Son Heung-Min played 78 games of football between 25th May 2018 and 13th June 2019. He benfitted from just 22 days of rest during the summer, 6 less than the minimum (28-42) recommended by medical professionals. And as a Premier League player, he missed out on a winter break, for which the recommendation is 14 days of uninterrupted rest.
The number of fixtures combined with the intensity of the modern game has led to the suggestion that the workload of players like Son is unsustainable and unsafe. One organisation making this claim is players’ union FIFPRO in a recent report it published entitled ‘At The Limit’.
The report makes the case in various ways. The pronounced issues, though, are that – firstly – in extreme cases, elite players participate in almost 80 games per year. That, secondly, players feature in many of these games without 5 or more days rest and recovery beforehand, and this happens regularly throughout the season. And finally, that the increasing fragmentation of the football calendar is exacerbating those problems, as various competing interests continue to re-structure the sport’s global shape.
Short-term, this leads to players playing a larger number of games in a shorter space of time, but long-term, the clustering of separate competitions and the resulting reduction of off-season recovery periods leads to “continuous competition cycles”, in which a player may feel physically and psychologically that there is no end or beginning to any given season.
But, how do we know how many games is too many?