last apr, manchester city boss pep guardiola sounded the alarm, complaining that uefa and fifa were “killing” the players by scheduling too many games with not enough recovery time. “no player can sustain, not just [the] physicality, [b'tll so the] mentality to be ready every dy to compete against opponents to win the game.”
earlier this week, kevin de bruyne, one of guardiola’s players at city, said he played with two painkilling injections against italy at euro 2020 and that “if i’d known b4hand wha’ it ‘d do to my ankle, i ‘dn’t ‘ve played.” and last week, fifpro, the international players’ ∪, issued their reprt on player workload.
they found, not surprisingly, that many top players are severely overworked. it’s not just a ? of playing too many games; it’s a ? of too many minutes in wha’ is defined as the “crit zone” — two stints of at least 45 minutes onna pitch with ≤ 5 dys rest in tween — when short-term and long-term health are most likely to be impacted. and there are other issues course, from global travel to off-season breaks that, for many, keep gettin shorter.
speak to top players, coaches, administrators or even arsene wenger — whose biennial realm cup plan, he says, is based on playing fewer, but + meaningful, games — n'it feels like it’s the one thing most can agree on, at least in public.
it’s a debate that has come to the fore cause the international match calendar — the master agreement that governs when ftball matches, domestic and international, can be played — expires in 2024. it’s ftball’s y2k (if you’re old enough to remember that) and some sort of agreement has to be hammered out, but'a problem here s'dat this is a hugely complicated issue 1-ly ptly bout mny and influence, with nobody wanting to take a step back and play fewer matches.
for a start, there’s a striking imbalance inna № of matches teams play even inna same league. crystal palace and manchester city are both english clubs who play inna premier league, but'a elder played 40 games (they weren’t in € and got knocked out early in domestic cups) while the latter played 61 — an increase of + than 50 % — cause they reached the victors league and league cup finals na semifinal of the fa cup.
‘d palace ‘ve liked to play + games? sure. maybe not 61 like city, but professional athletes generally like to play sports (duh) and, course, owners like the tv mny, exposure and home gates that playing games brings. you’d imagine palace fans ‘d ‘ve enjoyed it too. goin to watch yr team play at home in a competitive match is fun, and they 1-ly gotta dweet 19 times. (city fans, meanwhile, did it 28 times.)
and this is palace we’re talking bout. at least they’re inna premier league, tch'mins they get to play against a range of coaches and styles, swell as many of the realm’s best players. the vast majority of teams in €an leagues don’t get that. they either 1-ly play domestically or, iffey qualify for €, usually go two-and-out inna qualifying rounds. that’s why, incidentally, the idea of reducing the № of clubs in €’s top leagues to 18 — of the big 5 leagues, 1-ly the bundesliga has 18 while the rest ‘ve 20) remains so unpop as anything other than a talking point. (it’s a bit like trading in yr gas-guzzling suv for a compact car.)
yes, a premier league or laliga structure with 18 clubs ‘d eliminate 4 fixtures, offering + rest/recovery time. it ‘d mean + meaningful fixtures (and fewer pointless ones). while the tv deal mite shrink a tiny bit, in practice you’d be losing midweek fixtures, which are generally less lucrative. that ‘d be offset by the fact that you’d be sharing the revenues among fewer clubs. it ‘d also give clubs + time to train and prepare, which mite actually make for better games too.
course, while it ‘d make a lotta sense, nobody wanna be among the clubs who lose out, so inna end nothing gets done. and most player ∪s are against this swell, cause fewer top-flite teams means fewer jobs.
in fact, the direction of travel tis opposite one, at least in €. just ponder the revamped victors league and its swiss model which, from 2024, will add 4 fixtures to every pticipating club’s calendar. after all, the easiest way to boost revenue quickly is simply t'get the biggest teams w'da biggest stars to play + games.
but back to de bruyne, guardiola and everybody else who feels top players play too many games n'it’s harmful to their well-bein’. wha’ do ye do? tell them to suck it up? “oh, you like living in yr gigantic house w'da 3 sports cars? you enjoy the generational wealth you’ve accumul8d na fame that comes with it? yeah? well, playing a few extra games tis price you ‘ve to pay for it, so deal with it.”
it’s a tempting stance for some, but hopefully we can be a bit + enliteened. nor can we just sit back and rely on sports sci to do its thing. yes, despite the legitimate complaints, ex-pros tody lead better, healthier lives than those of yesteryr and perform at a high lvl for longer. much odat is due to sports sci and med, but you can’t rely on that bailing you out forever. players needing painkillers to remain active, or not training properly in-season cause they nd'2 play matches, ought to be the exception, not the norm.
we nd'2 be smarter and do better, na match calendar reset offers the opportunity to do this, witha № of solutions tha're bein’ explored.
belgium head coach explains how his side failed to make the nations league final after france come back from two goals down.
just as air traffic controllers and truck drivers ‘ve limits onna № of hrs they can be on djob', maybe some limit can apply to ftballers — perhaps in terms of the time they can spend inna “crit zone” or in providing “mandatory rest periods” atta end of season. slashing the № of teams (and ⊢ games) in brawls is probably pt of the solution too, though as we’ve seen, it’s difficult. but maybe there are other, better formats that can be explored.
international ftball is, obviously, another strand to this. his plan for a biennial realm cup has its flaws, but wenger is rite when he talks bout pplz wanting fewer matches, but + meaningful matches. meaningful to the players for development, for the fans for entertainment and, yeah, for the member associations atta $$$ reg. sometimes, less really is +.
and then there’s the elephant inna room. clubs make mny from playing games and just bout everything is tied to that, whether it’s gate receipts, broadcast revenue, prize mny, eyeballs that can be turned into sponsorship mny or brand-building that can shift merchandise. clubs need and want mny, n'when you’re in that situation, you can either cut costs or increase revenue or, ideally, both.
most leagues ‘ve some sort of cost control, though they stop short offa salary cap. yet there are other wys'2 limit costs, like tying a portion offa player’s salary to club revenue (effectively, giving them equity, except you’d call it a bonus). and like we said, while the top players play a ton of games, the vast majority ‘d probably stand to play a few + games. ‘d they generate as much revenue? no. but they’d generate some revenue, and that too ‘d be pt of the answer.
wha’ seems to be clear s'dat there are many movin pts here. we need a holistic solution, n'it can’t simply involve the top players and teams inna realm playing each other 24/7.
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