Didier Deschamps, coach of France, world champion, warned three months ago that his team of stars – favorite to win the European title – was vulnerable to physical and mental fatigue. His priority, he said at his team meeting at the end of last month, was to make sure there was enough “gasoline in the engine” to survive a schedule that – if everything is going according to plan – will include seven games in 30 days.
Gareth Southgate, the England manager, admitted he had to be careful not to “break any of these players”. Roberto Martínez, the coach of Belgium, the highest ranked team in the world, hinted after his side were held in check by Greece in a tune-up game that his players struggled to rediscover the “competitive intensity” they would need to achieve their ambitions in The tournament.
And while Strudwick and his Welsh colleagues may not talk about it, fatigue and its threat are built into the very fabric of their planning. They have designed their training programs to take this into account. They have scheduled more downtime to prevent it. Any players deemed too close to their limits will have their training programs monitored and their workload reduced.
They and the other coaches all know that, more than ever, the outcome of Euro 2020 may not depend on strategy or style, tactics or technique. It can, on the contrary, cling to the physical, what Strudwick called the battle of “freshness versus fatigue”. This is a tournament for the last team standing.