Henry pans Wenger biennial World Cup plan over mental strain
France World Cup winner Thierry Henry believes doubling the frequency of the tournament would be mentally exhausting for players and questioned why FIFA seems to rely on the views of retired stars rather than active ones.
The plans for biennial World Cups are being advanced by Henry’s former Arsenal manager, Arsene Wenger, in his current role as FIFA’s head of global football development.
Henry was critical of the proposal Wednesday while on CBS alongside former Denmark and Manchester United goalkeeper Peter Schmeichel, who went to Qatar for FIFA meetings earlier this month and appeared on a virtual news conference with Wenger to make the case for World Cups every two years.
Henry said he struggled with the pressure of playing in a World Cup even every four years. The FIFA showpiece has been a quadrennial tournament since 1930, apart from during the longer gap due to World War II.
“Do you (FIFA) actually ask the current players what they think about it?” Henry said. “I played four World Cups and (three) Euros and I came out of them shattered mentally. And it’s not about the games I played in it, it’s the preparation for the World Cup, coming back from the World Cup after a season at your club. So if you play that every two years, mentally it’s tough for a player.”
Alongside 1998 world champion Henry in the CBS studio for UEFA Champions League coverage, former England and Liverpool defender Jamie Carragher interjected as Schmeichel tried to make FIFA’s case.
Carragher said he was on a call recently about the plans with Wenger, former Liverpool teammate Javier Mascherano and former Barcelona midfielder Yaya Toure. Carragher was then not named by FIFA among what it called a “group of top footballers ... part of the ongoing consultation process on the future of global football.” But listed were supporters of Wenger’s plans: Mascherano, who played at four World Cups with Argentina, and Toure, who qualified three times with Ivory Coast.
“Maybe I haven’t been invited to the next one because I’m not as fully involved in it as you (Schmeichel) and pro the World Cup (every two years),” Carragher said. “My big problem is — why are we trying to get ex-players to support it? We aren’t going to play in it. Ask the players who will play in it now.”
The only players on the FIFA news conference earlier this month with Wenger backed biennial World Cups.
“Ask (Italy’s Marco) Verratti. Ask (Italy’s Giorgio) Chiellini. Ask (France World Cup winner Kylian) Mbappé. Ask (Egypt’s) Mo Salah,” Carragher said. “They are the ones you need to get on board ... not former players. Not (2002 Brazil World Cup winner) Ronaldo. Not Peter Schmeichel.”
Wenger has said he is consulting international players’ union FIFPRO.
The Frenchman’s priorities in changes to the international calendar are for less travel for players and less disruption for their clubs while ensuring there are more meaningful games.
The current system — that typically sees players based in Europe taking long-haul flights home throughout the season in short breaks for national-team games — could be replaced by a single block of fewer qualifying games in October.
International tournaments would occupy June each year, with players proposed to get a mandatory 25-day vacation in July before rejoining their clubs.
“I made a really bad decision in my career,” Schmeichel said. “Coming out of a World Cup I was absolutely mentally drained and I made a decision to leave Manchester United because I was not in a state where I could make a qualified decision as big as that.”
Schmeichel took the decision to leave United a year after his only World Cup with Denmark in 1998. In an interview last year with United’s podcast, he complained about the current four-year cycle that features only a World Cup and European Championship.
“Every two years, your holidays go,” he said. “You are straight back in.”
As CBS anchor Kate Abdo pointed out to Schmeichel on Wednesday: “You are saying despite the mental effect that it took on you, you would like to see (World Cups) happen more frequently?”
“Of course,” Schmeichel responded.
“Would it even feel like a World Cup though,” Abdo added. “Fans travel halfway across the world ... to go to these events once every four years. How many can afford to do that every couple of years? Doesn’t it just devalue the event in some way?”
Henry questioned the 25-day break Wenger said would be mandated for players after tournaments, with the potential for continental championships to also become biennial ensuring a tournament every June and July.
“It took me more than 25 days to recover,” Henry said. “Arsene is proposing 25 days — physically yes, mentally no.”
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