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WORLD footballers’ union FifPro said yesterday that the number of matches played in England over the festive period has “negative consequences” for the health and performance of players.
The match between Tottenham and West Ham last night was the 40th Premier League game in 14 days, with all teams playing four times over Christmas and New Year and some playing games with just two days rest.
While most European leagues are currently on a mid-season break, England’s best sides turn their attentions to the FA Cup this weekend, with League Cup semi-finals next week and league fixtures the following weekend.
The Premier League’s current top five also have the first legs of their Champions League last-16 games to play in February, with the second legs in March, and a large proportion of their squads will go straight from the end of the domestic season to their national sides for this summer’s World Cup.
Several Premier League managers have complained about the number of games over the festive period, with Manchester City boss Pep Guardiola claiming the fixture list “is going to kill” his players.
FifPro’s chief medical officer Dr Vincent Gouttebarge said yesterday he has been studying the fixture calendar across the globe for several years.
“We have, of course, some concerns about the number of matches played in the festive period in the Premier League, which can have some negative consequences for the performances and health of our players,” he said.
The 42-year-old Frenchman, whose own playing career in France and the Netherlands was restricted by injuries, explained that “congested fixture periods” are linked with increased rates of injury, especially hamstring injuries, because of muscle damage and fatigue that lasts up to 72 hours.
Gouttebarge said the evidence shows that players miss more matches to injury when they have fewer than four days rest compared to when they have more than six days to recover.
He also said there is a “significantly higher risk for injury” when players have two matches a week, with only three to four days rest in between, compared to one match a week.
“Muscle injury rates during matches are lower when players are given at least six recovery days between matches,” he said.
As a result, FifPro has been strongly calling for a reform of the global football calendar to allow for proper in-season and off-season breaks.
“The in-season break, or ‘winter break’ as you call it, is important to recover physically and mentally from the first half of the season, while a sufficient off-season break should be given to the players in order to allow recovery and regeneration before the start of a new season,” said Gouttebarge.
Gouttebarge believes the in-season break should be at least eight days and the off-season break at least three weeks and, if players are given this time to recover, they will have a better chance to reach “optimal” fitness and well-being and therefore perform better, too.
Gordon Taylor, the chief executive of FifPro’s English affiliate the Professional Footballers Association, said that he agreed with this prescription but admitted it would not be easy to implement in England.
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