The world football players’ union, FIFPRO, has called for a compulsory break for players that enter the ‘critical zone’ of fatigue.
The group are demanding a 14-day winter break be introduced in all leagues where one hasn’t already been implemented, and they also want players that fall into their definition of the danger zone – playing at least 45 minutes in three games less than five days apart – to be given a compulsory rest.
Evidence gathered by FIFPro – taken from 265 players across 40,000 appearances in 44 leagues – revealed a huge increase in players entering this critical zone during the 2020/21 season, which can lead to a greater risk of injury and even shorten a player’s career.
For Premier League players that turn out for teams in European competition, a compulsory rest after entering the critical zone could see them miss as many as eight games per season.
FIFPro cited the example of Bruno Fernandes, who was a pivotal figure for both Manchester United and Portugal in 2020/21. Between November 2020 and April 2021, there were times when nearly all of his minutes played were in the critical zone – his level did not drop below 68% throughout that six-month period.
The group’s general secretary, Jonas Baer Hoffman, said:
“The data shows we must release pressure on players at the top end of the game, and this report provides new research why we need regulation and enforcement mechanisms to protect players.
“These are the type of solutions that must be at the top of the agenda whenever we discuss the development of the match calendar. It’s time to make player health and performance a priority.”
Baer-Hoffman believes that such measures would decrease injuries and fatigue, while ensuring star players are at the top of their game – improving the quality of football played, which in turn enhances the experience of the spectator.
Back-to-Back Games On the Rise
One of the main factors behind so many players entering the critical zone is the number of back-to-back matches played.
A large number of individuals are stuck in a weekend-midweek turnover of games, with several even playing in that rotation in the international window.
FIFPro found that elite players spent between 70% and 80% of their season playing a two-game-per-week schedule, and that the number doing so had increased significantly.
The players’ union also reiterated their belief that international players are being forced to travel too far each season. The example this time was Tottenham’s Son Heung-min, who FIFPro calculated had travelled some 223,637km for his international matches for South Korea between 2018 and 2021.
Baer-Hoffman has confirmed his support for the outlandish plans of Arsene Wenger, who wants to introduce a biennial World Cup and just one or two international breaks per season.
“Quite a bit of thought still needs to go into it, but could that carry positive benefits? Yes. I think there is upside in this for many stakeholders,” he confirmed.
His report also detailed the need for a mandatory 28-day break during the off-season, which would fall after an international tournament if one was scheduled, in addition to that 14-day winter break. Wenger, in his proposals as chief of global football development at FIFA, has called for a 25-day off-season period of rest.