Footballers are playing an ‘obscene’ amount of games. Will a World Cup every two years make it worse?


This season seems to be no totally different and with United nonetheless competing in three competitions, coupled with Fernandes’ World Cup qualifying commitments for Portugal, a conservative estimate might see the 27-year-old participating in 60 matches.

But that is removed from a difficulty that’s unique to Fernandes and United.

The soccer calendar’s grueling schedule and the bodily and psychological toll it takes on gamers has being the topic of a lot dialogue for a number of years now.

It’s a difficulty that has solely been exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic, as leagues around the globe struggled to finish truncated seasons earlier than starting the next marketing campaign nearly instantly.

Add within the present worldwide schedule — which is seeing confederations cramming in additional matches than ever earlier than owing to fixture cancellations because of the pandemic — and gamers on the prime finish of the game at the moment are experiencing the worst calendar congestion of their careers.

‘An obscene quantity of video games’

It’s not solely taking part in an inordinate numbers of minutes each week that has effects on star footballers. It’s additionally the long-haul worldwide flights by way of a number of time zones, a selected downside for these touring from Europe to South America and Asia for worldwide responsibility.

As of 2024, soccer will want a brand new calendar as the present format expires. However, moderately than lowering the variety of video games to stop gamers from burning out, present proposals would see footballers doubtlessly play extra matches at each membership and worldwide degree.

This is because of the expanded Champions League format touted by UEFA, European soccer’s governing physique, that may end in an additional 100 matches per season, and the plans put ahead by FIFA, world soccer’s governing physique, to host a World Cup each two years as a substitute of 4.

Darren Burgess, a efficiency coach who beforehand labored at Liverpool and Arsenal, recollects his time with the Gunners when attempting to handle gamers’ workload.

“Certainly in my role, most recently at Arsenal, where we made Europa League semifinal and then the Europa League final in consecutive years, including a Carling Cup final, we just played an obscene amount of games,” Burgess stated.

While UEFA and the European Club Association (ECA) have criticized FIFA for its plans, UEFA has itself been criticized by main officers from Europe’s greatest leagues over its personal proposals.

FIFPro says soccer’s governing our bodies have to see the larger image relating to participant burnout.

The FIFPro report highlights Son Heung-min of South Korea as one of the players who traveled the most for international duty.

“What I think is quite interesting … is that our arguments are always brought to the table by the other stakeholders when somebody else makes a proposal,” FIFPro normal secretary Jonas Baer Hoffmann stated.

“So when do you need more Champions League games, then all of a sudden ‘well, the players are playing too much,’ say the leagues and say FIFA. If you want a second World Cup, ‘oh, the players are playing too much,’ says UEFA.

“Now, I suppose sooner or later, when you maintain them accountable to this argument, then you are going to need to power them to carry it towards themselves, too.”

Former Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger, who has been one of the leading voices for FIFA in its push for a biennial World Cup, has previously insisted they are “very acutely aware” of not growing the variety of matches for gamers.

“What is most essential for me is extra significant video games,” he stated just lately, as he outlined his “Football for Tomorrow” proposal. “We need to give the followers what followers demand right this moment, and that’s significant video games. We need to reply to that expectation.

“You have 20% national team football and 80% club football and we want to maintain that balance, but we just want to reorganise it in a more efficient way.

“This means regrouping and lowering qualifiers in nationwide group soccer, creating longer durations for gamers to stay with their golf equipment and to determine a assured relaxation interval for gamers yearly.”

‘Simply unsustainable’

Baer-Hoffmann was speaking at a roundtable organized by FIFPro, in which the union proposed a new plan that would see players take planned, compulsory breaks during the season to protect their physical and mental health.

The proposal comes off the back of a FIFPro report that the union says shows footballers are currently playing an alarming number of minutes in what it calls the “crucial zone” — playing at least 45 minutes in matches that have less than five days rest between them.

FIFPro says playing an excessive number of minutes in this critical zone can greatly increase a player’s chances of injury and even shorten their career.

Depending on the regularity of these enforced breaks — whether footballers sit out after as few as three consecutive games in the critical zone or five — players could miss between two and eight games per season across club and international duty.

While it may sound radical to many football fans, similar concepts are often applied in other sports.

In the NBA, for example, where players regularly play on back-to-back nights and every other night throughout an 82-game season, franchise stars commonly have rest periods scheduled into their seasons, most commonly referred to as load management.

Kawhi Leonard of the LA Clippers has been one of the NBA players to benefit most from load management.

FIFPro’s report is based on data from about 40,000 appearances by a sample of 265 male players from 44 leagues between June 2018 and August 2021 and says these compulsory mid-season breaks will benefit players and teams in the long term.

For those players that combined club and international duty, the report found that 67% of their minutes last season were played in the critical zone, up from 61% in each of the previous two seasons.

In Fernandes’ case, the midfielder never dropped below 67% between November 2020 and April 2021 and was regularly at or near 100%.

“What we see with these excessive workload numbers throughout a lot of indicators, be that back-to-back [matches] or journey, that that is merely unsustainable for the participant, but additionally for the sport and for the competitions,” Alexander Bielefeld, FIFPro Head of Global Policy, said.

“So the query is actually the way you well regulate that. The report would not suggest options to the regulation itself, however to imagine that simply sensible managing and sensible teaching does the trick.”

Bielefeld says that currently the “strain is just too excessive” on everybody involved in football to achieve consistently good results for them to be able to leave out star players for certain matches, but says it is crucial to start the conversation ahead of the new calendar.

How would a manager or head coach react to being told their star player needs to sit out the next match? How would a fan who has traveled to Paris to watch Lionel Messi or Manchester to watch Cristiano Ronaldo react after spending hundreds, sometimes thousands, of dollars to watch their favorite player?

Darren Burgess, (left) currently with Melbourne Football Club, was previously a high performance coach at Arsenal and Liverpool.

Burgess believes actual ahead planning earlier than the season has began might largely negate these points.

“Part of my function with Mr [Arsene] Wenger and Mr [Unai] Emery, the coaches for the 2 seasons, had been to to speak to them about that very difficulty, about planning and about these gamers,” he said. “Some gamers can play, some gamers cannot play.

“So if these rules are in place at the start of the season, then it allows the high performance coach, the doctor, the coach and the fan to understand that this is being done to promote performance and to protect the players so that you can maximize the exposure of the player to the most critical games.

“So so long as these pointers are in place, then that does help you plan.”

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