England’s Beth Mead says World Cup release date row ‘unfair’ on players

<span>Photograph: Jon Super/AP</span>
Photograph: Jon Super/AP

Beth Mead believes players cannot be the “middleman” in the club v country row that is threatening England’s preparations for next month’s World Cup.

The players have been told the Football Association is still planning for them to assemble on 19 June, the Observer understands. However, that would put them in a difficult position, with their clubs yet to reach an agreement over the Lionesses’ release for international duty. Some players, frustrated to be caught in the middle, are making bookings for the hotel at England’s St George’s Park training base just in case they have to begin preparations themselves.

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In April, the European Club Association raised concerns over national teams’ plans to call up players well before the official Fifa-sanctioned release date of 10 July, while acknowledging that assembling 10 days before the World Cup kicks off in Australia and New Zealand was inadequate.

An agreement was reached on a non-mandatory suggested release window of 23-29 June to try to strike a balance between the demands of national teams and clubs. However, Sarina Wiegman, England’s manager, said on Wednesday that they were still in “very constructive” talks and though they were “not finalised” she was targeting 19 June as the date her World Cup squad would gather. Her internationals and their clubs had been told of the plans in November, although the clubs are frustrated that no formal agreement was reached.

“It’s a difficult one,” said the Arsenal forward Mead, speaking at Uefa’s House of We Play Strong event before the Women’s Champions League final between Wolfsburg and Barcelona. “Scheduling is a big [topic] at the moment and us, as players, should have that decision taken away from us, we don’t want to be the middleman for it, because it’s not fair. As a player, if your manager of your national team wants you in on this date, you want to go then because you think it might jeopardise your position if you don’t. Players don’t need that stress … it’s not nice.”

The World Cup final is on 20 August and Mead, who is recovering from an anterior cruciate ligament injury and will miss the finals, is concerned about the burden on her clubmates such as Lotte Wubben-Moy, with Arsenal facing a Champions League game in the first week in September. “Something has and needs to be done. Because I know for the girls that are going away, if they get to a quarter-finals, a semi or a final – we’re in round one of the Champions League, they’re going to get one week off. It’s not feasible. You play football for so many months and you get a week off, mentally and physically it’s not enough.”

Mead added: “You’re missing a good chunk of quality players, which is a shame for people watching as well. You go to a World Cup, it’s the biggest competition you can go to and you’ve got some of the best players sat at home watching because of too many games, being overworked, scheduling, it’s tough.

“Obviously that’s a big frustration for myself as a player that’s injured right now. Was it one game too many? When I’ve looked into it I’ve gone from 2,000-odd minutes to 4,000-odd minutes in a season. Which is a steep jump. We want the game to go to that level but it’s keeping our bodies up to that level to do that as well and it’s caught up on a few of us, which is a shame, but it’s part of football, injuries.”

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Fifa’s calendar has been set for two years, but with the Tokyo Olympics and Euros having both been pushed back 12 months due to the Covid-19 pandemic there are five years of back-to-back international tournaments.

As part of the discussions on how players are rested around the World Cup, it was suggested that the September international window, which falls in the week before the Women’s Super League season kicks off, could be scrapped, but that was not deemed to be an option. Talks are continuing, but with the tournament 47 days away, England’s plans are in the air, with a send-off game yet to be confirmed as a result.