‘Players’ health at risk’ – Fifpro call for more rest and less travel

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The health of top footballers is “at risk” according to a global players’ union, who have called for “mandatory offseason breaks of four weeks”.

Fifpro have collated data on 16 elite players and found some played almost 80 matches and travelled over 110,000km last season.

Tottenham’s Son Heung-min and Liverpool duo Alisson Becker and Sadio Mane were among the players analysed.

Fifpro said some players are struggling with “mental and physical strain”.

In the report Juventus defender Giorgio Chiellini said players “need to be protected” while Anderlecht player-manager Vincent Kompany called for “compulsory amounts of rest”.

What did the Fifpro report say?

Fifpro represents 65,000 professional footballers from 63 national players’ associations. Their ‘The ‘At the Limit’ report compared the workload of 16 players over the last 12 months with medical science on health and performance capacity.

The report claims elite non-European players such as Mane, Alisson and Son are travelling too much without adequate rest when they leave club football for international duty.

That players face “match overload” and play fixtures with “less than five days rest” is also raised.

  • Tottenham forward Son played 78 matches and travelled more than 110,000km to represent South Korea
  • Son played 72% of his matches with less than five days rest from his last fixture
  • Liverpool and Brazil goalkeeper Alisson played 72 matches and travelled 80,000km to represent his country
  • Barcelona and Croatia midfielder Ivan Rakitic played almost three-quarters of games without five days rest in between
  • Liverpool forward Mane played 70 matches and travelled 100,000km to represent Senegal
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Fifpro general secretary Theo van Seggelen said: “To meet the demands of the match calendar players are being repeatedly asked to play at their limit without sufficient rest and recovery. This means that they cannot perform at their best and, worse still, that some are struggling with sustained periods of mental and physical strain.

“Scientific research confirms that the health of top players is at risk because of today’s congested match schedule.”

So what do Fifpro want?

Salah and Mane both featured in international tournaments this summer
Salah and Mane both featured in international tournaments this summer

Fifpro also cite results from a 2018 survey conducted on 543 players and claim 85% were in favour of a mid-season break lasting 14 days.

The inclusion of such breaks forms part of seven recommendations they have as a result of the ‘At the Limit’ study.

  • Lock in season breaks: Four weeks in summer and two weeks in winter
  • Limit back-to-back games: Limit matches played with less than five days between games
  • Match caps: Consider capping the number of matches a player can participate in
  • The calendar: Squad sizes should be increased to accommodate growing fixture numbers
  • More rest for long-haul travel: 63% of players feel long-distance travel impacts performance
  • Develop an early warning system: This would help players and clubs plan to accommodate rest
  • No added games until safeguards in place: No fixtures should be added to the calendar until player protection measures are in place

The ongoing call for more rest

Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp called on authorities to find a “better way” to handle player workload late in the 2018-19 season when the Champions League final was scheduled five days before international fixtures.

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Klopp said: “If we don’t learn to deal with our players in a better way, competition-wise, then it’s the only chance to kill this wonderful game. Because without the players, it’s not a good one.”

Liverpool’s Mane, Alisson, Mohamed Salah, Roberto Firmino and Naby Keita were among the Premier League players to feature in summer tournaments, cutting short their respective pre-seasons.

Last season, Manchester City boss Pep Guardiola said the festive fixture schedule was “killing” his players.

This season, Premier League clubs will have one weekend off in February, a move the Football Association called “significant”.

As part of the ‘At the Limit’ study, Juventus’ Chiellini said: “For us to continuously play at our best and improve performance, we need to be protected from excessive match schedules.”

Former Manchester City defender Kompany added: “Put a cap on how much players can be used and you can play as many games as you want because the players will have compulsory amounts of rest.”

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