WITH the fixtures for the new Football League season due to be released on Thursday, Sunderland are finalising their plans to deal with the mid-season break that has been introduced because of the winter World Cup in Dubai.

While matches in Leagues One and Two will continue during the tournament, the Premier League and Championship will both shut down because of the number of international players who will be away in the Middle East.

Both leagues will come to a halt after the weekend of Saturday, November 12, but while the Premier League will not resume until Boxing Day, the Championship will recommence on December 10 following the end of the World Cup group stage.

Like the rest of their Championship rivals, Sunderland’s players will be kicking their heels for a month, with the enforced absence posing a headache to the club’s fitness and medical staff.

There will be an understandable desire to give players a break, but also a need to ensure their fitness levels do not drop too much before the action resumes and they head straight into a packed festive period.

“Next season is going to be really interesting,” said Sunderland sporting director Kristjaan Speakman. “We’ve got a really short closed season period of four-and-a-half weeks (this summer). We’ve got a five-and-a-half week pre-season period, and then we’ve got this month off in November and December to navigate where the World Cup is going to be.

“We don’t have any games for three Saturdays so that is going to be a challenge for everyone. We will do our best to pre-plan anything that could go wrong and to be the best planned or best organised team in the league.”

Clubs could decide to arrange friendly matches during the World Cup shut-down, and Sunderland are also considering a warm-weather training camp to help fill the month-long gap in the schedule.

“It’s going to be really interesting how clubs go about things,” continued Speakman. “We’ll be in the same boat as everyone else in the Championship. None of the Championship teams have gone through that before and none of the players playing in there have had that.

“We’ve got a draft schedule around rest, team activity. Maybe it is a trip, then a build-up phase? Maybe it’s a bit of a mini condensed pre-season?

“We’ve already got that process in place. That was one of the things we did a certain amount of work to. From (winning promotion), that has been let off the leash.”

Sunderland’s players will return to the Academy of Light for the start of pre-season next week, with the club set to play a pair of behind-closed-doors games at their training ground on July 2 against Gateshead and Blyth Spartans.

Alex Neil and his players will then head to Portugal for a training camp that will feature a match against Rangers on July 9, and Speakman is hoping a healthy contingent of travelling supporters will join them on the Algarve.

“That (encouraging fans to travel) was a real consideration for us because we have to appreciate we are coming off the back of Covid period which obviously disconnected that engagement,” he said. “I go back to the weekend (of the League One play-off final) which was so good for that because you’ve got everyone mixed together enjoying that and that’s how it should be.

“Pre-season is a real good opportunity. People want to follow the team. We tried to put it in a location which was great for our performance demands. Equally, you’re thinking about who can come and attend and watch the squad and align their holiday to come. Naturally, you want to try and make it fit for everyone.”