We’re currently 67 days away from the first ball being kicked at the Qatar 2022 FIFA World Cup, and as we approach the first ever World Cup to be staged in winter rather than summer, players have less time and more pressure to impress their respective international managers.
Some players have an almost guaranteed spot in their national teams regardless of their seasons – think Harry Kane and Achraf Hakimi. Others don’t have such a luxury and have a constant point to prove when they step out to play. Those are the players we’ll delve into in this article: players with a point to prove to be part of the travelling pack who jet off to Qatar in mid-November.
Some hear the clock ticking louder than others. With the window now shut and clubs and players all set for the next couple of months until the winter window, players now have to remain patient and wait for their opportunity, if they haven’t got it yet, to keep their World Cup dreams alive. So let’s dive into some of those encountering the Qatar problem.
Despite his impressive performance and well-taken goal as he lead the line in a victory against Liverpool, Marcus Rashford’s performances in the last 18 to 24 months have not been one of a player once touted for superstardom, to be up there with the likes of Kylian Mbappé and Vinícius Jr. His poor club form has been alerted to his international camp; he featured in 32 games last season after missing the start of the season due to surgery and was left out from the England squad ahead of their March fixtures because his performances simply didn’t earn him a spot in the team.
The arrival of Erik ten Hag has been a massive positive to the resurgence of Marcus Rashford. The Dutch manager has been able to revive that positivity and confidence that Rashford thrives off when he’s at his best. The striker also responded well to the demands of leading the line as seen against Arsenal recently, where he linked up well with new signing Antony. The former Ajax winger has come into the United setup and has already established himself as a much-needed addition to the team that was missing an attacking profile. Rashford seems to have struck a partnership with the Brazilian, with Antony being able to stay wide and attract opposition defenders towards him, leaving space for Rashford to attack and operate on a more effective basis.
Ten Hag’s arrival will be beneficial to any chances of Rashford boarding the plane to Qatar. A player who has looked devoid of all confidence in his ability, under the new manager Rashford’s belief seems to be coming back sooner than people would have thought.
As things stand, Rashford is still on the edge of making it to his second World Cup and despite his promising start to the season, it’s the performance of his peers that will be his undoing. Bukayo Saka and Phil Foden are regarded as two of the best young players in European football right now and are crucial players to their respective sides. Jarrod Bowen and Emile Smith-Rowe are coming off impressively strong seasons productivity-wise, while Mason Mount and Jack Grealish are highly regarded within the England setup. Their versatility is a huge advantage to the selection and, of course, Raheem Sterling and Harry Kane are as “untouchable” as it gets in the England squad: elite players for club and country.
When Leroy Sané was omitted from Germany’s 2018 World Cup squad, there was a feeling of confusion that the then Men’s PFA Young Player of the Year would not be at the world’s biggest stage applying his trade amongst the best. If you told that same 22-year-old that four years later his place within the Germany squad would be at an even more dubious level than before, he probably would’ve laughed at you and pointed to his Premier League title and basket of domestic cups. But four years have passed and this is the position that the German finds himself in.
The following season Sané endured a horrific ACL injury just before the start of the season during the curtain opener against Liverpool. The injury saw him miss 44 games for Manchester City that season and he came back to the worldwide pandemic that left the footballing world on pause — he only played one competitive fixture. During that season, there was a clear change in the attitude of the German international and a feeling of homesickness kicked in. Once he was over his injury and fully recovered, a change of scenery was needed and that’s what he got; Bayern Munich was his next destination.
Three seasons at Bayern have gone past, and it’s evident that Sané isn’t the Sané we all knew and loved. His stint of playing out of position, adapting back to the pace of the league, and of course regaining some sort of speed and acceleration his game relied so much on are all factors that have contributed to his underwhelming last few years. This hasn’t gone under the radar of the former manager and now current international manager Hansi Flick, with the Germany coach often benching the winger for his clubmates Jamal Musiala, Serge Gnabry, and Thomas Müller.
The aforementioned names have a style of play that is quite similar whereas Sané differs. The former Man City winger is more direct in his play; on and off the ball, he poses a real threat with his pace, which the others competing with him can’t say. This could be a factor that will be to Sané’s advantage when vying for a spot for club and country – not many players offer what he does in the modern game.
Sané is still seen as an important player for the club, and to a certain extent country. His profile is quite unique within the international setup and his character on and off the pitch is valuable, but as we know international tournament selections are very form-focused. And if Sané is not performing to the level he can and should be, it’s very much a possibility that he misses out on consecutive World Cups.
Once predicted to be the successor to Cristiano Ronaldo, André Silva has had a very up-and-down career so far. Usually, young players break through on the club level and then their talents are recognized and called upon to the international stage, but for Silva, it was vice versa.
The Portuguese forward came through the ranks at Porto, where he first started gaining his plaudits for his outrageous goals — one being his bicycle kick goal vs Braga in the last minute. He established himself as one of the most promising and talented young strikers in Europe at the time. AC Milan was alerted and they succeeded in obtaining his services. Silva’s move to Milan was vastly underwhelming, scoring 2 goals in 25 games. He was subsequently loaned out to Sevilla where he continued to disappoint. Germany was Silva’s next landing spot and it all seemingly changed.
Silva moved to Eintracht Frankfurt on a two-year loan deal and didn’t look back, with Ante Rebić heading in the opposite direction. At Frankfurt, his goal-scoring record during his loan and the permanent move was immaculate — 40 goals in 57 appearances. He even broke a club record, with 28 goals, he bettered Bernd Hölzenbein’s 44-year-old club record for goals in a top-flight campaign by one; only Bayern Munich’s Robert Lewandowski scored more over the season. This domestic form would earn him a move higher up in the league to RB Leipzig, but his move to Die Roten Bullen hasn’t been what was expected — goal-scoring proficiency declining, looking uncomfortable in a side that is heavy transition-focused and being outshined by Christopher Nkunku during his time there.
This inconsistent stretch of seasons has ultimately put his spot as Portugal’s #2 frontman behind Ronaldo, in doubt. The likes of Diogo Jota, Rafael Leão, Gonçalo Guedes, and even the promising Fábio Silva have come off strong seasons in their respective teams. Silva offers a skillset that many of the aforementioned names just simply don’t. His physical presence as a striker is evident and by adding more muscle, he’s able to be more adept at coping with the physical demands that an international striker may face. Also, that understanding of what his role is within the team is quite important – he knows what he’s good at and how effective he can be with the players around and that’s something that someone like Cristiano Ronaldo would like.
If Silva is to be on the plane with Portugal come November, he’s going to have to prove once again that he is a trusted #9, and to his advantage — his unique profile as a superior presence compared to the aforementioned names can be a plus to Fernando Santos.
Rodrigo De Paul
Rodrigo De Paul’s move to Atlético Madrid was meant to be the step-up he needed to develop as a top player and also elevate his chances as a regular in the Argentina national team, but all the move has done is put a dent in his hopes of being a vital part of the setup, and maybe putting his place in doubt.
The performances that RDP has shown as not been one of a guy who was bought into sove the creative issues and final third production that Atlético lack in midfield. Diego Simeone would have expected his countrymen to come in and show the performances that earned his move in the first place — that aggressive nature on and off the ball with a touch of class as soon as he entered the final third but that simply hasn’t been the case. De Paul inability to stay positional discipline has had him leaving his fellow midfield panthers very vulnerable and has led to Simeone having to restrict the roaming that De Paul wouldve liked.
This is something that can be improved and changed by simply toning down his aggressive nature off the ball to maximise his effectiveness on the ball. De Paul and the manager have to compromise if they’re going to be as effective with each other. Simeone has suggested using De Paul in a more advanced role limiting the defensive responsibilities that he would have to do and the emotional issues he could cause, this is easier said than done. A naturally aggressive player, De Paul may face his difficulties in toning down that emotional side of his game but if he’s to make it to Qatar, it might have to be done.
Let’s be clear, it’s very unlikely misses out on the team completely but his drop-off in performances will be a worrying sight within the Argentina camp — one of the more experienced players in the midfield department.
Another factor that could limit De Paul is the fast progression from midfielders with Argentina. There has been a major positive in the new faces breaking into the international setup — Enzo Fernández and Alexis Mac Allister have broken through in the recent season and Papu Gómez and Giovani Lo Celso have adapted to life in Spain smoother than De Paul.
As stated before, De Paul’s place within the Argentina setup isn’t a major risk but another underperforming season in Madrid could see his status in Argentina fall, in Pep’s voice, more than he believes.
To conclude, all of these players, for one reason or another, have a point to prove. Whether that point is established, we will see.