Paul Dickov, the former Manchester City and Arsenal forward, summed up the scheduling of the first-of-its-kind, mid-season FIFA World Cup later this month in one word—“crazy”.
The first match of the Qatar World Cup on November 20 comes exactly a week after the last Premier League fixture. England take on Iran a day later.
“Usually, if you’re looking at England or most other teams, they get 4-5 weeks to prepare for the World Cup. This time, you’ve got one week, which is crazy. And the impact is going to be injuries.” Dickov, who played over 100 games for Manchester City from 1996-2002 and 2006-08, said on a visit to Mumbai for a Premier League event.
The list of walking wounded is already swelling—Paul Pogba and N’Golo Kante for France, Timo Werner for Germany, Diogo Jota for Portugal, Reece James for England, to name a star-studded few sure to miss the World Cup. The likes of Son Heung-min (South Korea), Romelu Lukaku (Belgium), Paulo Dybala and Angel Di Maria (both Argentina) carry a big question mark.
Dickov, whose 155-game Premier League journey began with Arsenal, reckoned more players could find themselves on that list.
“We’re already seeing that there are a lot of games in the Premier League up until now and heading into the World Cup. It’s not just players getting injured now, we might be talking about a lot of injuries during the World Cup as well. People are asking lots of questions about it because it’s an unknown to ever have a World Cup at this point,” Dickov said.
The biggest challenge would be to keep the players fresh, fit and firing through the month-long tournament.
“I would imagine the key is managing them between games—how much they train and how much they don’t,” said the Scot, who coached a couple of Scottish clubs post his playing career before donning the role of a television pundit and global ambassador for City.
“Because if they’re playing, let’s say in the Premier League now it’s Saturday-Sunday and Tuesday-Wednesday, their training days are more resting days now. And the World Cup’s going to be the same. I can’t imagine there’ll be a lot of training involved. Maybe a lot of tactical stuff but physically and mentally, they’ve got to keep the players fresh.”
Dickov however doesn’t believe the injury and scheduling issues will take the sheen off this unique World Cup.
“If you look at the squads of the top countries, the quality that’s going to be on show will be one of the best we’ve seen in a long time. There’s some fantastic young talent coming through, while you have the Lionel Messis and Cristiano Ronaldos of the world. I don’t think there’s going to be any shortage of talent.”
He highlighted Argentina and Brazil among the top favourites, taking into consideration “their better preparation for it as well as the heat”. “But you can never write off Germany. Holland have a fantastic team. England too could be in with a chance,” he added. “It all depends on keeping your players fit.”
‘Haaland not even at 50% yet’
The former City forward—his goal against Gillingham to seal City’s promotion to the First Division was voted City’s greatest ever goal in a 2005 poll by the club—had words of praise for City’s current strike force, calling Erling Haaland “the best No 9 in the world”. Dickov believes the goal machine is “not even at his 50% potential yet”.
“If this is what we’re seeing after three months, what’s it going to be like over the course of a season and many years to come!
“For me, Sergio Aguero was the best striker Manchester City’s ever had, if not one of the best in the Premier League. Haaland is just 22, has only been at the club for a few months. But I think he’s shown everybody what he’s all about. He’s a natural goal-scorer.”