Player inability to hit full fitness before matchday is proving to be the latest source of headaches for gaffers as the risks of injuries per game constantly increases. This is unarguably down to rising numbers of football matches in the newly drafted football calendar. Is this leading FIFA to inadvertently harm its players?
Is FIFA Harming Its Players?
An overly demanding schedule is a clear defect to the sport, which certainly poses multiple question marks concerning the safety of footballers. Tagged; “Canibalisation of match calendar”, according to FIFPRO General Secretary, Jonas Baer Hoffman, is a genuine concern. But what is being done?
The big questions asked pertaining to these issues remain based on FIFA’s protective measures installed to avoid player burn out and early expiration.
The risk of player underdevelopment
It is no secret that an overloaded level of game time from an athlete poses gruesome repercussions should fatigue come rolling in. Professional footballers are mostly prone to injuries due to the minimal duration now given to recovery process.
Football is undoubtedly growing in size with new generations looking for immediate gratification. The thirst for more matches, refined competitions and technological improvements is unending. As consumption of the sport enlarges, so does its organizers intent to keep up. Except that, they do so, paying lesser attention than expected to the well-being of the players.
What then is driving the will to ensure consistency in delivering matches?
Commercialisation is an Area of Concern
This is mostly down to the level of popularity the sport has amassed over the years and this subsequently augments how much value is placed on the sport. Very quickly, the game is commercialized, converted into a profit-making brand via media campaigns with the use of club fanbase.
Arabian royalties, American businessmen and probably anyone with the right knowledge of consumer power plus a surfeit of cash can find himself in that zone of control nowadays. As good as this is for the fiscal future of the game, it certainly affects its qualitative level.
Jurgen Klopp Speaks Out
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Speaking amidst Club World Cup preparations back in 2019, manager of Liverpool, Jurgen Klopp expressed his views on the impact of competition scheduling on match quality;
“I can’t talk about respect in England but we are here now and completely focused,”
“If, however, you asked me if there should be a Club World Cup in the middle of our season, I would say no. We are here so, for us, it is the most important competition in the world. But can it be bigger? I don’t know.”
“FIFA plans a team World Cup in the summer but it is the summer when the African competition is playing and others as well.”
Clearly discontented by the nature of the games his team was challenged with, the requirements of the matches on their physical capabilities, as well as, the expectations of supporters, he opined that;
“We have a lot of fans in this part of the world (Middle East) and they watch us in the middle of the night, so it is nice we come closer, but from an organization point of view they have to talk, because otherwise FIFA say we’ll have a tournament, and UEFA say so will we, and then South America too. And they all think their tournament is most important. You cannot just add on tournaments. It doesn’t work.”
And just like Klopp, many other concerned stakeholders in the sport believe that FIFA’s inability to address this situation at a timely hour already poses a lot of risks on the status of young players.
Majority aspiring for greatness face risks of underdeveloped potentials, side-lined for huge fractions of their careers due to improper rest patterns present in top-flight leagues.
Football Administrators and the Growing Injury Rate
The season has only barely begun and devastating injuries are already plaguing European top leagues. Notable players like Kevin De Bruyne, Thibaut Courtois, Reece James, Eder Militao and Jurrien Timber among a list of others are set to be excluded from game time after suffering long-term injuries.
With the lowest of all highlighted players injury spell being a four-month term, the introduction of protective acts to the job of footballers becomes a paramount topic of consideration for FIFA and national FAs
Should this be properly discussed, it will certainly come with some reduction in the amount of games been played annually across all registered competitions under the federation.
Sadly, many average clubs are unable to contend with the increase in demands of the new system due to their inability to spend on team reinforcements like the customarily wealthy sides.
Indeed, this continue to extend the margins found between big and average clubs, thereby disrupting the level of balance national administrators tend to seek within their establishment.
Also, outrageously prioritizing club value and brand power over every other project leaves the players exposed to exploitation. Mostly in the sense that, fans request their presence by paying to see them weekly, compelling them to respond until incapable.
Some may argue that as pros they’ve got to understand sacrifice because they also get paid astronomically. This is true but another thing which is true is never forgetting that they are humans and need adequate recovery process to avoid numbing themselves into the sport.
Over the years, the number of matches players are expected to play per year has doubled significantly as FIFPRO indicates with the careers of Pedri, Vinicius & co.
Pedri at 20 has now played 25% more games than Xavi at the same age while Vini Jr already pose twice the amount of minutes his fellow Brazilian icon, Ronaldinho Gaucho amassed at the age of 22. Ask any Arsenal supporter about how much time Saka has played.
The beautiful game we love can also get dark and it’s worse when footballers themselves, frustrated by recurring injuries, lose interest in it.
As always, they remain the lone pawns on the chessboard and their reactions to principles adjustment play the biggest role in the beautification of the game.
In the message of Manchester United defender, Raphael Varane;
“.…we have shared our concerns for many years now that there are too many games, the schedule is overcrowded and it’s at a dangerous level for player physical and mental well-being…”