'Players have a breaking point' - how the calendar is impacting player welfare

Injury experts Zone7 believe the irregular scheduling is simply asking for increased injury risk

7:00am on Wednesday 11th November 2020
Paul Macdonald

Footballer overload is, finally, becoming a mainstream concern.

Even before the coronavirus struck the issue of demanding too much from players was already being discussed at FIFPro, the professional player's body, but this condensed season may take the conversation to another level.

Last December, 84 separate injuries were logged by Premier Injuries Limited, almost double what was recorded in August and by far the biggest month for lost minutes in 2019/20.

Players are running further, sprinting more, and generally put their bodies through a more intense match regime than ever. But not only are the demands placed on players not being addressed, they are likely to push players even closer to their physical limits as the fixtures mount.

Klopp has been critical of Premier League scheduling

From a club perspective there is lost man hours, lost revenue and gross inefficiency. But from a player welfare perspective, it's becoming serious. FifPro's report, entitled 'At the Limit' proposed a number of sweeping reforms to ease the strain on professional players. These were all discussed before the coronavirus shutdown and the subsequent matches, exacerbated by this ludicrous international break, is just putting players under even more strain.

Zone7 are an organisation who aim to help clubs manage player training workloads by using AI to recognise when their bodies are at injury risk and provide recommendations on how to amend player programs on an individual basis.

Preventing injuries before they happen is football's next data evolutionRead More

Speaking to FootballCritic, CTO Eyal Eliakim discussed the frantic fixture list in 2020/21, and stated that any time that a club's specific schedule developed with a player is interrupted, injuries can, and will, happen.

Eliakim said: "Players have a breaking point. If a player plays too many games, they will break. From our experience a period like this does translate to increased injury risk. 

"It's not just the games, but the fluctuation of the playing schedule itself. If they are used to playing every six days and there is a specific period of the season where they play every three days, then that's bad.

"It works the other way too, if you have three international breaks in September, October and November and you don't allow teams to settle into a steady playing routine, then they won't be ready for games and they will get injured a lot - and injuries are normally high in October and November.

"Injuries in general have been going up and I can say that every time you break a teams playing routine whether that's by overload of matches or by breaking the schedule, injury risk will go up."

Football, in general has a decision to make. Eliakim and his team can offer sophisticated advice to their clients to attempt to avoid injury wherever possible. But really, how much we are asking of professional footballers has to be the next point of debate and once this crisis is over, a root-and-branch review of what we are doing has to be undertaken.

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