World Cup’s missing men: What stars like Salah, Haaland, Benzema are up to
The 2022 World Cup has given us chance to watch some of the game’s biggest stars perform on the grandest stage that international football has to offer.
However, with many nations missing out on the chance to compete and certain players suffering injuries in the run-up to the tournament, there are also a raft of big-name players who sadly won’t be gracing the pitch in Qatar.
And all those elite club managers and coaches have been given a unique midseason break at a time when their domestic and European campaigns would usually be in full swing.
Fortunately many of them have found alternative ways of passing the time until their colleagues return to join them later this month, with the likes of Mohamed Salah, Erling Haaland and Karim Benzema all offering a glimpse into their World Cup-less winter itineraries via social media.
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Stars who didn’t qualify/get selected for the World Cup
Salah played 88 minutes for Egypt in a pre-World Cup friendly against Belgium before jetting off with his family for a midseason break in the sun.
The 30-year-old forward also found time to catch up with national teammate Tarek Hamed for a chat on the sofa. The trip was worth it just for the Zamalek midfielder calling him “the best of the best” in the replies.
Salah then travelled on to the United Arab Emirates, where he kicked things off by picking up the prestigious TikTok Fans’ Player of the Year award at the Dubai Globe Soccer ceremony. He’ll soon be back in the UAE for Liverpool‘s warm-weather training excursion to Dubai, a 12-day trip that will include matches against Lyon (Dec. 11) and AC Milan (Dec. 16).
Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola has given all of his players a three-week break before they reconvene in Abu Dhabi on Dec. 5, and he said last month he hoped his star striker would be staying in shape while visiting his holiday home in Spain.
“He will be in Marbella, for sure, and Norway,” Guardiola said. “How perfect he’ll be in the second half of the season depends on how he behaves in Marbella. He will play golf, hopefully not eat and drink too much and come back in great shape for the second half of the league.
Haaland has kept things very low-key and professional on social media, which a bad sign for fans of Premier League leaders Arsenal, who will be hoping that the goal-hungry Norwegian lets himself go during his hiatus.
With Austria failing to make the World Cup grade, Real Madrid defender David Alaba took himself off to the Maldives for some rest and recuperation — looking every inch the pro footballer on vacation as he posed on the beach in his sharpest threads.
🏅 2022 @Globe_Soccer Awards 🏅
Yet another personal accolade for @Ibra_official who wins the Player Career Award 🔴⚫️
La bacheca dei premi individuali si arricchisce: Zlatan vince il Player Career Award 🔴⚫️#SempreMilan #GlobeSoccer pic.twitter.com/zJHyPLoiTs
— AC Milan (@acmilan) November 17, 2022
Along with Salah, Sweden‘s Ibrahimovic was also present on stage at the Dubai Globe Soccer awards where the 41-year-old was bestowed with recognition for his outstanding contribution to the game (572 goals in 983 appearances for club and country, and counting).
And, while desperately trying to clear a little more space in his trophy cabinet, the veteran striker also found time to plug his new Netflix movie.
It’s not immediately clear precisely how the Chelsea forward “assisted” Cameroonian boxer Stephane Fondjo during his recent win by unanimous decision over Robert Talarek, but the pair seem to have had a lot of fun larking about together in Dubai regardless.
Barcelona midfielder Kessie made the most of his time off with a trip to visit his eponymous charitable foundation in his native Ivory Coast.
After his blistering start to the season culminated in him winning the Premier League’s most recent player and goal of the month awards, Newcastle United‘s in-form forward has had his run put on hold by the World Cup. Paraguay did not qualify, but he returned home for a break with his partner and went out for a nice dinner on the night before the tournament kicked off.
With temperatures in South London dipping ever lower as winter draws in, Crystal Palace and Ivory Coast winger Wilfried Zaha seized the chance to fly out to Dubai in search of some midseason sunshine to celebrate his son’s second birthday.
After missing the cut for Spain, Liverpool’s midfield metronome also decided a holiday was in order and ventured off on a quick tour of the US, first taking in a Lakers game at the Staples Center.
Thiago and his partner, Julia, then went on to Las Vegas for a few days, where they posed for a rooftop selfie above the Strip.
With Colombia falling short of World Cup qualification, James Rodriguez was denied the chance to reproduce his 2014 Golden Boot-winning heroics and instead went on a family vacation.
Atletico Madrid goalkeeper Jan Oblak was also granted leave in order to jet off to Florida for a little midseason sun, with the Slovenia international enjoying a sun-soaked stint on Miami Beach.
Napoli‘s breakout star has enjoyed a meteoric rise this season, with the 21-year-old scoring eight goals in 17 games so far. However, the Georgian winger obviously isn’t above getting ribbed by his teammates after a photo of him reclining on a bench in a town square led to defender Juan Jesus wryly enquiring in the comments: “You sleeping there?”
Stars who missed the World Cup through injury
Sadio Mane was robbed of the chance to play at the World Cup by an injury sustained while playing for Bayern Munich in the buildup. Still, despite having just undergone surgery, the forward found time to wish his comrades well at the tournament with a sweet “good luck” message posted on social media, and watched them from home as they qualified for the knockout phase.
Benzema remains a registered player in France‘s World Cup squad, but injury has prevented him competing in Qatar. The 34-year-old striker could technically be called upon by Didier Deschamps, though the France coach has said a shock return from injury for Benzema is “not something that’s in my mind.” Instead, Benzema has spent the past few weeks in recovery, pedalling away on his exercise bike in the gym.
That said, the Ballon d’Or winner recently flew into the Indian Ocean island of Reunion to begin a vacation, so the chances of him returning for Les Bleus before the end of the tournament seem fairly remote.
With injury denying Paul Pogba both his second Juventus debut so far this season and a place in France’s World Cup squad, the midfielder has had to make do with throwing a kitsch Barbie-themed birthday party for his partner instead.
The 29-year-old also spent some time hanging out with French photographer and artist JR, who managed to take a few portrait shots of the 2018 World Cup winner amid the hijinks.
The Chelsea right-back had looked nailed-on to start for England at the World Cup, only for a knee injury to quash those dreams. Instead, he has had to console himself by taking part in fashion shoots on the streets on New York.
The Liverpool forward was removed from the Portugal squad shortly before the World Cup due to a troublesome calf injury suffered during a Premier League game against Manchester City in late October.
Rather than wallowing in self-pity, the Liverpool forward has decided to use his recovery period to help promote a Portuguese charity fitness drive.
After tearing an ankle ligament while playing for RB Leipzig in the Champions League just weeks before the start of the World Cup, Werner’s hopes of playing at a World Cup for Germany were cruelly shattered.
Thankfully, the former Chelsea forward has been able to use his downtime productively by gaming from the comfort of his couch.
Managers enjoying a World Cup break
The Manchester City boss celebrated extending his contract at the Etihad before returning home to Spain in order to receive a special Trainer of the Year award at the annual Gala of the Stars event held by the Catalan Football Federation in Barcelona.
Not to be outdone, Pep’s great rival added yet another award to his own collection as he picked up the Best Career Coach gong at the Liga Portugal awards ceremony.
The 59-year-old then flew out to Japan as his Roma side began their mini-tour with a goalless draw with Nagoya Grampus before coming from two goals down to salvage an entertaining 3-3 draw against Yokohama F. Marinos at the National Stadium.
The Tottenham Hotspur boss formed part of a Juventus reunion in Turin where he met up with 1995-96 Champions League winners like former Bianconeri manager Marcelo Lippi and ex-teammates Fabrizio Ravanelli, Ciro Ferrara, Moreno Torricelli, Angelo Peruzzi and Angelo Di Livio.
Amazing to be here in Peru with almost all the family (miss you, Maddux ❤️) and see the intricacies of Machu Picchu and get a sense of the history and culture.
Truly one of the Wonders of the World and it feels great to have ticked it off my bucket list! pic.twitter.com/SvsUMjJSjy
— Jesse Marsch (@jessemarsch) November 23, 2022
Leeds United coach Marsch took his family on a trip to Machu Picchu, where he was able to achieve his ambition of marvelling at the ancient Peruvian city with his own eyes.