"At the Limit" Report
1st August 2019
Some professional footballers are playing in almost 80 games and travelling more than 100,000 kilometers each year to represent their national team as the match calendar becomes increasingly congested at the pinnacle of the game, new research by FIFPRO shows.
With football authorities vying to give their leagues or tournaments maximum exposure, top players are facing ever shorter rest periods, with some getting an offseason break of less than two weeks, the research shows.
The report - At the Limit: Player Workload in Elite Professional Men’s Football – compiles statistics on the match schedule, travel and recovery time of a sample of 16 players –from Europe, Asia, the Americas and Africa - who play in multiple competitions both for their club and national team.
The report compares the findings about the players’ workload over the last 12 months with medical science on health and performance capacity (*). The results of a recent survey of more than 500 leading players about the match calendar are also cited in the report (**). There are comments from players including Giorgio Chiellini (Juventus), Vincent Kompany (Anderlecht) and Rui Patricio (Wolves) (***).
The player data collected over the last 12 months shows, for example:
- Heung-Min Son (Tottenham Hotspur & South Korea) played 78 matches and travelled more than 110,000 kilometers to represent his national team
- Lasse Schӧne (Ajax & Denmark) had less than two weeks of vacation between the 2018 World Cup and the start of preseason training with his club
- Alisson Becker (Liverpool & Brazil) played 72 matches and travelled 80,000 kilometers to represent his national team, without the benefit of a midseason break
- Ivan Rakitić (Barcelona & Croatia) played almost three-quarters of games without five days of rest in between recommended to perform at peak level and avoid injury
- Sadio Mané (Liverpool & Senegal) played in 70 matches and travelled 100,000 kilometers to represent his national team, without the benefit of a midseason break
The At the Limit report makes recommendations to protect the long-term health of elite players and safeguard sporting excellence at the top of the game. These recommendations include:
- Introducing mandatory offseason breaks of 4 weeks, and mandatory midseason breaks of 2 weeks
- Limiting the amount of times per season when players have back-to-back competitive games with less than the five days of recovery time in between
- Considering whether to impose annual match caps for each individual player to protect his health and performance
- Developing an early warning system to monitor player match load and assist with forward planning
Theo van Seggelen, FIFPRO General Secretary, said: “While we have been aware for several years about mounting pressure on top players, this report clearly underlines the extent of this pressure in today’s game.
“To meet the demands of the match calendar, players are being repeatedly asked to play at their limit, without sufficient rest and recovery. This means that they cannot perform at their best and, worse still, that some are struggling with sustained periods of mental and physical strain.
“Scientific research confirms that the health of top players is at risk because of today’s congested match schedule.
“We expect all football stakeholders to start working together to put safeguards in place that reduce the pressure on those players who represent the pinnacle of football in order to protect their health, their careers and the game itself.”
*Muscle injury rate in professional football is higher in matches played within 5 days since the previous match: a 14-year prospective study with more than 130,000 match observations (Hakan Bengtsson, Jan Ekstrand, Markus Walden, Martin Hagglund at Linkoping University, 2017)
Playing too Many Matches is Negative for both Performance and Player Availability (Jan Ekstrand at Linkoping University, 2013) 3 of 3 Elite football teams that do not have a winter break lose on average 303 player-days more per season to injuries than those teams that do: a comparison among 35 professional European teams (Jan Ekstrand, Armin Spreco, Michael Davison at Linkoping University, Aspetar Orthopaedic and Sports Medicine Hospital in Doha and Isokinetic Medical Group in London, 2018)
***Giorgio Chiellini (Juventus): “For us to continuously play at our best and improve performance, we need to be protected from excessive match schedules.”
Vincent Kompany (Anderlecht): “Put a cap on how much players can be used…because the players will have compulsory amounts of rest.”
Rui Patricio (Wolves): ”There are more and more competitions and games, and more physical and emotional stress for players.”