(Reuters) – Eighty seven percent of professional soccer players favour limiting the number of back-to-back matches to guard against a heavy workload, saying “we are athletes, not machines”, according to a survey by global players’ union FIFPRO.
The survey of 1,055 players and 92 performance experts, published on Thursday, showed that both groups support new measures that would guarantee a minimum length close season break and limit repeated back-to-back games – those with less than five days rest between each one.
Players surveyed included those from leagues in England, France, Italy and Spain and 50% said they got injured due to an overloaded schedule.
Meanwhile, 40% said a congested calendar affected their mental health and 50% said their club or national team had cut short their off-season.
“Long-distance international travel puts pressure on the health and performance of many players because of the sudden changes in climate and time zones,” said Chile midfielder Arturo Vidal, representing players from the Americas.
“Some players have travelled more than 200,000 kilometres in the last three seasons – that’s like travelling around the world five times.”
The report showed that at the end of 2020, Croatia midfielder Luka Modric played 24 matches back-to-back – four times more than the maximum recommended.
Between December 2020 and February 2021, Manchester United’s England defender Harry Maguire played 19 matches back-to-back – three times more than the maximum recommended.
More than 72% said the number of back-to-back games should be limited to four, with half saying a mandatory break should be imposed after three.
The report found high-performance experts support the views of players that the current number of matches in elite soccer without protective regulations poses risks to mental and physical health.
FIFPRO warned in June 2021 that player welfare was not being considered when competition calendars are drawn up, hours before Denmark’s Christian Eriksen collapsed due to a cardiac arrest during the European Championship.
(Reporting by Manasi Pathak in Bengaluru)