A study launched by FIFPRO, the international footballers’ union, concluded that 87% of professional players are in favor of limiting the number of games per season, to protect themselves from possible injuries and negative mental impacts. “We are athletes, not machines,” they warn.
The survey, which involved 1,055 players and 92 performance specialists (including doctors, researchers and physical trainers), showed that both groups advocate the adoption of new measures guaranteeing a minimum duration of the competitive break. In addition, they require special attention to matches played less than five days apart.
Among those surveyed are players who compete in the leagues of England, France, Italy and Spain, with 50 per cent revealing that the injuries they have suffered were caused by competition overload. In contrast, 40% said the excess of games had affected their mental health, while 50% complained that team commitments increasingly shortened their rest time.
“Long-distance international travel puts pressure on the health and performance of many players, due to the sudden changes caused by regions with different climates and time zones,” said Chilean midfielder Arturo Vidal, representing the footballers of the American continent. “Some players have covered more than 200,000 kilometers in the last three seasons. It’s like going around the world five times.
In this area, the national team calendar is gaining ground compared to the club specifications. In 2018-19, trips motivated by club competitions accounted for 40% of the total, a percentage that fell to 34% in 2020-21. In other words, with the reformulation of national team tournaments (the introduction of the Nations League for example), commitments to national teams now translate into 66% of trips.
Generation more punished than the previous one
The research report also shows that, at the end of 2020, Real Madrid’s Croatian midfielder Luka Modric played 24 games with less than five days off, four times more than the recommended maximum. Between December 2020 and February 2021, it was Manchester United centre-back Harry Maguire who made 19 appearances with little recovery time.
“It’s important to be aware that the journeys which, to be honest, I don’t do in the best conditions, add to the fatigue. They make the body pay and often affect the mindset of the bravest,” said Senegalese defender Saliou Ciss, currently serving for Nancy.
Among the measures proposed to alleviate this problem, 72% of those questioned believe that the total number of matches with a short interval between them should be reduced to four, while half defend a compulsory stoppage after three matches under these conditions.
The study also found that the performance experts consulted support player criticism and complaints, agreeing that the current number of matches in elite football puts the physical and mental health of athletes at risk. And the figures are illuminating: more than one in three players, out of a sample of 256, played at least 55 games in the season immediately preceding the covid-19 pandemic.
With the schedule getting worse and travel inevitable, the current generation of footballers are facing far greater wear and tear than the previous one. Just look at this comparative exercise: England international Raheem Sterling (Manchester City), 27, has played at least 50 games in seven of the last 11 seasons, while Welshman Ryan Giggs (Manchester United) has reached 50 games in just six of the 24 seasons he has played in his career.
Today, it’s not just athletes who, according to the study, suffer the consequences of severe wear. It is also the product (ie the quality of the game) and therefore the spectator/supporter of the sport. “If we want to offer the fans spectacular matches, with a high level of creativity, intensity and virtuosity, we must ensure that the players have the possibility of recovering correctly, physically, mentally and spiritually”, advocates a coach of top level of the Eredivisie. , Dutch Championship.