World Cup 2014 - England v Italy: 'Even Brazilian players struggle to cope with the heat of Manaus'
England are not the only ones who will find it tough to play in the rainforest, where a change of style is essential
Thursday 05 June 2014
It is one of the most oft-repeated questions in the lead-up to England's World Cup campaign, and it became inevitable once last December's draw put the jungle city of Manaus on the itinerary of Roy Hodgson's team. The issue, of course, is this: just how will they cope with the conditions deep inside the Amazon?
If there is one Englishman out there with a better idea than most it is Seth Burkett. The 23-year-old Loughborough University student and England Under-21 futsal player spent the 2009-10 season as a professional footballer in Brazil and still remembers the shock of his first match. "It is so humid, it is like playing in a sauna," he tells the Independent. "I had never experienced that so it was a real struggle to breathe. About 10 minutes into the game I genuinely thought I was going to collapse."
Burkett played for Sorriso Esporte Clube in the central state of Mato Grosso, an experience he recounts in his illuminating book The Boy in Brazil. He estimates that it took "about two months to adapt" fully to playing and training in temperatures that rose as high as 48C. "Sorriso was 1,000 miles south of Manaus, in cleared rainforest. Even my Brazilian team-mates found it very, very hot – the guys from Sao Paulo found it overwhelming as well. It was the humidity. I presume Manaus will be even more intense. It will be very hard for England but if they can adapt, they will be fine in Sao Paulo [where they play Uruguay in their second game]."
While England's players will be given individually tailored recovery drinks to help with the loss of nutrients through sweat, Burkett's club offered more rudimentary refuelling. "I had to have a lot of salt," he explains. His daily meal of rice and beans included "very salty beef" and he would also take salt tablets. England players were using salt tablets back at the 1970 World Cup in Mexico when Martin Peters lost 13lb during a match against Romania.
The question of dealing with the heat goes back as far as the 1950 World Cup in Brazil when, as Tom Finney later recalled in his autobiography, "most of us needed extra oxygen to get by".
Professor Stephen Hawking cited the problem last week in his formula for England winning the World Cup, which noted that a five-degree rise in temperature was expected to reduce their chances by 59 per cent. According to Michael Davison, a specialist in football medicine: "If the body is overheating, the brain will push out a message to say 'don't over-exercise here'. It's as much mental as physical."
And so he sees the logic behind Hodgson's squad training in extra layers as they have been doing. "They can just make the players feel as uncomfortable as possible to limit the shock," adds Davison, managing director of the Isokinetic Medical Group, a Fifa medical centre of excellence. That said, he does raise the concern that, after cool weather in Portugal and storms on their arrival in Miami, it was only last night against Ecuador that England really experienced for the first time conditions similar to those that await in Manaus where they could face 30C heat and 80 per cent humidity for the opening Group D fixture against Italy on 14 June.
The experience of a sweltering World Cup match day is something that Danny Mills, England right-back at the 2002 finals, recalls vividly from that campaign in Japan. He says: "You have to get as much fluid in as you possibly can because with dehydration concentration is the first thing that goes. We had ice jackets at half-time. They were like life jackets full of ice, just to try and cool the core temperature down. Your feet are booming; because they are hot, they are squeezed in your boots. But it's same for both teams."
And England's biggest problem in their Shizuoka quarter-final defeat against Brazil was, he adds, something else: "The fact was we didn't keep ball as well as they did and we had to run around after it."
It is a view shared by Chris Waddle, who was in the England squad which stopped off in Colorado en route to Mexico in 1986 to acclimatise to the high altitude but found the tactical adjustment equally testing. "We had a lot of technical players but found it hard to try and slow a game," he says. "It is more of a mental thing with England. The intentions are there but when you start playing a bit more slowly it doesn't feel right. It's as if you are not playing to your strengths."
England may just have to go native, according to Burkett. He remembers being told to slow down by Brazilian team-mates when he began bombing forward. "They would be saying, 'What are you doing? Wait for us!' It is a slower game and that is the way you have to play."
'The Boy in Brazil: Living, Loving and Learning in the Land of Football' by Seth Burkett is published by Floodlit Dreams at £6.99
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