Thursday, April 25, 2024

Pre-season : Player burden : Saliba inching

Some midweek snippets for you this morning.

First, pre-season looks like it’s all but sorted with news of an Emirates Cup game. I was wondering how they might fit this in, given the existing schedule. We have three games in the US, culminating with a friendly against Barcelona at SoFi Stadium on July 26th – a Wednesday.

Traditionally the Emirates Cup takes place on a weekend, to give maximum opportunity to sell tickets to fans/families who find it a struggle to get to regular games, but with the travel that seemed more or less impossible. So, the solution appears to be a midweek game on August 2nd, reportedly against Monaco, which comes just four days before our Community Shield encounter with Man City.

This summer schedule seems a little weird as it is. I saw that Bukayo Saka had taken a trip to Nigeria, reportedly to visit his grandparents and to connect with his roots – he was eligible to play for them but obviously chose England. I can’t imagine he’s the only footballer to have taken some downtime at the end of a long campaign, but then in mid-June many of them will have to regroup for European Championship qualifiers and there are some Nations League games in there too.

What happens then? Do they get another week or ten days off and then come back for pre-season? I remember wondering if the mid-season World Cup might cause some injury issues for players, even those who didn’t go because of the unprecedented halt halfway through. I don’t know if there’s been any kind of study done about the second half of the season to see if there were a greater prevalence of muscular problems etc, but I’m someone will come up with it sooner or later.

Now, you can’t help but worry a little about players taking time off, being thrust back into action for their countries, then having a bit more time off again, before the hard work all starts again. Perhaps it’s a case that they are so well-tuned physically these days that it doesn’t affect them as much. Nevertheless, the burden on them is now almost endless.

It never stops, and when you hear the way those in charge of the game talk about new tournaments, extended World Cups, different formats and so on, you realise that for all the talk of player welfare, they are just pawns in the money-making that really drives the game. Well paid pawns, of course, but that doesn’t make them robots. Maybe when Mikel Arteta talks about how players have to be able to play every three or four days at the top level, he isn’t being overly-demanding, just realistic.

There’s also been some chatter about William Saliba’s contract and how talks are progressing positively. This is one where I think I’m going to just compartmentalise as much of that as possible. Obviously I want him to sign a new deal, I think it’s really important that we get him to commit to new terms, because if we can’t it means we’ve got a problem on our hands. Whether that’s deciding to sell to ensure we don’t let another key player move for free, or how we replace him (or both), it’s a headache we could do without.

As I’ve said previously, Saliba and his representatives are in a very, very strong position to ensure any new deal comes with very favourable financial terms. That is the position we’re in, and the reality we have to deal with. It’s just that the media landscape we exist in these days demands almost constant updates when quite often there isn’t much that’s concrete.

How many Declan Rice stories have you seen in the last two weeks? They’re all basically the same – his future will be clear after tonight’s Europa Conference League final. How many updates have we had about Reiss Nelson’s reported new deal? It’s still not confirmed. How often did we hear about Bukayo Saka’s new contract? There might have been tiny slivers of new information, but nothing particularly worthy of another update. We still got the updates though because they are valuable currency these days.

To me it feels like Saliba’s contract is another one of those. It doesn’t mean there won’t be a positive outcome, it’s just going to get dragged out, every drop of information wrung from its very soul. Maybe these incremental steps forward are positive, and as I said I really hope we are inching closer and closer to sorting this out. It’s just that inching is tedious, so let’s hope we can get it done, announced, then move on.

Right, let’s leave it there for now. Today’s off-season fun involves cutting back ivy and paint scraping. Hurrah!

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