The Premier League is back in less than two weeks and, well, that’s just absolutely mental, isn’t it? We’ve all known about this for years now but the absurd reality of this instantaneous mid-season turnaround from World Cup to club football is really hitting home now. Either Hugo Lloris or Cristian Romero are two days away from becoming world champion and 10 days away from a Premier League game at Brentford. It’s not normal.
“Absolutely gutted. We’ve given it everything and it’s come down to a small detail which I take responsibility for. There’s no hiding from it, it hurts and it’ll take some time to get over it but that’s part of sport.”
Harry Kane there, completing the now-mandatory social media mea culpa that all sportsmen and women must issue after not quite doing their jobs as perfectly as required. It’s pretty standard boilerplate stuff, really – we’d imagine these things are or soon will be composed by one of those AI doodads they have now to suck the last vestiges of creative joy from an increasingly bleak, dystopian world – but there’s one phrase that jumps out.
“…it’ll take some time to get over…”
Yes, you’d imagine it will. Tough shit, though, Harry, because you don’t have any of that. The Best League in the World is back in 10 days’ time and you’d best be ready.
It really is quite galling how well this World Cup has worked. We all got distracted by the shiny thing, didn’t we? Another winter World Cup is now an inevitability, with Saudi Arabia an absolute shoo-in to have one within the next 12 years. They’ve certainly got more sporting claim to it than Qatar, having qualified for six of the last eight World Cups, making them precisely as good at football as Netherlands or Italy.
And we totally forgot about the Premier League, didn’t we? Oh sure, we’ve had some tribalist opinions on this player or that fraud, and transfer stories linking Liverpool and only Liverpool with any midfielder who’s just had an eye-catching game for Morocco or whoever at The Big Shiny Thing, but we’ve not really thought about club football for weeks now.
So distracted have we been that all sorts of misinformation is out there now. Someone was claiming on Twitter just yesterday that Arsenal are five points clear at the top of the table. I mean, that can’t be right, can it? It certainly doesn’t sound right. Fact check, please! Then there was some far-fetched talk about Wolves’ manager being Julen Lopetegui. We’re not falling for that! Wolves’ manager is… that Portuguese fella, surely.
And we nearly resigned on the spot when our boss just brazenly lied to our face and said Nathan Jones is manager of Southampton. No. Southampton’s manager is that nice Austrian man in the waistcoat. You know the one. Loses 9-0 a lot. Never gets sacked. Him.
We’ve lost the run of ourselves and, in truth, this piece. Where were we?
Oh yeah. It’s worked, hasn’t it, the winter World Cup? Another one will be along shortly. But they are shit. Season-ruining shit. And we’re probably only going to fully realise that when the domestic season lurches clumsily back into life.
Just as our brains never truly processed there was a winter World Cup happening until there was a winter World Cup happening, we can’t get our heads round the Premier League’s return being barely a week after the World Cup final. We won’t fully believe it until confused and startled Brentford and Tottenham players emerge blinking into the midday Boxing Day sun trying desperately to reacquaint themselves with each other and the very concept of club football. Who are you again?
It’s good that it’s Spurs in that first game back, because that really will hammer home how mental it all is. There will be Kane, obviously. What reception will he get? Will his head be in any way right? Joining him will be Richarlison, another striker who had great dreams and saw them squashed in the quarter-finals. More pointedly Kane will be led out by Hugo Lloris, the goalkeeper over whose crossbar he so career-definingly ballooned that penalty barely two weeks earlier.
Lloris himself of course shouldn’t be trying to play a Premier League game either. He should either be celebrating his second World Cup win or coming to terms with defeat in the final.
In front of Lloris will be Cristian Romero, by that point either adapting to life as a week-old World Champion or making peace with himself about that heartbreaking defeat in the final. To his left is Ivan Perisic, rueing a semi-final defeat in what was most likely his final World Cup.
You get the idea. And it’s one that will be replicated to greater or lesser degrees all round the country.
It’s an absurd thing to ask of the players, and the reality is that many may not be asked or feel capable of answering. Lots of World Cup stars may be missing, literally or metaphorically, for a while when the Premier League just roars back to life with a crunch of gears and squeal of tires, and we all pretend like nothing weird has just happened. It was all a dream!
This isn’t new information, of course. We’ve known it was coming for years now, but now it’s actually happening and we know the specifics. Until now absurd, but in the abstract.
There will be those with zero sympathy for the players, and it’s a fair enough if not particularly empathetic view. It is their job, and they are well paid and they should just get on with it.
But they are also still human beings. And we are asking them to perform in demonstrably sub-optimal conditions. Flip it round, if you like. Don’t make it about the players, make it about the supporters, who are denied the chance to see the Premier League be what the Premier League purports to be: the best players performing at the best of their ability.
For reasons physical and psychological, it’s just hard to see how that can possibly be the case when the circus reopens.