Football fans have been treated to one of the best summers of international football in recent memory.
From one of the most enthralling European Championships to Lionel Messi’s Copa America triumph with Argentina, the players went the extra mile to provide entertainment for the fans following a difficult season.
With club football about to return, and the Concacaf Gold Cup final being played on August 1, the summer of international football is coming to an end, but there is one more high-profile competition to play—the Olympics.
Representatives of the qualified nations for men’s and women’s teams will make their way to Japan for the Olympic football competition which continues into August.
It’s an intriguing tournament, especially as the squads for men’s version are limited to players under 23 plus three overage players.
With that age limit being applied as if it were taking place on the originally planned 2020 dates, it is effectively a tournament for players under the age of 24, making this version fairly unique.
The final of the men’s competition takes place on Saturday, August 7, less than a week before the 2021/22 Premier League season begins the following Friday.
This has the potential to affect the plans of Premier League teams, and there are a number of players from the English league involved in the tournament which takes place across Japan.
The nation with the most Premier League representatives is Brazil. One of Rafa Benitez’s first big decisions as Everton manager was to decide whether to let one of his key players, Richarlison, join up with Brazil’s Olympic team with the forward having already taken part in the Copa America this summer.
Benitez decided to give the green light. As soon as Richarlison was called up, it would have been difficult for the new manager to deny him an opportunity in a tournament that is held in high regard by Brazi.
Douglas Luiz of Aston Villa—who will also be a big miss for his club if he’s unable to return for the opening games of the season—and Arsenal fringe player Gabriel Martinelli are also part of the Brazil squad which also includes legendary right-back Dani Alves as one of the overage players.
Another player who will be a big miss for his club should he not be able to take part in the early Premier League games is Burnley and New Zealand forward, Chris Wood.
Fitness-wise, these games coincide nicely with building up match sharpness ahead of the new season. The downsides come from not being able to take part in pre-season preparations, teamwork and tactics with their clubs, plus the added fatigue from travel.
Promising Brighton duo Alexis Mac Allister and Tudor Băluță will represent Argentina and Romania respectively. Seagulls fans may be especially keen to get a look at 22-year-old Băluță as his only appearance for them came in a League Cup game in 2019.
The Premier League is represented in the Australia squad by 21-year-old Jay Rich-Baghuelou of Crystal Palace and Southampton’s Caleb Watts, 19. Again, fans of these clubs may be keeping an eye out on these young players who’ve yet to make an impact at their clubs.
Manchester United fans already know a fair bit about Eric Bailly, who will be representing Ivory Coast at the Olympics, but they will be intrigued to see how his international teammate Amad Diallo gets on at this level, having shown promise in his handful of appearances on the wing for United last season.
While Everton will be concerned about the number of games Richarlison has played this summer, they will be more than happy to let Niels Nkounkou join the France squad. He’s in need of competitive games after barely featuring for Everton under their previous manager, Carlo Ancelotti.
The Premier League contingent is rounded off by West Ham’s New Zealand international, Winston Reid, who spent the latter half of the 2020/21 season on loan at Championship playoff winners Brentford; and Arsenal midfielder Dani Ceballos.
The Premier League is well represented in Japan. The range of players on show from the English league—from first team stars to promising youth players—is generally indicative of the type of talent involved throughout the squads, and it’s something which adds extra interest to the quest for gold.