Tuesday, December 1, 2020
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The speed with which elite footballers are becoming unavailable | Football

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ROTATE, ROTATE, ROTATE

The Fiver might be in its mid-forties, with a BMI to match, but we’re not giving up our dream of becoming a professional footballer just yet. The speed with which elite players are becoming unavailable means there could yet be a surge in demand for our unique brand of languorous false 90. Of course, there are two main reasons for this: Covid-19, and football’s decision to undertake an impromptu physiological study in an attempt to discover how long elite athletes can survive in the red zone before their muscles start screaming for mercy. At the time of phoning this tea-time email in, the list of unavailable Premier League players on the Fantasy Football Scout website is – and you’ll like this – 21 pages long.

Those who are doubtful for this weekend’s fixtures include Mo Salah, Matt Doherty and Mohamed Elneny (Covid) and Raheem Sterling, Andy Robertson and Jordan Henderson (muscle-gah). The Premier League has also reported 16 new Covid cases, more than 50% up on the previous weekly high of 10. But while Covid cases are largely unavoidable, it has become obvious that the muscle knack is down to Uefa, Fifa, the FA and everyone else packing in fixtures like $ardin£s. The England manager Gareth Southgate, who has more of a conscience than some, took time off from massaging Jack Grealish’s ego to add to calls for the Premier League to allow five rather than three substitutes.

“We were able to make five changes against Belgium – we made four in the end – and clubs don’t have that option,” he said, as Grealish asked him to say the word “outstanding” just one more time, maybe this time with a lustier emphasis on the middle syllable. “What will it take for that to change? Wait until we get a load of really nasty [knacks]? We could not have prepared physically any better than we did last week. We have given players extra days’ recovery. We have tapered the training appropriately and we have still ended up with a couple. So that is a worry in the longer term because with no winter break … something has to give.”

Five subs can’t hurt, but the odd 10 minutes’ rest here and there isn’t going to save those twangy hamstrings. While Jürgen Klopp, Ole Gunnar Solskjær, Pep Guardiola and the rest are right to be frustrated and concerned, they might also consider gawping at that glassy thing on the wall for a couple of minutes. Almost all of the players knacked this season have one thing in common: they haven’t been rotated much, if at all. The Fiver realises it’s not easy. But the big clubs, the ones with the toughest fixture schedules, have had plenty of opportunities to give players some rest: two a week, to be precise. When you play Raheem Sterling for 90 minutes at Burnley in the Milk Cup, or Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andy Robertson for 90 minutes at home to Midtyjlland, or bring Marcus Rashford and Bruno Fernandes on at Luton in the Rumbelows Cup, the ascent to the moral high ground becomes a bit rockier. And that’s not great for the leg muscles either.

LIVE ON BIG WEBSITE

Join Rob Smyth from 7.45pm GMT for hot international clockwatch coverage from around Europe.

QUOTE OF THE DAY

“There were times where the escapism of reading could have really helped me. I want this escapism for all children. Not just those that can afford it. We know there are over 380,000 children across the UK today that have never owned a book, children that are in vulnerable environments. That has to change. My books are, and always will be, for every child, even if I have to deliver them myself. We will reach them” – Marcus Rashford is fighting another good fight with the launch of a new book club.

RECOMMENDED LOOKING

It’s David Squires on … the fitba!

And a nice trip down memory lane in there too.
And a nice trip down memory lane in there too. Illustration: David Squires/The Guardian

RECOMMENDED LISTENING

Here’s Monday’s Football Weekly podcast.

Football Weekly

England’s Nations League flop and WSL comebacks

FIVER LETTERS

“When are you actually going to start reporting Covid-19 for the global communist takeover it is, instead of glossing over it, with your $hitty, drastically unfunny daily football column? The whole of you bunch of [cees] make people sick on a daily basis. All of you will be judged by God, I hope the whole [effing] lot of you end up in prison, for your treachery. Sleep well, all of you, you are a shower of $hit” – Martin Mason.

“I’ve been thinking about Dries Mertens’ sublime free-kick against England on Sunday evening and, using my minimal creative skills – atrophied as they now are – to provide a solution to defending an expertly struck free-kick. This is the result of my musings and I think I’m on to a winner …” – Tony Crawford.

Still some gaps for Dries?
Still some gaps for Dries? Photograph: Tony Crawford

Send your letters to the.boss@theguardian.com. And you can always tweet The Fiver via @guardian_sport. Today’s winner of our letter o’the day is … Martin Mason Tony Crawford, who wins a copy of Glove Story 2 – Another Book for Every Goalkeeper, Past and Present, by Rob Stokes [postage available to UK only, sorry – Fiver Postal Ed].

NEWS, BITS AND BOBS

The family of World Cup winner Nobby Stiles say football needs to “address the scandal” of dementia in the game. “How can it be that these [former] players are left needing help when their own union has tens of millions of pounds available today?” asked the family in a statement.

The former football agent Eric Hall, who became famous for his “monster, monster” catchphrase, has died at the age of 73.

Manchester United’s Lauren James has been called up to the England squad for the first time, with Big Phil Neville packing 29 players into a youthful group for a training camp that will feature two internal friendlies.

Liverpool have opened their new £50m training ground, which has a special door named after James Milner, a time capsule containing a pair of Klopp’s specs and a “secret” stairway that leads to Weird Uncle Fiver’s collec … a place where potential new signings can enter and exit without being seen.

The actual James Milner Door, earlier.
The actual James Milner Door, earlier. Photograph: Liverpool FC

And Wilfried Zaha has defended himself against accusations of diving by revealing his tootsies come in for some brutal treatment in the Premier League. “I’ve got bad toenails,” he yelped. “My toenails can’t recover anymore. It does hurt but I can’t hold a grudge about it. The way I play welcomes tackles.”

STILL WANT MORE?

All of this, by Jonathan Liew.

Fulham and former Palace youth coach Colin Omogbehin gets his chat on with Ed Aarons about black role models and helping players make the grade.

Youri Djorkaeff also has chat of his own to get on, this time with Richard Foster.

More recommended looking: football murals, from Diego Maradona on a huge Naples block to Ray Clemence in Liverpool.

Happy place, Turf Moor.
Happy place, Turf Moor. Photograph: Lee Smith/Reuters

Gareth Southgate’s safety-conscious approach has a downside in the lack of recent goals from England, reckons David Hytner.

Oh, and if it’s your thing … you can follow Big Website on Big Social FaceSpace. And INSTACHAT, TOO!





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