Are top Premier League stars burning out?
The issue of player burnout has become an increasingly serious concern in the English game.
All of the major forces in the Premier League have been decimated by injuries in recent weeks. You only need to point out the current Fletcher -Carrick central defensive partnership at Old Trafford to highlight how much the problem has grown.
Manchester United’s first team squad currently has 10 men on the treatment table: Ryan Giggs, Nani, Wes Brown, Rio Ferdinand, John O’Shea, Jonny Evans, Gary Neville, Rafael, Edwin van der Sar and Owen Hargreaves are all currently out.
Arsenals also currently have Cesc Fabregas, Gael Clichy, Armand Traore, Tomas Rosicky, Niklas Bendtner, Robin van Persie, Kieran Gibbs and Johan Djourou. Meanwhile Liverpool have also endured recent injury problems, in particular to star men Fernando Torres and Steven Gerrard.
Is this a coincidence?
When you count up the number of matches a top player in the Premier League could play in a season, it adds up to roughly 70 competitive matches. That is, if a player plays every league, Carling Cup, FA Cup, Champions League and international fixture.
That scenario is unlikely to materialise, but if we took a footballer of the highest calibre, they would probably compete in the bulk of these. Let’s not forget they train as hard as possible on most days that they are not competing, on a mission to get the better of their next opponent.
It is a myth that footballers’ inflated wages mean that they should be subjected to such an amount of games, as they are all human and all humans have limitations.
What can be done to reduce the amount of injuries in the modern game?
Some managers have already adopted their own approach to this problem.
Arsene Wenger has pioneered the unofficial renaming of the Carling Cup as the ‘rust bucket’ by the top English clubs since his arrival in England. He solely utilises these fixtures to give youth and fringe players an opportunity to shine.
The problem is that Premier League rule 20, section E, says teams must field a full-strength side in all top-flight matches.
Wolves boss Mick McCarthy has landed himself in hot water with the Premier League following his decision to rest ten first-team players in their recent encounter with Manchester United. He has been asked to explain his selection to the official board.
McCarthy confirmed that he was resting his players from potential injury.
“I need to protect them. If you have another match of that magnitude, you can’t cope. We have big games coming,” he said.
Stoke’s Tony Pulis defended McCarthy’s decision: “He has actually done something that he thinks is best for Wolves.”
An obvious solution would be for the Premier League to cut the amount of competitive matches over the season. Less matches means reduced strain on the players’ bodies.
The main stumbling block here is that this would create a negative effect on income from sponsorship, television rights and the traditional source of gate receipts.
One solution that may be seriously considered would be an approach similar to the Irish Rugby Football Union.
The IRFU are responsible for the national team and the country’s four provincial sides. They use a “block” system that plays a major role in protecting their best players for international tests.
A block is equal to a period of time in which a certain amount of competitive matches are played. In a given block of matches, pre-selected individuals are only permitted to play in a particular number of games in each block, ensuring that they will be fresh for internationals.
Such a system could be implemented in the Premier League. Perhaps no given player could be allowed to play more than 30 games in the league per season?
This would allow clubs to keep their players that bit fresher for more important games while also encouraging more game time for those on the fringes. It will also aid an important area of clubs that many are neglecting, youth development.
During their lengthy careers, a professional will naturally always want to play in every game possible, but a forced cap on appearances per season would surely be a long-term benefit for player’s physical health following retirement.
Arguments against such a system may include that every player has their own physical limits; some find it no problem to play in 50+ games a season while some struggle with 30. Also, the clubs pay the players so should they alone decide when their employees take the field?
Player burnout is a topic that is constantly being thrown about and now is the time to act. Players are constantly being pushed to the limit more and more, season after season.
It is only a matter of time before players push their bodies too far over the line. They need to be protected, even if they are being well paid to put their bodies on the line.