The Premier League will break from November 14th through December 26th to accommodate the Qatar 2022 World Cup played next winter. The tournament proper runs from November 21st through December 18th. The Premier League season will start the first weekend in August, one week earlier than this year, and end the last weekend in May, one week later.
By my math, the Premier League will play the same number of matches (38) as ever, but do so in one or two fewer match-weekends. And the World Cup, which ran for 32 days in 2018 will run for 28 days in 2022.
UPDATE: The usual September and October international breaks have been scrapped for next season. There will be 16 match weekends from August 6th through November 13th. All told, 34 match weekends, 3 midweek dates, 1 bank holiday date.
But who cares about the quality of the football or the health of the players, right?
And speaking of the players, their voices are conspicuously missing from the conversation. Were they consulted on what the Premier League schedule would look like? Were they consulted when a World Cup was awarded to a country that would clearly have to host the competition in the middle of the club season? Have they been consulted on the two vs. four year cycle debate?
It seems to me that if the players really wanted to band together and flex their muscle, they would hold a significant amount of sway in the discussions because without them, what do FIFA, UEFA, the Premier League, etc. actually have? A bunch of competitions and brands without any talent to make them attractive properties. Workers (players) of the world unite!
The schedule will be more condensed. There will be more midweek Premier League matches next season, which means more fatigue-related injuries. Not-so-fun-fact: it’s not just muscle strains, things like ACL tears have repeatedly been linked to fatigue. The World Cup will have an outsized effect on the Premier League table next season.
And even if nobody gets hurt (which won’t happen), the Premier League season resumes 8 days after the World Cup ends. Players normally get at least three weeks off after a major international tournament. Five weeks after Euro 2020 ended, Bukayo Saka was only fit enough for a substitute appearance for Arsenal. After six weeks, he started and played 60 minutes. Do you see the problem here?
Key players will either be rushed back into action before they’ve had appropriate time off or miss several Premier League matches. Neither of those are good!
The big clubs should be mostly alright because they have the squad depth to handle missing a few key players. It’s tough to project out who’d be hit the hardest because it depends on who makes the World Cup rosters, which teams make deep runs, and how much various players play. For example, if England goes deep but Aaron Ramsdale is the backup or third keeper and doesn’t play, he’d probably be good to go for Arsenal from the off. But Bukayo Saka, who probably played significant minutes, wouldn’t be ready.
It’s going to (potentially) hit the mid-table and bottom table clubs harder. Imagine you’re Everton. England and Brazil both make deep runs. You’re without Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Richarlison, your two best attackers, for several games.
Or you’re a team fighting relegation. You have a young player on-loan from a big club carrying your team. He’s playing well, so he makes his national team for the World Cup (think Conor Gallagher, but his example doesn’t quite hold). He misses three games after the World Cup and maybe picks up a fatigue-related injury in March. You get relegated because of the World Cup, in essence.
The examples are a bit simplistic, but I think you get the idea. There are a lot of ways the World Cup will affect the Premier League season, none of them good.
Oh and the World Cup is going to stink, too. Normally, the national teams have three weeks of camp before the competition and multiple warm-up friendlies. This time, they’ll have maybe a week of training together. Don’t worry though, it’s not as if the result of your opening group stage match is highly deterministic of whether you’ll advance. Oh wait.
And the matches will be played over four fewer days than in Russia. Yes, there is no travel in Qatar compared to significant travel in Russia, but you can still rest and recover on a travel day. There is no getting around playing more matches in fewer days.
Maybe I’m overstating things a bit. Most of the Premier League will have a month off in the middle of the season (which creates different competitive balance issues). Players may not need as much time off afterwards because the World Cup falls mid-season instead of at the end of a full season, eating up summer break. Maybe players who are comparatively more rested than guys who have just finished a grueling season play better in the actual World Cup.
We can go back and forth on pros and cons until we’re blue in the face. We’ll just have to wait and see. But I get the feeling that I, along with the vast majority of the footballing world, are rightfully extremely concerned.
And all of this talk is solely on the footballing merits of the competition. We haven’t even touched on the serious human rights issues surrounding the Qatar World Cup.