HOW MUCH FOOTBALL IS TOO MUCH FOOTBALL? HOW THE RELENTLESS SCHEDULE IS HURTING THE PLAYERS AND THE GAME

If you are a fan, you watched all season long play for the Catalans. You’re a fan, you must have probably watched Pedri explode at the Euros. And then again when you tune in to watch at the Olympics you find Pedri balling there again. ’s newest sensation equalled record of highest appearances in a season at 72. If he makes an appearance against Brazil in the Olympic final he will script history. Pedri is redefining the limits of how much football can a player afford without it becoming too much.

The youngster is being stretched beyond one’s imagination. In all those appearances he was a starter in a vast majority of the games. At only 18 and in his first season as a first-team player, he is experiencing a severe workload. Thanks to the condensed seasons and little to no summer breaks, this is becoming a worrying reality for many professionals and it might have a knock-on effect on our game.

When players tend to feel the mental and physical strain of the game, the quality of the game invariably drops. Players like Robert Lewandowski and Toni Kroos have already spoken out on this issue and how the ones on top won’t pay attention to their feelings. With new tournaments like the UEFA Conference League, the extended format of the Champions League and glorified friendlies like the Nations League, the strain isn’t gonna go away any time soon. It results in players getting injured and see their seasons cut short at times. When do the top dogs realise how much football is too much football?

THE MIGHT OF TWO IN ONE?

72 games. It roughly translates to two league seasons if one keeps a count missing few games here and there. How is it possible that two players have reached that mark in one season? What’s even baffling is how one player is about to surpass that figure and set a new record.

Bruno Fernandes world-class talents were noted by the world since his move to Old Trafford in January 2020. The Portuguese international became an instant hit and pushed his team to new heights. He vowed to return for trophies in the new season. Bruno tried his best to be the ever-present in his side and lead them to titles. Right from the first game week to the Euros in summer, he played 72 times this season for club and country and that too at an elite level.

He appeared in different competitions like the Premier League, Champions League, Europa League, FA Cup, Carabao Cup, World Cup qualifiers and the Euros itself. United’s over-dependence on Bruno makes him undroppable at times for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. Even when the manager thinks to bench him Bruno’s elite mentality pushes him to start. He got an early break as Portugal were knocked out of the round of 16 at the Euros. It might have been a relief for his club side.

Pedri arrived at Barcelona from Las Palmas in 2020 and was put straight into the team by Ronald Koeman. The youngster’s mighty talent made him a must starter as he clocked 52 appearances for Barcelona. He even earned a Spain call-up and made it to the Euros and was the best young player at the tournament. Despite Barcelona’s protests, Pedri was given a ticket to the Summer Olympics in Tokyo. He is now an appearance short of breaking Bruno’s record set barely months ago. 73 games in less than a year at just 18 years of age. Phew! No pressure eh Pedri?

HOW DID THIS HAPPEN?

A certain covid pandemic can be blamed partially. The pandemic has halted the world and severely dented the football calendar. Teams didn’t have the usual luxury of pre-season or a vacation. The season got delayed and in order to finish on time, the schedule makers showed no mercy on players. With competitions like the Champions League and international breaks, the games were coming thick and fast. Players had no other option but to turn up for their club whenever they were summoned.

There were so many controversies surrounding the international friendlies being played. Players had to travel halfway across the globe to play for their countries and travel back for their clubs all while juggling between various covid protocols and bio bubbles. When a player is important for a club, they seldom rest him and want to use him whenever possible. All these factors together made this season a nightmare for many players.

At a point in time, the games were coming at such a pace that the fans themselves were not able to keep up with them. The players often lose the motivation to play and maybe won’t show the same intensity on the training ground if they’re made to overwork. In this way, the quality of the game we see on the pitch might deteriorate.

PHYSICALLY AND MENTALLY DRAINING

Playing so many games in such a short span is not good for the players. It will affect them physically as well as mentally. Physically, we’ve seen the meteoric rise in injuries on and off the field. Even the fittest of the players are falling prey to injuries.

The Premier League, which could be said as one of the most intense leagues in the world, has been hit worse. Players like Harry Kane and Joe Gomez succumbed to long term injuries during the games. Others like Marcus Rashford were struggling due to niggling injuries every now and then. When teams miss their best players, their style of play takes a hit.

It is highly appreciable that the world of football is speaking up against the work pressure. Even mental health is being given utmost importance and rightfully so. Barcelona legend Rivaldo said “ “We could ruin Pedri’s career if we put too much pressure on him. He’s only 18 years old”. The fans joked whether Pedri could announce his retirement this season after the stress.

Even the Polish sharpshooter Robert Lewandowski made his feelings clear. “So many people forget we’re humans, we’re not machines, we cannot play every day at the highest level of performance. For football and young players, that will be the big problem, to stay at the top for many years.” The Pole just clocked 60 appearances this season and knows he hasn’t got much time to recharge his batteries.

There’s a limit to each and everything. This has to apply to footballers too. The ones at the top have to realise that the players can not cope up if the number of games remains growing. Find a limit before the sweet poisons to save our heroes on the pitch.

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