Liverpool forwards Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane are each set to play in their 70th match of the season in Saturday’s Champions League final, as two new surveys highlight the risk of excessive workload 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 matches per season – a mark Salah and Mane have already well exceeded for club and country.
The pair have also racked up huge air miles, with Mane clocking up 94,000 between August last year and Sunday, mainly in representing Senegal, while Salah’s mileage is 86,000.
The data from FIFPRO and Football Benchmark on Liverpool’s African duo also found that 60 per cent of the games they played in were in the ‘critical zone’ – two appearances of at least 45 minutes with less than five clear days in between.
Cumulative exposure to minutes in the critical zone can have a detrimental impact on a player’s health, performance and career longevity, FIFPRO argues. It has called for a limit to the number of such back-to-back matches a player can feature in before a break is mandated.
Eighty-seven per cent of 1,055 players the union surveyed in the final three months of 2021 supported the idea of a limit on ‘critical zone’ matches, with a majority (51.5 per cent) saying a break should be mandated after three such games.
Fifty-four per cent of players said they had suffered an injury due to excessive workload, while 82 per cent of coaches in a separate survey said they observed mental health issues with players due to schedule overload.
Less than a quarter (22 per cent) of players feel their voice is respected in decisions concerning the football calendar, with the head of the English union Maheta Molango telling the PA news agency earlier this month there had been “zero consultation” with players over the decision to significantly increase the number of matches in the Champions League from 2024.
More than three quarters (76 per cent) of players supported the idea of additional regulation to protect off-season breaks. Coaches favoured at least a four-week break between campaigns, plus a six-week pre-season.
A large majority (73.1 per cent) of players also said there was not a high level of collaboration between their club and national team coaches when it came to managing workload.