Would Less Football Improve Football?


Son Heung-Min played 78 games of football
between 25th May 2018 and 13th June 2019. He benfitted from just 22 days of rest during
the summer, 6 less than the minimum (28-42) recommended by medical professionals. And as a Premier League player, he missed
out on a winter break, for which the recommendation is 14 days of uninterrupted rest. The number of fixtures combined with the intensity
of the modern game has led to the suggestion that the workload of players like Son is unsustainable
and unsafe. One organisation making this claim is players’
union FIFPRO in a recent report it published entitled ‘At The Limit’. The report makes the case in various ways. The pronounced issues, though, are that – firstly
– in extreme cases, elite players participate in almost 80 games per year. That, secondly, players feature in many of
these games without 5 or more days rest and recovery beforehand, and this happens regularly
throughout the season. And finally, that the increasing fragmentation
of the football calendar is exacerbating those problems, as various competing interests continue
to re-structure the sport’s global shape. Short-term, this leads to players playing
a larger number of games in a shorter space of time, but long-term, the clustering of
separate competitions and the resulting reduction of off-season recovery periods leads to “continuous
competition cycles”, in which a player may feel physically and psychologically that there
is no end or beginning to any given season. But, how do we know how many games is too
many? After all, Son’s 78 game season (of which
72% were played without 5 or more days rest and recovery) doesn’t sound hugely different
to John Robertson’s 70-game season for Nottingham Forest and Scotland in the 1978-79 season. Go back even earlier to football in wartime
Britain, and you’ll hear stories of players featuring in over one hundred games a year. The key is not in the number of games alone,
but in the intensity of modern football. The increasing complexity of tactical systems
has ensured the continual evolution of the sport. As athletic performances have improved, the
game itself has become more fatigue-inducing. As Ken Early wrote in an article for the Irish
Times: “The rise of system football means that the English league today has less broken
play, and more periods of controlled possession.” Early goes on to note that in the last 10
years not only has the number of passes increased by 25%, but the number of tackles and interceptions
has significantly reduced. “The team that made the fewest tackles 10
years ago tackled more than the team that makes the most tackles today.” Fewer breaks in play clearly leads to a more
intense playing experience, which has both physical and psychological effects. So, for Son Heung-Min, 78 games is arguably
a much weightier burden than a similar number of games of the football played decades earlier. Perhaps more concerning long-term is the “continuous
competition cycles”, created as a result of competing governing bodies and the financial
imperatives of the modern game. Pre-season tours are emphasised for commercial
reasons, leading to higher intensity games and greater distances of travel. FIFA are not only seeking to expand the World
Cup but revamp the Club World Cup with greater financial backing. UEFA has expanded its European Championships
from 16 teams to 24 and is holding the 2020 tournament finals over 12 different cities
in 12 countries. The impact of these and other expansions and
additions floods the calendar with fixtures, all duelling for prominence. And the problem is not at its worst in Europe. In an article for the New York Times, Rory
Smith wrote regarding the burnout of South American players specifically, due to CONMEBOL’s
decision to hold four Copa America’s in six years to realign the tournament with the
European Championships. Smith writes “Between 2014 and 2020, should
Chile qualify for the Qatar World Cup, it is possible that [Alexis] Sanchez will have
had just one full summer break.” Even that summer break, Smith notes, wasn’t
planned, Chile simply failed to qualify for the World Cup in 2018. Had they participated, Sanchez would’ve
undoubtedly added to the 130 appearances he’d already made for Chile at just 30-years-old. It’s perhaps no surprise that his form is
desperately poor at Manchester United. FIFPRO’s report also states that elite non-European
players are travelling too much, frequently crossing time zones and not getting the recommended
rest and recovery time. “63% of players say that long-haul travel
impacts their performance.” For players featuring both at club and international
level, the travelling time can be significant. Son flew 110,596km last season. That’s nearly a third of the way to the
moon, and the equivalent of taking the world’s longest commercial flight (Newark to Singapore
– 15,344km) just over seven times. Or 135 hours flying time; five and a half
days in the air. The frequent crossing of time zones can also
be problematic for footballers, who rarely have the time to recover from jetlag. Interrupted or inadequate sleep can lead to
lower reaction time, poorer accuracy, poorer decision making, and crucially it can increase
the likelihood of injuries. A study – by the American Academy of Sleep
Medicine – of 80 Major League Baseball players even showed that lack of sleep can reduce
the length of a player’s career. And whilst there are clear physical consequences
to overplaying an under-recovered footballer, such as the increased risk of injuries, the
psychological consequences should not be underplayed. Speaking about ‘burnout’ to the Guardian
in 2014, Dr Andrew Hill – (University of Leeds’ School of Biomedical Sciences) said:
“There is often confusion when people talk about overtraining, too many games or fixture
congestions; what they are talking about is physiological fatigue, but burnout is normally
about psychological exhaustion. They are correlated. For every match he plays there is going to
be a psychological expenditure, associated with preparing for games and competing in
games.” So, how could this be changed? Well, the FIFPRO report makes a few recommendations. It includes locking in season breaks, limiting
back-to-back games and considering match caps. 85% of players surveyed by FIFPRO are in favour
of an in-season 14-day break. 64% of players said they “believed they
had insufficient rest between games.” And the evidence suggests that “A very short
period of recovery between matches – less than 72 hours – for players is associated
with more matches lost for their teams”. Limiting the amount of games that individuals
play could, therefore, lead to an improvement in the game. A fully rested player is more efficient and
is capable of higher performance levels. Plus, limits on player use would inevitably
lead to greater use of a team’s whole squad; potentially more minutes for academy graduates
and youth players, something many fans want to see. Either way, it might be necessary. As Jurgen Klopp said in a press conference
in May 2019: “IF WE DON’T LEARN TO DEAL WITH OUR PLAYERS IN A BETTER WAY, COMPETITION
WISE… WE KILL THE WONDERFUL GAME. WITHOUT THE PLAYER, THE GAME IS NOT A GOOD
ONE.” However, as a result of the way that football
is structured, FIFPRO says that this problem requires a “holistic solution”, as no
single organisation can make the necessary changes alone. The task is in convincing competing interests
to holster expansion plans. And that won’t be easily achieved.

64 thoughts on “Would Less Football Improve Football?

  1. You can look at cup competitions like the Carabao/League Cup or the Club World Cup (Or whatever it's called) that really accelerates fatigue with midweek fixtures

  2. Completely agree with this, luckily we have now implemented a winter break starting this season. I wouldnt mind if they got rid of the carabao cup. The FA cup and the PL are more than enough, add to that either EL or CL for only the top 6. that would leave only 2 competitions for 7 and below which is more than enough because they dont have the depth for more. and 3 comps for the top 6.

    maybe an increase in amount of substitutions allowed per match would be something to discuss, maybe instead of 3 make it 5.

  3. Some options: make carbao cup a competition for only league 1 and 2 or maybe even the championship. OR make the competiton restricted or game restricted so either only u24 can play or players who played more than enough games can't participate

  4. Maybe the FA should consider deleting the EFL Cup and have a 14 day winter break in Jan or Feb

  5. I feel like money is the issue here (greed). More tournaments mean more money in circulation for football. Am I correct in thinking this?

  6. I could imagine players inserting annual match caps in their contracts. That seems like an efficient solution. Plus it would justify a reduction in the astronomical salaries they're paid.

  7. awww poor footballers making millions a month.. it must be hard to run around for 90 minutes every week.. where can i donate to help??

  8. RUBBISH!

    If it's so bad .. then you play badly.

    You get deselected and have a rest.

    And it's the same for everybody.

    I don't see Bournemouth winning the league … because ALL of the elite teams' players were too knackered to compete with them in the latter half of the season.

    These players – even the bad ones – are paid more in one week than most of us get in one year.

    A small amount of effort is the minimum we should expect.

  9. Doesn't matter if they play 3 games every week for the season. If they are paid 20k a week then I'll feel bad and a case of concern for them

  10. The relentless schedule also gives the richer clubs an unfair advantage. Take City for example, they essentially have two world class squads on rotation which other clubs can't afford.

  11. thats why they make millions of dollars and we dont! Play less and earn less, play more earn more but we are too greedy nowadays. We want to play less and take home a killing:(

  12. Yes, the number of matches should be reduced (probably drastically).
    Football's administrative powers should read Aesop's Fable: "The Goose that Laid the Golden Egg".

  13. Totally agree. League cup is a farce and needs to be scrapped. Europa League is an abomination and needs to be scrapped. All extra time and replays in FA Cup needs to be scrapped. Nations League needs to be scrapped. Community Shield needs to be scrapped. Super Cup needs to be scrapped. World Club Cup needs to be scrapped. Less is definitely more.

  14. I was saying this back when Liverpool won the CL final, taking into act the summer tournaments and time off in between. Im surprised Salah and Sane played last week. I was sure these clubs would give time off.

  15. Its what the EPL has to do to stay relevant…. they can't grow their own top talent so they have to buy it from other nations. Where do they get all that money to pay for that talent? From the number of games they show to squeeze the money out of the fans.

  16. This is a unpopular opinion, but if we want a premier league winter break, They need to either need to reduce the league to 18 teams 34 league games, or take away league cup and Replays in the FA cup

  17. And what about miners that go underground??? That is the reason why players are payed in millions to run and play!!!

  18. this is Bollox the team's have squads of 50 odd players from top to bottom. teams just don't wanna rotate or play Weaker players

  19. In terms of the domestic English game I'd scrap the League Cup, EFL trophy and restructure the Leagues to have 5 divisions of 18 teams. That would trim a few games from the congested calendar and would allow more time to have a full winter break throughout ALL the leagues.

  20. There are so many matches that make zero sense and absolutely add nothing to the football season. Why have a league cup if there is already the FA cup? Why have super cup when a team won the double? Why have European qualifiers against the third best team of Slovakia when you can just be moved up a qualification round and let all the weaker teams battle it out first? I could write an entire essay naming them all.

  21. If footballers think they have it so bad maybe they should try living in the real world for 5 minutes. After that am sure they will be grateful to play football for a living.

    Come on mate you can’t seriously be suggesting that footballers have a hard working life. I can’t feel sorry for footballers when there are Doctors, nurses, firefighters and factory workers who work twice as much and earn a fraction of the money footballs do.

  22. Footballers get payed way too much so i say let them play till they burn out! As their are people out there working more the 60 hours a week just to make money. you don't see a governing body doing anything about that! so I say if you being payed millions then your body is on the line.

  23. Do away with Carabao cups. Add winter break which means 2 extra weeks in the summer which is better cause we'll get CL at a very good time.

  24. Lowering the number of competitions also lowers the number of competitors as most smaller clubs get most of their revenue from international cups and less competition could very well be the end of football

  25. The same thing in the NBA and NFL. The NFL wants to move to an 18 game schedule, and 16 games is already too many in my opinion.

  26. I disagree with everything you said, they get paid a lot of money to run around kicking a ball, if after my 12 hour shift which is exhausting I moaned to my boss about the long hours and he said no worries I'll pay you a hundred thousand pounds a week I'm sure I'd stop moaning. They run around for 90 mins in a match and train for 3 hours in the morning… Wooppeee fucking doo… Stop whinging and get on with it… Wait till Christmas when they have to play 4 games in 10 days… My answer… Use the fucking bench! Players sitting there getting paid for doing nothing… That doesn't happen in my world. These players travel the world, that's a good thing, not a bad thing, I wish I had a job where I could see the world and kick a ball about… Wtf

  27. i disagree more football means the team is playfull which makes better performence for example barsa had basicly 1 week rest before the game againts liverpool second leg and liverpool had a hard game againts newcastle to stay in the title race and in the end liverpool won, or in the Euro 2012 germany had 1 extra day rest and a pretty confident win over grecce while italy had a penalty shootout againts England and ofcourse in the end Italy won , for bigger teams matches in the league are like a trainning preparation for the big ones

  28. The Reason There is Pre Season Tournaments Is Not Because of Money… It's to Get The Player Back in Rhythm after the Summer Break

  29. In Fifa's career mode you get games with 2 or 3 days between them very often, and I've even had to play a match the day right after another match (only happened onced tho, but it's still madness). It seems like rl football is heading that way… obviously not that extreme, but it would be good to pull the brakes at some point.

  30. Ideal # of clubs for a 1st division, 16-18, imo. 1-2 domestic cups depending on format. But fuckin English Championship, League 1 and League 2 have 24 clubs, and 2-3 cups. WHAT!?! Clubs in Europe maybe shouldnt participate in 1 or all of their domestic cups, even if they come in at a later round, again my opinion.

  31. My ideas to improve 1st Division football and benefit players and fans. (Premier League)

    1- Change the league format. Now we should have 2 championships per year with 1 round of 19 games (all against all) + play offs with additional 4 matches in each championship. Play offs should be Elimination rounds with just one match.
    – League cups should only be played by Lower divisions
    – Reduce match time to 70 minutes. (But With a clock that stops when the ball isn't being played)

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