How managers will cure World Cup hangover

    Nobody knew Kane was coming. The expectation was that the England captain would be resting at home, still expunging the disappointment of that penalty miss against France and finding ways within himself to reset before Spurs face Brentford on Boxing Day.Kane, though, saw it differently. After ten days off, his place to recharge was no longer at a distance but with the team, back in the familiar surroundings of the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, where the noise of the fans and the smell of the pitch felt close.How will players reset now after the World Cup? Which ones will find getting back to the grind most difficult? It is a question that could dictate not only the coming weeks but the rest of this most unusual of seasons. Since 1990, players have had an average of 37 days between the end of a World Cup and the start of a Premier League calendar – this time there will have been only eight days to recuperate.For everyone, it means a step into the unknown, from the majority that failed in Qatar to the few that succeeded, not to mention the hefty chunk of players in between. It is easy to forget that for some, the World Cup was not an event that stirred extreme emotions. They went, they played, they fared largely as expected. There is always disappointment in defeat, of course, but some disappointments can be more swiftly overcome.For others, the pain will last longer and for an unfortunate minority there will be pangs of regret that may never be shaken off. Kane’s crucial error against France will always be a part of his story.The France players, such as Raphael Varane, Hugo Lloris, Ibrahima Konate and William Saliba, will never forget how they were a penalty shootout away from glory.The Brazilians were convinced that this was their time, and for Thiago Silva, Casemiro and Fabinho, the opportunity might not come again. Lucas Paqueta, Bruno Guimaraes and Antony will have more chances, but 3 and a half years is a long time to wait.Many of these players, like Kane, have decided the best way to recover is to rediscover routines. Clubs have found their World Cup players eager to get back to familiar surroundings. At Arsenal, Mikel Arteta has been pleasantly surprised by how many of his ten-man Qatar contingent returned earlier than their schedules required. Saliba could even be involved against West Ham United on Monday, eight days after France’s loss to Argentina. At Aston Villa, Matty Cash was quick to rejoin the squad in Dubai, cancelling proposed time off after Poland’s exit in the last 16.Michael Caulfield, a sports psychologist who works with a Premier League club and has supported several players returning from Qatar, is not surprised. “Players like routine, they like structure, they like knowing what’s happening next,” Caulfield says. “All the conversations I’ve had are with players that are pleased to be back in their training and playing routines. Whether you’ve had a disappointing World Cup or a great World Cup, you can only talk or think about it for so long. They want to get back to work.”Some clubs who initially feared the immediate effects of the World Cup have in fact been encouraged by the condition and morale of those that have returned. One senior official likened the atmosphere at the training ground this week to the days before the start of the season. “It feels fresh, there’s an excitement and a buzz to get going again,” he said. Many players even found Qatar, where travel was convenient and games were all in one place, to be much less demanding than a normal club schedule before Christmas.Pep Guardiola thinks his Manchester City players that went to the World Cup are better prepared for the restart – with the notable exception of Kalvin Phillips, whom Guardiola described as overweight and unfit to play. “I have the feeling that those who were at the World Cup are in better condition than players who weren’t,” Guardiola said. “The players who didn’t go lack rhythm. The ones who came back have been competing and training every day.” Kevin De Bruyne played more minutes in the equivalent period last season for City than he did for Belgium in Qatar.And yet there are undoubtedly players for whom readjusting to club football, so soon, will be a challenge. Lisandro Martinez, Cristian Romero, Julian Alvarez and Alexis Mac Allister might all have pondered on the possibility that Argentina’s World Cup triumph will have been the peak of their careers. When you fly above Buenos Aires in a helicopter, circling above millions of adoring Argentinians below, with Lionel Messi beside you and the World Cup trophy in the back, it would be tempting to think the only way is down.Tom Bates worked with Adam Peaty after the swimmer won his first Olympic gold medal for Great Britain in 2016, and he now supports Premier League teams in his role as a performance psychologist. “There’s a sense of emptiness,” Bates says. “If an athlete thinks they’ve won the top prize, what else is there? With Adam, we had to upgrade the goal. We had to find something bigger than a gold medal, so we looked at his legacy. For him it became about winning for his son and how his son would look at his experiences. It’s the same now with these players. They have to see they can do something new and that can also be liberating.”It can be mentally exhausting too, with many now nervous about how the emotional rollercoaster of the World Cup may affect players later in the season, once the buzz of being back has worn off. In that sense, players and managers remain in the dark, with the delayed effects of an unprecedented tournament still to be seen. The World Cup has come and gone but its psychological effects may be longer lasting.-The Times

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