American pro sports have extended off-seasons. The National Football League, for example, doesn’t play any games that count during more than half of the calendar year. It maintains fan interest through events like the scouting combine, free agency, the draft, mini-camp, and pre-season games.
International soccer is a different story. With the regular league seasons, international club competitions, and international nations’ tournaments — the World Cup, Copa America, the Euros, and the Olympics — the sport goes almost year-round most years.
Last weekend, the 2020-21 season finally came to an end with the Olympic gold medal game (Brazil 2 Spain 1). Also last weekend, the French and Scottish Leagues kicked off their 2021-22 seasons. So did England at levels below the Premier League.
The Premier League kicked off yesterday.
EPL teams commenced training in early July, only about a month and a half after the 2020-21 season had ended. England was still competing at the Euros at that time.
Players who represent their countries in tournaments like the Euros usually take two or three weeks off after their nation is eliminated before they return to training with their club. Such breaks are reasonable and rarely questioned by the clubs.
But Everton’s star forward Richarlison didn’t want a break. He was a starter at Copa America in July, when Argentina defeated his Brazil team 1-0 in the final. After that, Richarlison went to Japan for the Olympics, where he led Brazil to the gold medal and was that tournament’s leading scorer.
Promptly after the gold medal game, played on Saturday, August 7, Richarlison headed to England to join his Everton mates. No “load management” for him.
Richarlison pronounced himself ready to play in his team’s August 14 opener. I didn’t believe that he would be in the starting lineup, but when the teams took the field, there was Richie.
Good thing. Without him, Everton probably wouldn’t have defeated Southampton.
With him, we prevailed 3-1. Richarlison contributed a goal and an assist. Working hard at both ends, he covered every blade of grass before being substituted with time running out so he could get that loud Goodison ovation. Without a doubt, he was the man-of-the-match.
I’m over-the-moon with Richarlison’s performance, but less fired up about Everton’s. We were outplayed in the first half by a pretty poor Southampton side. As I said, without Richarlison, we might have settled for only a 1-1 home draw.
My fear is that we will be without Richarlison before long. Even before his star turns for Brazil this summer, there were strong rumors that big English and Spanish teams were looking to pry him away from Everton. Real Madrid, now managed by Carlo Ancelotti, Richarlison’s boss at Everton last season, was said to be among the possible suitors.
Now that Richarlison has elevated his status to the next level, we’ll be hard pressed to retain his services. To me, this reality makes the commitment he showed to Everton this week all the more praiseworthy.