Footballers were flat-out as it was, but with the same amount of football being squeezed into a truncated season, what impact is this chaotic campaign going to have in the long-term…?
There was a sense of deep inevitability about his withdrawal when Ben Chilwell limped off the pitch during England’s defeat to Belgium on Sunday.
Chilwell had to depart because of a back injury, the latest in a lengthy line of players who have suffered similar ailments in recent weeks as the world-wide football schedule becomes more and more frantic.
The question that is growing and growing is this: it’s all very well trying to cram a season of football into very much less than a season of time, but what will be the consequences for the people who actually have to play that football?
“It does make me feel slightly uneasy,” said Carl Anka on The Totally Football Show this week.
“In February I was in Brussels hearing Vincent Kompany talk about how player load and management has just gone out of the window. Players can’t keep doing 60 games a season – and that was in a ‘traditional’ calendar, so to do this with five fewer weeks…
“[In results in things like] Chilwell having to sit down after 60 minutes [of Belgium v England] saying “no, my body’s not doing this anymore.”
“Take a player like Raphael Varane or Antoine Griezmann: playing for France, expecting to do a deep Champions League run, a deep Euros run, and then playing in the Nations League. They’ll be playing non-stop football until 2022.
“There’s that hidden aspect to quite a few South American players like Edinson Cavani, Luis Suarez and Alexis Sanchez, that they’re basically crambazzled – they’re prematurely aged because they played those Copa Americas back-to-back. I think you’re going to see that now with European footballers.
“They’re going to be 33, but an ‘old’ 33 because they’re having to play so many games.”
And as Daniel Storey pointed out, it’s not just the physical strain that we have to consider.
“The one thing people overlook is the mental fatigue and drain on players. I did a book with Neville Southall, and he said they played 55 games a season, and it was fine because they could go home and switch off. They didn’t have that constant fear that everything mattered so much – not only the performance on a Saturday, but the performance in training mattered as well because if we didn’t anything wrong then there would be rumours we weren’t training properly and we were unprofessional.
“It’s that constant churn of mental pressures which must ebb away at players, especially young players who must look at it and think “hang on, I’ve got 15 years of this.” It’s a brilliantly-paid and brilliant career, but its also a pretty bright glare of the spotlight for that period of time.”
Burnout is something that not even the internet and radio phone-ins’ most boring opinion-havers can deny, as Adam Hurrey said:
“You know fatigue has become a looming problem when even the ‘footballers earn £100,000-a-week, how can they be tired’ brigade – and they are a brigade by the way, they have a uniform and do marches and drills – suddenly fall silent. You don’t hear from them anymore.
“I have some sympathy with football generally about this: it feels like an issue they were never going to get ahead of. It was always going to be a case of ‘see how it turns out’. You can’t really bank on players’ fatigue in the future, you can’t calculate it.
“So it was always going to be a case of ‘let’s see how many fall to the turf, let’s see how many we’ve got left and if there’s enough for a game of football we’ll continue.”
And the worst part is, this is a boat that cannot be stopped.
“There isn’t going to be a tipping point for this,” said Matt Davies-Adams, “while all the injuries are muscle strains. You aren’t going to get, you would hope, something massively serious happen to a player because of fatigue.
“Plus you aren’t going to get to the Euros where a team will have to take a team full of under-17s because everyone else is injured.”
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