The puppet lurking behind the curtain, the one keeping top class players from giving their best all year round, is not always diminishing fitness. Or indiscipline. Or lack of drive. It is fatigue.
Players’ reaction, speed and pace, muscular power, judgment, susceptibility to injury and even endurance are all affected by fatigue, and always towards the negative side of the scale.
And I presume that the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations will be greatly shaped by the performance of the players who were on duty on Saturday in Madrid in the Uefa Champions League.
When Mohamed Salah of Egypt and Liverpool, Harambee Stars skipper Victor Wanyama (Tottenham) and Senegal’s Sadio Mane (Liverpool) were named in the 18-man squads for their clubs in the Champions League final, it was only the culmination of months of intense, back-breaking preparations.
These are players who have contended with a cramped up calendar incorporating up to 80 competitive games. So a legitimate argument can be made that the upcoming Afcon tournament has come too soon for them.
For me the question is really whether the players will be too tired to play at all, or whether they will be successful in the tough three-week long tournament.
Same difference. Because they will all be required to dig deep and summon a little more strength to basically get the competition out of the way.
Preparing for the Uefa Champions League final, a game which attracts crazy numbers in viewership, and which almost as popular as the Fifa World Cup final, cannot be easy.
It is a very heavily demanding enterprise that involves the physical, the mental and the psychological. So no matter how prepared you are, the wall of fatigue will strike.
There is also the risk of injury. You could see that the two players who played were all really trying to balance out going hard and pushing for victory for their clubs, and staying back and playing safe to avoid injury.
That, for players faced with the biggest continental showpiece in Africa in three weeks, is a very tough balancing act that only the few and strong can handle with ease.
And while there are those who will argue that there are about three weeks remaining, it is important to note that the next 18 days are going to be the most difficult for every Afcon contenting squad member.
Every player will sweat it out and push hard to ensure that they are fitter than the next player.
First to earn the confidence of their coach, and then later so that they can compete favourably against their opponents.
So as we look up to the European-based stars like Wanyama, Mane and Salah, let us manage our expectations.
Yes, we should demand a good performance from them, but let us not expect them to give their all at the Afcon. The Afcon tournament will be a form of warm down for them.