The amount of back-to-back matches in elite men’s professional football has increased over the last three years, with some footballers spending 70 to 80 percent of their playing time in a two-game-a-week rhythm, according to a new FIFPRO report.
The report based on the FIFPRO Player Workload Monitoring platform measures match congestion by looking at the increasing amount of minutes played by footballers in repeated back-to-back games, contrary to scientific recommendations about athlete health and performance. The report proposes new ways to reduce this overload for players as well as issuing warnings on energy-sapping travel and shrinking off-season breaks.
Produced with KPMG Football Benchmark, the report is based on data from about 40,000 appearances by a sample of 265 male players from 44 leagues between June 2018 and August 2021.
The footballers in the sample with the highest workload – national-team players at the pinnacle of the game - played on average 67 percent of their minutes on the pitch in back-to-back matches (*) in 2020-21, up from 61 percent the previous two seasons. It is important to note it is the cumulative exposure to matches that constitutes a risk for a player’s health, performance and career longevity.
As well as match congestion, extensive travel and reduced off-season and in-season breaks put a further burden on health and performance.
Long-distance, international trips, even after a recent decline caused by the covid-19 pandemic, also put pressure on many players’ health and performance because of sudden changes in climate and time zones. Some players travelled more than 200,000 kilometers – the equivalent of going around the globe five times - over the last three seasons.
The competitions with the highest average travel distance per trip were FIFA World Cup Qualifiers in South America (6,650 kilometers) and the FIFA Club World Cup (6,414 kilometers).