By Ahmed Nada, @GizaGooner
Injuries have been talked about at length throughout this season, last season, and every season since football’s founding; an eternal topic. But are they truly impossible to avoid? A common argument is that they can be, through the oft-incorrect assumptions one may have of how clubs are run. As I’ve built up throughout the past three parts, clubs would never risk their assets in any way; training, international participation, or even vacations all take to the side-line in clubs’ mentalities.
In terms of muscular injuries, many of them occur during the winter for all clubs; Arsenal know this better than anyone, given the difficult winter period for the club each subsequent season. One would assume that a winter break, whose drum is beat across England every year, would be the perfect option. As discussed previously, clubs in leagues that do benefit from a winter break – such as Real Madrid, or the often-ravaged Bayern Munich – continue to have high volumes of injuries.
However, the argument for a winter break is not entirely invalid: a break will always be beneficial for players’ bodies. The issue with a winter break is entirely commercial: consumers become more sedentary during the winter months, particularly during Christmas, and would always benefit from more football on television; why else would ‘boxing day’ have ten concurrent fixtures? Regardless of fluctuations in form brought about by any break period, teams’ financial momentum in what would be the winter break period is vital to the Premier League’s status as the – pardon the pun – premier league in world football.
Recently, the Premier League has announced that they will part ways with Barclays from the 2016-17 season onwards. A £40 million deal, cancelled without a care in the world. For many leagues, that may be more than their entire yearly revenue; for the Premier League, it’s nothing but a blip. A league such as this, a financial powerhouse, cannot afford to lose relevance for even a moment. The period that, if implemented, would become the winter break period provides more income for the league and its clubs than any other 2-3 game period in the entire year.
With the winter break out of the picture, what else can be done? Training methods, pitches, work rates, and the like only contribute so many injuries. Most long-term, possibly career-ending injuries come from tackles. Before going into the topic of tackles, we must first address the injured elephant in the room: schedules. Regardless of breaks in any league, every league has schedules that, as mentioned in earlier parts, would destroy any human’s body.
Whether you play in the Premier League, – with two cups, a European competition, and 38 games ahead of you each season – the Bundesliga, or the Primera Liga, you will play an unholy amount of games between the beginning and end of each season, before going off on an international tour a mere few weeks after its conclusion, followed by friendlies, international tournaments, et al. A week or two off during the winter, while it would be welcome, would actually hinder the league in many ways: the games would be more tightly packed.
The Premier League, in particular, features far too many post-season and pre-season events for a break to be incorporated into the league: the conclusion must come before the FA Cup final is played, and before the European finals are played. A break would shift two, three, perhaps four games across the densely-packed schedule. A question must be asked, however: with the financial clout of the Premier League, is a League Cup necessary?
The League Cup adds unnecessary games that most clubs don’t take very seriously, and isn’t even named appropriately: the cup features teams that aren’t in the Premier League. The League Cup was originally founded as a means to boost clubs’ revenue after the reduction of the number of Premier League teams; a purpose that, as we all know, is far from needed. The League Cup has gone from a small nuisance to a major issue to teams that continue to play through into the latter stages.
In a league as competitive as the Premier League, is there room for not one, not two, but three other competitions for teams to take part in? For example, if you are Arsenal Football Club, you have a schedule that includes a visit from Chelsea, a visit to the FA Cup, and a visit from Southampton within eight days. The Premier League does not schedule fixtures with competitions in mind, unlike a league such as the Bundesliga whose teams are given more lenient schedules around European and domestic competitions.
Perhaps eight days is a lenient schedule to a player, and thus, let us observe a later schedule – within mere weeks of the aforementioned fixtures, mind you – that features an FA Cup clash, a Champions League tie against arguably the best team in the world, and two Premier League matches against potential title rivals Manchester United and Leicester City – it still seems odd saying that, United shouldn’t be seen as rivals anymore – all within 15 days of each other. That seems quite spacious, eh? Yes, until you take into account that the FA Cup tie, Champions League round of 16 match, and visit to Old Trafford all take place within eight days of each other.
A pattern begins to emerge: teams can only focus on two competitions, at most, with the league being the foremost at all times. The past few English European champions, for example, were not close to favourites in the title race; see Chelsea, and Liverpool. In fact, no team that wasn’t in a dominant stage of its league season was capable of winning the league and Champions League at once, whereas this is far easier in a league like the aforementioned German Bundesliga, or in the Spanish Primera Liga, where fixtures are designed to allow full participation in all competitions without risking an injury to the entire club’s roster.
Finally, we come to the most controversial injury-related topic: tackles, and refereeing. As previously stated in the previous installments of this piece, referees often leave tackles unpunished, and punish retaliation in many cases: a system which encourages sly, stealthy attacks on players, and discourages reacting to them. In many ways, this topic deserves its own article – perhaps series of articles – but for now, suffice to say that the solution to this issue would require an overhaul of the entire refereeing system, perhaps even the abolition of subjective, human referees; a board of off-pitch referees, or even a robotic, by-the-book system would be favoured.
Whether you agree with any of these points, disagree with all of them, or have even made it this far, one thing is certain across all camps: no single thing is to blame for injuries, nor can one thing become the universal solution to them. Hopefully you’ve enjoyed this series, and have left with a better understanding of, if not the situation itself, my understanding of it. I bid you adieu.
Ahmed Nada is a guest blogger of Full90Gooner. Follow him at @GizaGooner