Footballers calling for limit on back-to-back games over burnout fears

Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah
On Saturday, Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane could both play their 70th game of the season, including pre-season, 15 more than Fifpro recommends

Players and coaches are calling for a limit to the number of 'back-to-back' games to protect them from burnout.

Almost nine in 10 players who took part in a survey for global footballers' union Fifpro believe that limit should be six matches or fewer.

Fifpro also says players should be limited to 55 matches over a season.

"Players and coaches are telling us that too many matches, across too many overlapping competitions, are pushing us to our physical limits," it added.

Fifpro's chief medical officer Prof Vincent Gouttebarge said: "This kind of working environment is conducive to the development of mental health problems."

And the body's Americas representative, Inter Milan and Chile midfielder Arturo Vidal, said he fears the "accumulated exposure puts us at risk as players, it can reduce our performance and may also shorten many players' careers".

Fifpro carried out the survey on the back of its Player Workload Monitoring Platform, which it manages alongside data company Football Benchmark. The tool, launched last year, is designed to track the workloads professional players are facing.

Data for Liverpool's Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane - who in Saturday's Champions League final could both play their 70th game of the season, including pre-season - shows they have each played 60% of their games 'back-to-back', or in what Fifpro calls the 'critical zone'. This means making two appearances of at least 45 minutes with fewer than five days in between.

Luka Modric, who could face Liverpool for opponents Real Madrid in Saturday's final in Paris, played 24 matches in a row at the end of 2020 in the 'critical zone'.

Of the 1,055 players surveyed, 87% backed the limitation of 'critical zone' involvement, while 54% said they had suffered injuries due to excessive workloads.

Half of the players surveyed said that their season breaks were often infringed upon by their clubs or national teams.

The report cites the example of Spain's Mikel Oyarzabal, who played at Euro 2020 and then travelled to the Tokyo Olympics, before playing in Real Sociedad's first game of the season eight days after the Olympic final.

Almost 50% of players would like to see longer but less frequent international breaks in order to reduce travel.

Having played in the Africa Cup of Nations as well as for a Liverpool side who have completed every possible fixture this season, Salah and Mane have averaged 90,000 kilometres of travel between them.

High-performance coaches were also surveyed and one, from the Eredivisie, claimed that players need time to recover if fans want to see the highest quality on a regular basis.

"If we want to provide football fans worldwide with spectacular matches with a high level of creativity, intensity and decision-making skills, we need to provide the players during the in-season with sufficient opportunity for recovery on a physical, mental and spiritual level," they told researchers.

"We need time to recharge the battery."

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