Ahead of a huge and extremely high-profile game for his nation, Chelsea legend Pat Nevin discusses the impact of so much international football but why the coming fixtures suit Billy Gilmour…
The season is over and we can all relax a bit, particularly now the takeover of the club has gone through. Although when I say the season is over and we can relax, of course that isn’t the case for a lot of the players.I can recall when the UEFA Nations League was set up, the argument was that it would lead to fewer games being played, as international friendlies would be all but a thing of the past and the players would get more rest. The friendlies still exist to some degree, but the bigger problem is that once again the season is expanding even quicker than my stomach after a lamb madras, pilau rice and a naan bread, washed down with a nice bottle of red wine after tucking into a few pakora.The thought of players being asked to now push themselves even further for their countries after the season they have had is disturbing. Let’s get the ‘They get paid enough so they shouldn’t be moaning’ out of the way immediately. The players aren’t moaning, well not much anyway, because they know that is exactly what will be thrown back at them, but they are well aware that there is no chance of keeping up the highest standards when you very rarely, if ever, get enough time to rest and recover.
There is a whole slew of international games all the way through June and this is not helpful for players and their short-, medium- and long-term fitness and physical health. I remember playing an international in early June, and even though I scored a couple against Estonia for Scotland, physically I was a wreck afterwards. The idea of two, three or maybe four more games after that is pushing it way too far after the exertions this season.
At least the players benefit a lot more from rotation these days, which does offset the increased pace of the modern game and the shorter break. I do think that the calendar has to be looked at again however and this time with the players’ and the clubs’ input considered more seriously. I am a big fan of international football, there is no greater honour than playing for your country from my perspective, but it cannot be allowed to crucify the rest of the game.Even the decision to play the World Cup in Qatar was clearly done with not even the slightest consideration of how it would affect the players, specifically around the strange timing of November and December.I just hope our players manage to get through this last phase of the season relatively unscathed so they can recover for the start of the new campaign. One player who will not complain about a few extra games is a much-loved man at Stamford Bridge, Billy Gilmour.Billy will be playing for Scotland in a match that is not only vital to his country regarding qualification for the World Cup, but also one of the most emotional games played in the modern era of the entire game of football.
Ukraine will turn up to Glasgow tomorrow night with most of the world understandably desperate to see them win, to reach the final play-off game against Wales, and then go onto Qatar itself. I will be at that game and although I want the best for the visitors, that doesn’t quite extend to them beating my home country.Footballers are good at compartmentalising their lives and although Billy Gilmour and the rest of his team, including the manager, Chelsea old boy Stevie Clarke, will have every sympathy for Ukraine, its people, the players and their plight, they still will not be letting them win. I am already looking forward to witnessing the passions of both national anthems on what will be a tense and as I said, very emotional evening.Billy himself will be key to Scotland’s success if they make it through and like many people, I am just delighted to see him back on a football field again at the very top level after what has been a difficult season on loan at Norwich. Scotland have four games, if they beat Ukraine, over the fortnight and I will not be surprised if Thomas Tuchel keeps a very keen eye on his young loanee.It is one of the admittedly few positives about so many games being played when the club is on summer break, the manager might be able to look at a few more games. He might even be able to catch some of the players he, and the club, are trying to acquire over the summer to bolster the squad.Look at the unexpected jump Malang Sarr and Trevoh Chalobah made this season. What is to stop someone like an Ethan Ampadu maybe doing the same this time round, as well as Gilmour and maybe Conor Gallagher.
Chance to watch Chelsea stars
In a completely selfish way, I am happy that these internationals are going ahead, as not having a fix of first-team football for a couple of months is hard to bear, but I accept that is a very selfish outlook. There is also the fact these aren’t just bland games you don’t care about. If there are Blues players on show, you want them to win and do well. There may even be a few games where Chelsea fans are conflicted.It will be the case that headlines such as new ownership, new players transferred in and out of the club, and possibly a new stadium will be the things that interest us most over the coming weeks and months, but I still want to hear how our boys and girls do in the internationals. For all that, keep on checking the website and the 5th Stand App.By next week the Scotland vs Ukraine game will be history and then one of those two teams will face Wales a few days later. Next Tuesday there will be an interesting little match-up between England and Germany, which will almost certainly have a few Chelsea favourites turning out for each team.So, the season may be finished, the trophies given out, but for the players it keeps on going and the expectations keep being lifted. It is great but it is also wearing, it is time now to rethink or just think...about the players and their health.