with relative ease.
If lowly, struggling sides get an opportunity to regroup and restart from scratch, the international breaks comes at the worst possible time for those who are at the opposite end of the spectrum. These sides are carrying all the positive winning momentum when the latest round of international break approaches.
It is often stressed that when one is winning, they must make the most of that form continue building on the positive momentum by playing the kind of football that is clearly delivering a lot of success. But, the international break threatens to bring it all to a screeching halt.
Players often return with just two days left for the weekend’s game to be played, leaving managers with too less a time to work with his players, who are returning with completely different sets of tactics for their national sides.
In the Premier League, Manchester United are the prime example of this. The Red Devils have begun the season with a bang, with a perfect record of three wins out of three, ten goals scored and none conceded. Manager Jose Mourinho, who has been vocal in his opposition of the international break, therefore, does have reasons to be frustrated.
His side are just starting to pull away from the chasing pack, who have a far more challenging start to the season than them. The fixtures this weekend are also quite promising for Manchester United. But a complete breakdown of momentum might just prove to be detrimental.
Chances of Injury
Speaking of Jose Mourinho, the Manchester United boss has been staunch in his opposition of the international break for one particular reason – players who are injury prone, who could fall prey to the vigourous demands during the two weeks.
Indeed, managing the fitness levels of players within their own training bases is relatively simpler for club managers, who can take stock of where some of the less fit ones stand and hand them appropriate rest.
But, when these players are with their national sides, representing their country while turning up in two different matches in quick succession, the managers’ hands are pretty much tied. The risk of injury is nothing short of unprecedented, with international managers often not in the know of a player’s individual fitness needs.
Then, some of the most instrumental players do tend to play 180 minutes of high octane football over a period of three days when qualifiers for major international tournaments are being played. A fine example of such a player is Eden Hazard.
The Chelsea superstar, out of action since June when, unsurprisingly, he was on international duty with Belgium, played his first competitive minutes of football this season for his national side last week. This was much to the annoyance of Antonio Conte, who had questioned Roberto Martinez’s decision to pick Hazard.
The star winger did manage to come back to Cobham scot-free, but it could all have turned out for the worse for Conte and Chelsea if the player ended up having a recurrence of his injury, especially with serious injuries being commonplace during international breaks.
The ten-month long club campaign is one gruelling challenge that every player faces season after season. The international break only seeks to add to the daunting task that is right in front of him, with his body often taking the brunt of it.
During these breaks, the players are travelling constantly and for long distances, play a couple of games full of intense action in quick succession and have little rest for their bodies to recuperate from before they all start once again by competing for their clubs.
Some of these players also come back with less than two days before they are expected to return to the field on the weekend. Flitting in and out of time zones while covering such long distances do tend to take a toll on their bodies, especially over the course of a long, winding season, affecting their performances for the worse.
Is There A Solution?
It is not hard to see just why international breaks are so unpopular, especially among the bigger clubs. The more prominent outfits do traditionally suffer the most from them as they usually have the most players being called up for international duty.
While some are highly vulnerable post the end of these dreaded breaks, some tend to perform at their best. But, there is fans often clamour around to have these mid-season international breaks ended. Is there a solution to the woes though?
A separate international window that does not clash with the club season has been mooted as a possible resolution, but there could be further challenges with respect to that as well that must be discussed by the appropriate authorities.
So while there is a solid case to end international breaks for good, club fans will need to withstand the troubles for the time being.