«In my first preseason I had 25 days to prepare for the first official match against Skonto Riga in the Champions League. Now they give you four or five days. And in the end look how many crusaders (in reference to the serious knee injury… They make you go to Asia, the United States, very strong matches, derbies, big matches. People fall and continue falling and will continue falling because show must go on» The criticism was made by Pep Guardiola, Manchester City coach, at the beginning of the season after Kevin de Bruyne, one of the figures of the current Champions League champion, was seriously injured, but he is not the only one who has raised the voice regarding calendar saturation.
«Here everyone thinks about their own thing. LaLiga thinks about its own thing. The Federation thinks about its own thing. FIFA thinks about its own thing. “UEFA thinks about its own thing… and those who have to paint more than the players, don’t paint anything,” Carlo Ancelotti, Real Madrid coach, complained last April, when he urged the Spanish Federation, FIFA and UEFA to sit down and reach a consensus to reduce the number of matches instead of increasing them with new competitions or tweaking others with more participants. The Italian lost two key players in Eder Militao and Thibaut Courtois last August when he had not even started the hustle and bustle of the season. The same thing happened to Real Sociedad with David Silva, who retired from professional football after breaking his cruciate at the end of July, or to Alavés with Giuliano Simeone.
The FIFPro union (International Federation of Professional Footballers) recently carried out a report, based on the activity data of 1,500 professional footballers from around the world during the period between July 1, 2022 and May 1, 2023, on how the workload affected the players last season, making comparisons between other periods: Bellingham has played 14,445 minutes before turning 20 years old. At that same age, Beckham played 829 minutes, Gerrard (2,853), Lampard (3,477), Owen (9,187)… Pedri has played 25% more minutes than Xavi at the same age. During the Mbappé years, Thierry Henry had 48% fewer minutes played, and Vinicius has played 12,000 more minutes than Ronaldinho at the same age. “For this year, due to the new Champions League and the qualifying matches for the 2026 World Cup, there could be a season of 89 games, which would mean an 11% more additional load,” highlights the union organization, which highlights some data clairvoyants: from July 2022 to the end of April 2023, 3,001 injuries were recorded in England, Spain, Italy, Germany and France, of which 64% were soft tissues (muscles, ligaments and tendons).
A few days after the World Cup final, FIFPRO carried out a survey related to the effects of this overload of activity. 20% of the players surveyed said they felt an extremely high level of mental fatigue compared to how they usually feel at that time of year, while another 23% said they felt greater mental fatigue than usual. The League is one of the competitions that contributes the most players to the national teams. Of the 490 footballers who play in the First Division, according to transfermarkt data, 117 (24%) have been called up to defend their countries and several of them often suffer setbacks.
»The number of games played is abnormal. If it were just one team it would be justified with physical preparation, but it is in all teams and in all leagues,” said Manuel Pellegrini, Real Betis coach, about the competitive overload after not being able to handle several players a few weeks ago.
The windows for international national team matches represent an enormous demand for the players. So much so that in the world of football these calls are known as the FIFA Virus due to the large number of injuries that occur. The latter have been well known. The most serious are Yeremi Pino (Villarreal) or Gavi (Barcelona), who with a broken cruciate say goodbye to the season and the next Euro Cup, just like Neymar. Others are Real Madrid players Vinicius (who will miss the next two and a half months of competition) and Camavinga (who will have to be out for between eight and ten weeks), Real Sociedad forward Mikel Oyarzabal, (out for between two to four weeks), the Argentine Lucas Ocampos from Sevilla, the Kosovar Muriqi from Mallorca, the Algerian Aissa Mandi from Villarreal, the Nigerian from Milan Samu Chukwueze, the Frenchman from PSG Zaïre-Emery, the Nigerian goalkeeper from United André Onana, the Inter’s Italian defender Alessandro Bastoni, or City’s Norwegian attacker Erling Haaland, a club that has seen Aké (Netherlands), Nunes (Portugal), Ederson (Brazil) and Kovacic (Croatia) fall before putting on the jerseys of their national teams. .
«All injuries have to do with the number of games played by the footballers. The more you run and play, the worse it is. The national teams want to win and so do the teams. This is not going to change. What needs to be done is to adapt the rules and calendars. Something must be done to adapt to the current situation. They have to distribute the hours that footballers play,” says Dr. Pedro L. Ripoll in a statement to ‘Carrusel Deportivo’.
Shorter preseasons, more games for the players, more loaded legs and, as a result, more injuries. The seasons continue, there are no longer vacations. «It is a lost battle until the players stand up and say: we are not playing. If not, there is nothing to do,” Guardiola predicted in the summer, and in this situation there are already those who threaten. Rodri Hernández, Manchester City’s fundamental axis and one of the players who played the most last season, sent a recent notice to his club, warning that “it is not healthy” to maintain the pace of last year.
We’re going to have to “slam our fists on the table,” declared Aurélien Tchouaméni, Real Madrid midfielder, about the demanding schedule, who like Liverpool’s Dutch defender Virgil van Dijk and other footballers, are launching a plea to unite against the saturation of matches and competitions throughout the season.
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