Global players’ union FIFPro has sounded the alarm over the damaging impact on professional footballers of playing too many matches in a report released Thursday, ahead of this weekend’s Champions League final between Liverpool and Real Madrid in Paris.
FIFpro’s Player Workload Monitoring report focuses on the findings of a survey carried out between October and December 2021 of 1,055 professional male players aged 18 and older, as well as of 92 high-performance coaches.
The survey asked questions of the demands of playing too many games and not having long enough rest periods in between, with 88 percent of coaches believing players should not play more than 55 matches per season.
Saturday’s final will see Liverpool stars Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah play their 70th matches this season, starting with pre-season, according to analysis by FIFPro and Football Benchmark.
Over 60 percent of those matches were in what is known as the critical zone, defined as when players have had less than five days’ rest beforehand and are therefore more susceptible to muscle injuries.
Mane and Salah have travelled an average of 90,000 kilometres each to represent their club and national teams this season, the analysis shows, while Real Madrid duo Eder Militao and Vinicius Junior have travelled 128,000 kilometres each, mostly to play for Brazil.
For Liverpool, who have already won the English League Cup and FA Cup, Saturday’s final will be their 63rd competitive outing of the campaign.
According to FIFPro’s report, 54 percent of players said they had suffered an injury due to schedule overload, while 82 percent of coaches said they observed mental health issues in players caused by playing too many games.
It cites the example of Mikel Oyarzabal, the Spain forward who played at Euro 2020 and then travelled to the Tokyo Olympics.
Eight days after playing in the Olympic final, he played for Real Sociedad against Barcelona in their first match this season.
In October he suffered a muscle tear which saw him miss seven matches, before in March he suffered a ruptured cruciate knee ligament and missed the rest of this season.
“We are athletes, not machines. Our bodies and our minds have natural limits,” says the foreword to FIFPro’s report, jointly signed by a group of players including Inter Milan’s Arturo Vidal, Leonardo Bonucci of Juventus and Italy, and Japan’s Maya Yoshida.
The report calls for a limit on the number of consecutive matches players can participate in without having at least five full days’ rest in between, while 88 percent of coaches said players needed to be guaranteed at least four weeks off during the off-season.
FIFPro’s report comes with the Champions League due to be expanded in 2024.
It will see the group stage feature 36 clubs, up from the current 32, with teams playing eight group games instead of the current six.
“The strain on players’ health reveals the crisis of governance in our sport,” said FIFPro General Secretary Jonas Baer-Hoffman. “Reform is urgent.”