FIFPro, the international footballers’ union, has publicly condemned the strain that its members are currently being placed under in terms of their workload.
The union joins leading managers, such as Liverpool's Jurgen Klopp, Manchester City's Pep Guardiola and Manchester United's Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, who have all previously voiced their fears over the schedule.
Elite players in Europe are currently being asked to play weekend and midweek matches on a weekly basis as authorities try to cram in a domestic and continental schedule in a compressed timeframe because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Complicating matters has been the presence of international fixtures, which has seen these same figures asked to play up to five matches so far – and potentially a further three in the coming period.
With many players having been forced into a curtailed pre-season and others suddenly faced with an incredible rush of fixtures after six months without action, the instances of muscular injury have increased.
FIFPro has expressed its concern, not only about the present situation, but the fact that there is no end in sight before the World Cup in 2022.
A statement published on its website reads: “FIFPRO notes the accumulated workload for players in the first quarter of European football’s 2020-2021 season and the mental and physical burden they are facing until 2022. The current handling of the match calendar during this emergency period lacks sufficient considerations for their health, well-being and performance and requires an urgent and ongoing revision by competition organisers.
“Footballers are already experiencing fatigue due to the ongoing competition cycle, back-to-back matches and a lack of adequate rest and recovery during the European summer period. This, in turn, is putting them at an elevated risk of stress and injury. The duty of care to footballers must be the most important principle throughout the period of the emergency calendar implemented during the covid-19 pandemic.
The intensive current match calendar, with barely any off- and in-season breaks for players, not only risks their health but also risks undermining their performance at the forthcoming UEFA European Championship and FIFA World Cup Qatar in 2022.FIFPro
“FIFPRO strongly supports the efforts of the football industry to continue to play despite the fast-changing and unpredictable nature of the pandemic. However, the intensive current match calendar, with barely any off- and in-season breaks for players, not only risks their health but also risks undermining their performance at the forthcoming UEFA European Championship and FIFA World Cup Qatar in 2022.”
A range of safeguards are demanded by the union, including:
- a mandatory minimum four-week off-season break
- integration of flexible two-week in-season breaks
- individual loan management protocols
- pre-season training periods of at least four weeks
- mental and physical health support
- the mandatory implementation of the five-substitute rule
Leading managers call for change
Leading figures in the game have already expressed their concern at the player’s workload, with Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp indicating that the current schedule is “killing” professionals.
Speaking to the BBC, he said: “The boys are on the edge. No team on a Wednesday night should have the 12:30 kick-off on Saturday.
“Sunday - no problem. Not the 12:30 because that is a complete killer. You wake up and play football. This is the recovery phase.
“The Premier League has to change. Sky, BT, you - everyone has to talk to each other.
“You want good football? Give the boys a few hours more rest.”
Guardiola, meanwhile, indicating that clubs in the Premier League are set to fight the abolition of the five substitutes rule, which FIFPro highlighted as being essential.
“All the other clubs and countries play five substitutions because they understood that the situation is completely unusual in terms of the pandemic,” he said.
“No break, no rest and everyone is at home. All the other countries do it, but here it looks like it likes to be special, different.
“That is not good because we don't protect the players and we should do it.”
A rash of the game’s biggest stars have missed recent matches with muscular injuries. Liverpool’s Trent Alexander-Arnold was just the latest to pick up an issue at the weekend.