Michael Pavitt

FIFA President Gianni Infantino was just quizzed on current concerns related to the intense schedule facing players, amid a backlog of fixtures caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

Infantino conceded he could understand the concerns over the workload, insisting football’s governing body is in a "risk-management mode".

The FIFA chief claimed there was a challenge to protect the interests of players, clubs and national teams, with the decision to allow five substitutes one initiative aimed at protecting players' health. Five substitutes have been welcomed by most domestic leagues and continental competitions, with the Premier League one exception much to the chagrin of Liverpool manager Jürgen Klopp.

The German has insisted the refusal to adopt five substitutes risks the health of players, claiming his team might struggle to end the season with 11 players.

Spare a thought then for Egypt's under-23 football team manager Shawky Gharib, who last month said they would approach Liverpool in March with a view to calling up star player Mohamed Salah for the postponed Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games.

"We haven't discussed the issue with the player yet," Gharib was quoted as saying.

"The problem is that the AFCON [Africa Cup of Nations] will be played a few months after the Olympics, but the latter will end and the Premier League will start three days after. But we can't call up Salah unless Liverpool approve."

Salah is not the only big name being touted for the men’s football tournament at Tokyo 2020, with veteran Spain centre back Sergio Ramos having been heavily linked with a call-up for the Games.

Neymar was seen as key to Brazil's triumph at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games ©Getty Images
Neymar was seen as key to Brazil's triumph at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games ©Getty Images

Should he be included, Ramos would have the opportunity to add to a glittering list of career honours, with his accomplishments including being a member of Spain’s triumphant squads at the FIFA World Cup in 2010 and European Championships two years either side of that. The Real Madrid captain has also secured five league titles and four UEFA Champions League winner’s medals.

A considerable challenge for Ramos could be the scheduling, as he would expect to feature in Spain’s squad at the delayed Euro 2020 tournament after the club season. The Tokyo 2020 football tournament would then begin just 11 days after the Euro 2020 final.

Should Salah and Ramos being called up for the Games, pending club approval, the pair would be overage players for their respective nations.

Unlike the women’s tournament where selection is unlimited, the three overage players scenario for the men’s competition is an interesting one.

The limit has been in place since Barcelona 1992 Olympic Games, with the previous two Olympic tournaments having prohibited European and South American qualifiers from fielding players with World Cup experience. Professional players had been unable to compete prior to Los Angeles 1984.

The sprinkling of overage players has been viewed as key by managers in seeking to guide relatively young squads to medal success at the tournament. Egypt’s coach Gharib compared the potential addition of Salah to Brazil’s decision to call on Neymar to compete at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games, with the star forward viewed as pivotal to guiding the team to a maiden men’s Olympic football gold in front of a home crowd.

Brazilian coach Dunga was quoted as saying "the experience factor can be decisive in the Olympics" when justifying his selection of defender Thiago Silva as well as forwards Robinho and Ronaldinho for the Beijing 2008 Olympics.

The latter’s appearance had initially been blocked by Barcelona, but the 2002 World Cup winner ultimately featured following a transfer to AC Milan.

Ronaldinho was an overage player at Beijing 2008 as Diego Maradona cheered Argentina to victory ©Getty Images
Ronaldinho was an overage player at Beijing 2008 as Diego Maradona cheered Argentina to victory ©Getty Images

Star forwards appear to have been favoured by coaches when heading to the Olympics, with Ronaldinho and Neymar having followed the likes of Rivaldo and Bebeto in appearing in Brazilian teams at the Games. Fellow South Americans Uruguay opted for their dangerous striker pairing of Edinson Cavani and Luis Suarez at London 2012.

Britain’s team manager Stuart Pearce claimed he had been forced to balance his three overage selections at London 2012, when electing to name defender Micah Richards in his squad. This reportedly left a choice for the final spot between veteran midfielders David Beckham and Ryan Giggs, with Craig Bellamy selected as a striking option. Pearce said he opted by Giggs over Beckham due to the then-38-year-old Premier League player's form, despite the Games being billed as a potential swansong for the latter.

The one-off British appearance at the men’s Olympic competition would serve as Bellamy and Giggs' only senior international tournaments of their careers, amid Wales' absence from World Cup and European Championships at the time.

Argentina opted for defensive solidity in selecting Roberto Ayala and Gabriel Heinze as two overage players for their gold medal-winning team at Athens 2004, while Javier Mascherano and Nicolas Pareja provided some of the backbone for their victorious team at Beijing 2008.

The defensive-minded additions were perhaps unsurprising given the array of attack talent at their disposal, with Carlos Tevez emerging as the top scorer for the Athens 2004 side. The Beijing 2008 squad contained Lionel Messi, Sergio Agüero and Ángel Di María among others, with the team cheered to gold by the late Diego Maradona.

Perhaps the squad highlighted some of Argentina's defensive deficiencies to come amid the vast attacking options, albeit much of the Olympic squad went on to finish as runners-up at the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil.

Andrea Pirlo was an Olympic bronze medallist at Athens 2004 two years before celebrating World Cup victory ©Getty Images
Andrea Pirlo was an Olympic bronze medallist at Athens 2004 two years before celebrating World Cup victory ©Getty Images

Curiously, Olympic silver and bronze medallists seem to have greater luck than gold medallists when it comes to winning the World Cup in the future.

Italian midfielder Andrea Pirlo formed part of their bronze medal-winning team at the Athens 2004 Olympic Games, alongside fellow 2006 FIFA World Cup winners Daniele De Rossi, Andrea Barzagli, Alberto Gilardino and Giorgio Chiellini.

The World Cup-winning team also included Sydney 2000 alumni in Gianluca Zambrotta and Gennaro Gattuso, as well as Atlanta 1996 Olympians in Alessandro Nesta, Fabio Cannavaro and Gianluigi Buffon.

Similarly, Spaniards Joan Capdevila, Xavi and Carles Puyol suffered defeat in the Sydney 2000 Olympic final to Cameroon, but claimed World Cup glory 10 years on in South Africa.

Ramos, a member of that team, may seek to achieve a rare feat next year in becoming both a men’s football Olympic gold medallist and World Cup winner.