Ninety-nine days to go — one fewer than everyone thought it would be until the news filtered through earlier this week that the opening World Cup game has been brought forward 24 hours.
The clock is ticking… in more ways than one. It is now under three weeks until the transfer window closes and that means time is running out for players to secure the move that could be the difference between them playing in Qatar, whose hosting of the World Cup is controversial for the reasons described in this article, and watching the tournament from their sofa.
For others, such as Eden Hazard and Christian Pulisic, the biggest challenge between now and the World Cup finals is getting regular minutes in their legs rather than the worry of making their respective squads — and, realistically, that is only going to happen if they find another team.
This is new territory for clubs, coaches and players because of the unique circumstances around a winter World Cup. Being out of favour and sitting tight for the first half of the season, safe in the knowledge that a deal can be brokered in January if circumstances don’t change, is not an option for players before this tournament. Now is the time to get out or accept the consequences.
“For players, there is no doubt it’s different,” Brendan Rodgers, the Leicester City manager, said this week. “If you’re a player who’s unsure of your place in the national team, you’ll want to play in that opening part of the season to prove you should be in that selection.
“Maybe if the World Cup was at the end of the season they could see how it goes for six months and then move in January on loan. There’s a case there for people who feel vulnerable about being in the squad, feeling they have to play.”
Talking to a technical director at one of Europe’s leading teams, it is clear the World Cup has been a big theme during transfer discussions this summer, motivating players to look elsewhere earlier than they otherwise might have done and also encouraging clubs to explore more ambitious signings.
Some Premier League players have even consulted national team managers about transfers, keen to glean the coach’s thoughts on a move that could make or break their World Cup dreams. One player was advised to stay with his club rather than accept a lucrative offer in the Middle East, where the national team coach had reservations about the standard of football.