Arsenal Opinion – Do footballers simply play too many games for their own health?

Do you remember the days when Arsenal used to play a game every Saturday? In fact every single game in all divisions kicked off at 3 pm on a Saturday, and we got the results at around 5.30 and we watched the highlights on Match of the day, before the TV started mucking about with the fixtures so that we could watch live games.

There were League games on a Saturday, and Cup games or European games (which only involved the Champions and the Cup Wnners and were straight knockout games) on the occasional Wednesday. Maybe players weren’t as fit in those days or paid as much, but we certainly didn’t need such big squads. My memory may be wrong but I think Liverpool won the League and European Cup in 1977, and got to the Final of the FA Cup by only using about 18 players in the whole season. The game was much more physical and the pitches were much more ridiculous and there were only a couple of subs in each game. Also International games were few and far between and usually in the close season.

Then the TV companies got involved and we started playing early kick-offs, Sunday games, and then they brought in Monday Night Football, then Fridays, and now we have live games every day of the week and three at least on every Saturday and Sunday.

Since we played catchup after Covid the games have been nearly every three days as we caught up, then there was straight into the Euros, then the new compacted season because the World Cup is in mid-season, plus international breaks, plus European Group games, and you could be playing at any time on any day.

Nowadays there are 8 English teams playing in Europe every season, and with Group games and knockouts. If you get to the Final of the Europa League it means playing 16 extra games to get there…

The injuries need to be managed and you need a much bigger squad and if you’re a top player there has been no rest between competitions for a whole year.

I know the Arsenal Womens teams play much less League games than the men generally, but last week it was reported that the Lionesses (with many Arsenal players) had gone unbeaten in 2022, a total of 26 games. That is the equivalent to a game every fortnight! That is on top of the League, European and FA Cup games. That seems like a bit too much for any body to survive. And the men play even more!

It may suit the TV companies and some fans who just want to watch football every day, but is it just too much for the players and could it shorten their careers because of burnout? Do footballers have to be machines to survive every seaon?

Is this progress or overkill? I just don’t know the answer. What do you think?

Peter Martin

10 Comments

  1. It’s okay, because the players don’t run for ninety minutes non-stop in a game and we can use five substitutions

    The rich teams that participate in European competitions have more games to play, so they need fitter players. This allows the poorer teams to compete with them

  2. Nazri once said Wenger overplayed him at Arsenal.
    Nothing was mentioned of money being a factor why he left Arsenal to join the Citizen.

    In today’s football competing on so many front, clubs need huge squad to navigate the games, and the five substitutes works best with team that has large squads .

    Injuries need adequate times to heal properly, the sheer intensity of some league requires adequate recovery time too.

    Yes they are some of us fans who want to see football nonstop, but players too have families and friends and they too may need a break

  3. I will gladly play more matches than them for one-third of the money they’re paid. Clubs and their TV partners-in-crime will charge fans highly for merchandise and subscription. The players who are receiving a bulk of this money shouldn’t complain about entertaining those same fans. I therefore disagree with you

  4. Progress, I would say…not overkill. Very little evidence of player burnout, judging by the vast quantity of senior players participating in this world cup. Players today are a lot fitter and stronger and get more protection from referees. A world cup every two year would not be a bad idea, after all.

  5. I remember when there were no subs at all, just one reserve, as he was called then, who could only come on to replace a player who was injured. In those days the pitches were invariably mudheaps with hardly any grass, players wore heavy ankle boots and footballs were heavy leather, especially when wet, with a lace which could split your forehead. Players today are overpaid wimps compared to then!

  6. I would say the amount of physical drain for a football player throughout his career justified by his modern weekly wages. Plus the mental agony put by the ridiculous media and the emotion stirred by the spoilt fans, football players are no different than most professions. Nonetheless, the case is a bit complicated of some odd silliness here and there. But at the end of the day, football is still non-essential work, not like food, clothes or medical lines. So we should be careful in using words like unsung hero, water carrier, one man team and etc for football players, in another description, entertainers. Perhaps a national debate should be in place.

  7. In case anyone is really interested in the all important details of why players seem to tire more than in the so called good old days , let me offer these few points to consider.
    Todays game is so very much faster in movement of the ball and sheer speed of movement tires players very much more than just coasting, as many older players regularly did. (I won’t mention Ozil, when discussing “coasting” rather than full out speed running, as it will enrage his odd thinking “fan club”!)
    But in any case, I AM SPEAKING OF TIMES WELL BEFORE HE WAS EVEN BORN, COMPARED TO NOW.
    In those bad old days, pitches were often cabbage patches , even ours was awful if you go back far enough. Now they almost all play on manicured virtual snooker type pitches and the ball runs far faster.
    That entails far more effort in chasing and closing down, or pressing as it is called. Players are trained very differently from the older times. Back then stamina, rather than speed and technique was king and players used to lap the pitches, just running and running still more.

    NOW the emphasis is on speed, quick ball progression and far more energy is needed. THAT IS A KEY POINT THAT SO MANY SIMPLY IGNORE WHEN THIS DISCUSSION COMES UP.

    Players today are the human equivalent of highly trained speed stallions , whereas many from the distant past were “carthorses” with stamina but practically no real speed . Now, keepers cannot pick up back passes which USED TO GIVE PLAYERS A REST, while that happened.
    There is also far more fan pressure than back then and pressure, even mental pressure, tires people. Even in non sporting life matters, pressure wears people out far quicker. The game was so different in so many ways then back then. WE WHO ARE OLDER CAN WELL REMEMBER AND SO THE YOUNGER ONES AMONG US HAVE NO REAL IDEA OF WHAT IS WAS LIKE BACK THEN.
    Yet another point to consider is that society is physically softer today compared to back then For instance, who remembers when Coivid hit and stadiums were empty of crowds? LACAZETTE twice screamed out audibly, as if he has been maimed ,only to get up and run normally. I remember hearuing it on TV and thinking, “get up you Jessie”!

    We do have tough players around today but back then, if you swer injured, you were keen not to let your opponents know how much you were hurting.
    Now, players constantly try to cheat to get the opponent punished, booked or sent off, and moral standards are far lower on the field. Though ironically, when off the field players are, in general more evolved and many are very good people indeed.

    Racism in training is practically dead, not quite, but practically! But in the bad old days it was everywhere, THROUGHOUT FOOTBALL , INCLUDING FANS, OTHER PLAYERS AND THEUNEVOLVED SOCIETY AS A WHOLE.

    I could easily write far more deeply, but in short , the world today is massively changed from many decades ago It would be odd to imagine that todays players would be just the same as their older counterparts. I suggest!

    They are very different in so many ways, some for the better some for the worse. But only the dinosaurs among us say that players are NOT suffering from the pace and constancy of so MANY games today compared with back then.
    JUST SOME, OF FAR MANY MORE POINTS TO CONSIDER, MY THINKING FRIENDS.

  8. Highly trained athletes with some of the best facilities in the world, IMHO I don’t think they are overplayed.

    There are 25 players, 5 substitutions, don’t blame a schedule blame the managers who make the team sheets.

    Majority of players in their 20’s the “prime” in their athletic lives. Game is far less physical than years ago, so don’t understand why 2 games a week is “overplayed” to some.

    Many carthorse fans would happily suffer those conditions for half their millions in wages. No one would watch the unskilled players, but the work ethic is there, as it is with some players.

    Haven’t heard Xhaka complain, or Alexis Sanchez when he played for us.

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