Professional Footballers Association chief executive Maheta Molango has warned football is “sleepwalking into a crisis” due to the demands a relentless schedule is putting on players.
Liverpool strikers Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane will each play their 70th game of the season in Saturday’s Champions League final against Real Madrid, with two new polls highlighting the risk of excessive workloads on players’ mental and physical health.
Almost 90 per cent of high-performance coaches surveyed by world players’ union FIFPRO said players should be involved in no more than 55 games per season – a mark that Salah and Mane have already well surpassed for club and country.
Speaking at a FIFPRO conference in Paris, the city that will host Liverpool’s flagship final against Real on Saturday, Molango said: “Football is a sleepwalking crisis of player welfare.
“The health and well-being of players are at stake in the pursuit of commercial priorities and unrelenting competitive cycles.”
Molango said the issue had been the main concern as he visited Premier League clubs to speak to players.
“Players instinctively want to be in every game and every competition,” he added. “But they have real concerns about their ability to maintain peak performance in the current conditions.
“We’re just playing too many games right now. Crowded schedules disrupt sleep, disrupt training plans, and limit recovery. Over time, this leads to more injuries and ultimately shortens careers.”
Salah and Mane were part of the Liverpool squad that has already won the FA Cup and Carabao Cup this season and lifted Manchester City to the top of the Premier League before falling a point short.
They also both reached the final of the Africa Cup of Nations, where Manes beat Senegal Salah’s Egypt on penalties after a goalless draw. The couple have racked up huge airline miles – Mane estimated 94,000 since August last year, while Salah’s mileage total is 86,000.
FIFPRO and Football Benchmark data on Liverpool’s African duo also revealed that 60 per cent of the games they played were in the “critical zone” – two appearances of at least 45 minutes with less than five days off in between.
Accumulated exposure to critical zone minutes can be detrimental to a player’s health, performance and longevity, argues FIFPRO. It has called for a limit on the number of such consecutive games a player may appear in before a break is imposed.
FIFPRO’s Player Workload Monitoring (PWM) platform found that Real Madrid midfielder Luka Modric played in the critical zone for 24 consecutive games in 2020-21.
Eighty-seven percent of 1,055 players polled by the union over the last three months of 2021 supported the idea of capping games in the “critical zone,” with a majority (51.5 percent) saying that after three such games a break should be prescribed.
54% of players reported suffering an injury due to excessive workload, while 82% of coaches reported in a separate survey that they observed mental health problems in players due to schedule overload.
Less than a quarter (22 percent) of players feel respected when making decisions about the football calendar.
Earlier this month, Molango told the PA news agency there had been “no consultations” with players over the decision to significantly increase the number of Champions League games from 2024.
More than three-quarters (76 percent) of players supported the idea of additional regulation to protect off-season breaks. Coaches preferred a minimum of four weeks between campaigns and six weeks of pre-season preparation.
A large majority (73.1 per cent) of players also indicated that there was not a high level of collaboration between their club and national team coaches when it came to managing the workload.