Belgium manager Roberto Martinez believes that the Qatar World Cup 2022 will be a lot more intense and fast-paced than previous tournaments, because mentally and physically the players won’t be as exhausted.
With only a week between Europe’s domestic leagues breaking for the tournament, and the World Cup kicking off on Sunday 20 November, Martinez also believes this lack of build-up will actually help players rather than hinder them.
Speaking to FourFourTwo in the latest issue available to order, the Spaniard explains why he thinks the tempo will be a lot quicker at the upcoming tournament.
“Intensity levels in the major leagues have a huge impact on the players, particularly those also involved in the Champions League,” Martinez explains. “We [Belgium] finished third in 2018, but those players who play in the Premier League could feel the seven games in their legs. I look at this World Cup as a unique opportunity – I do think the players will be a lot fresher in Qatar, and the games will be quicker from a physical point of view.
“You’re preparing in a different way but, in my eyes, it’s going to be better than when the tournament takes place at the end of the season when everyone is really fatigued. From a mental point of view, more than a physical one, it’s going to be very interesting. There isn’t the build-up – there’s no wasting time between the end of a season and the start of the tournament.”
Martinez took over as Belgium manager in 2016, replacing Marc Wilmots after his side failed to beat Wales in the quarter-finals of the European Championships. Since then, Martinez has led Belgium to third place at the 2018 World Cup, and the quarter-finals of Euro 2020.
Both Romelu Lukaku and Eden Hazard have proved influential figures in his squad in both of the previous two tournaments, but recently the pair’s form hasn’t reached the heights they were once capable of. However, Martinez isn’t worried about the way either of his players are performing, suggesting their experience will help once the tournament in Qatar gets underway.
“Whatever happens to an experienced player worries me less than if it were a young player. If a young player goes through a difficult time at club level, it could cost them a place in the national team.
“When you’re experienced and have more than 100 caps, it’s simply a question of managing their fitness levels. At this point, you’re not worrying about how players such as Romelu or Eden can impact the national team, because we know what influence they can have. I don’t worry about them. Are they still two of the best players in world football? I’m biased.
“When you talk about your own players and their standing in world football, you feel like you’re talking about your own children. They’re both exceptional footballers, unique footballers for this generation of Belgian players.”
While Lukaku’s form at Chelsea and Inter Milan has been poor for the past 18 months, having someone such as Thierry Henry to learn from in Belgium training certainly helps.
Indeed, Henry is Roberto Martinez’s assistant in the national team, having returned to the role prior to the start of Euro 2020. He was originally the assistant manager for the 2018 World Cup, before going off to manage Monaco and Montreal Impact. However, after leaving the Canadian side, he returned to Belgium’s set-up.
For Martinez, this has helped no end.
“It’s essential for us [having Henry back on the staff] – Thierry has got incredible experience as a player,” Martinez explains. “Sometimes when you make it through to a tournament you go into a cocoon, and you have to work out a way to get through something you’ve never been able to experience before.
“So, to have somebody like Thierry Henry, who’s won the World Cup and the Euros and on top of that is so passionate about the game, is also something you can’t really put a price on. We have Anthony Barry too, who’s a wonderful young coach with Chelsea. They’ll both give us great balance when we’re in Qatar.”