The topic of players playing too many matches is never far from the surface in this country, without any real consensus. The latest attempt to drag it up onto the bank and into daylight is by FIFPro with their damning ‘At The Limit’ report.
You might not have heard of FIFPro, but they’ve been looking out for players’ since the 1960s. Backing freedom of contract issues, pushing through the Bosman ruling and they currently control the image rights of players (you can check on the loading screen next time you play FIFA 19).
FIFPro at the limit of reality
Not sure they entirely live up to their own ‘voice of professional footballers’ billing – I was one for 12 years and only found out about them last week – but they are good eggs.
Their ‘At The Limit’ report is exhaustive, comes from a good place and makes sound recommendations (check the previous blog post for a breakdown). But that’s the end of the platitudes, people…
Because the seven suggestions for ‘What the Football Industry can do to put Player Health and Performance First’ are a nonsense.
Two clumsily matched phrases leap out if that sentence, like a salmon at the far post. ‘Football industry’ and ‘player health’. Because neither has anything to do with the other.
Football is like any other industry. It’s a machine. Churning out a product for the paying public.
The greatest show on turf
Players are conveyer-belted in one end, and matches pumped out the other. Yes, a few limbs might get snagged on the cogs in between but look at the TV revenue!
While football’s stock continues to grow, it’s all about ‘MORE’ not less. And something as trivial as player health is not going to slow down production.
Here are FIFPro’s seven recommendations and seven reasons why they won’t work:
Lock-In Season Breaks
Minimum breaks of four weeks in the summer and two weeks in the winter would leave just six spare weekends to fit in all domestic cup ties and International matches, including tournaments. So no World Cup, no Euros, no Copa America… unless domestic leagues condense the season by playing more midweek matches. Which brings us onto…
Limit Back-to-Back Games
It’s suggested that five days is required between matches for players to perform at their best. Hmm. A couple of things… Firstly, do you really think that TV companies worry about players – given that they are funding their obscene wages – ‘performing at their best’ when they are flogging advertising? Second, do think any club is going to leave a player out of a big match because he is a bit puffed out? And thirdly, do you think any player is going to be honest about being a bit puffed out when there is appearance money up for grabs?
Consider Match Caps
Limiting the number of matches players can play, limits their value to clubs and the wages they can earn; it compromises a manager’s team selection and makes a mockery of form; it will dilute the quality of competition and recreate the three-foreigner Champions League rule. Which was rubbish and everyone hated.
Change the Playing Calendar
This recommendation actually supports the idea of more matches. With bigger squads and more player rotation. This will run League One and Two into the ground and further disenfranchise the terraces – neither of which the big-hitting TV networks, or FIFA and UEFA execs will give a monkey’s about, by the way.
More Rest for Long-haul Travel
Two words: appearance money. Players will not miss the big matches. Whether it means quitting international football or arranging to be helicoptered off the pitch to the next game the moment the final whistle goes.
Develop an Early Warning System
Say what now? I think FIFPro began to struggle at this point because nothing practical is suggested as to what this system might be. Hang on… I’ve got it! How about a physio. Perhaps a whole medical team to look after players’ fitness. And then maybe a manager to, I dunno, talk to the player to ask him how he is doing…? No…?
No Additional Games Until Safeguards are in Place
They were definitely struggling at this point – calling for no more domestic or international fixtures to be added to the calendar until ‘enforceable mechanisms’ to protect players can be put in place. When you start throwing in management-speak like that, you know you’re running on empty.
Can I suggest a cap on far-reaching reports on matters you don’t know enough about and haven’t really thought through. And a mandatory rest period between back-to-back reports – to maintain performance levels.
Perhaps an extra 48 hours break when returning from a long, hard schmoozing trip too. All those dinners and gentleman’s clubs can lead to burnout. And finally, no more reports until some enforceable mechanisms can be put in place to protect FIFPro execs.
Matt Nesbitt swapped his short unspectacular career in the English lower divisions for a much more successful one as a football tipster. He now has a proper job.