Offside, 27 September

Tired Footballer Syndrome - is the English game to blame?

Duleep Allirajah

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There’s a new epidemic sweeping the nation: Tired Footballer Syndrome.

In recent months I’ve noticed a sharp increase in players complaining about burnout. The new football season is barely a month old and already Patrick Vieira says he’s exhausted. ‘I’m not just tired, I’m cooked. I can hardly stand up at times’, whimpered the Arsenal captain. ‘My back hurts, my legs hurt, I hurt everywhere. I am going to see the manager because he must give me some rest.’

Vieira is not alone. Many of his French teammates blame their early exit from the World Cup on tiredness. ‘All countries are in the same situation, but we’re a bit more tired than the others’, said David Trezeguet in a novel reworking of the famous Animal Farm dictum.

‘We lacked physical freshness’, said Emmanuel Petit. ‘The championship was very long.’ I suspect that Petit’s complaints might raise an eyebrow or two among Chelsea fans who regularly witnessed their expensive troupe of international show-ponies under-performing in the Premiership.

Indeed, Marcel Desailly – a man who notoriously withdrew from a UEFA Cup tie in Tel Aviv because of ‘toothache’ – was honest enough to admit that he didn’t always over-exert himself for his club. ‘It is true that maybe during my period at Stamford Bridge I didn’t give enough to be a winner’, said the Chelsea captain. Like we didn’t notice….

French football journalist Jean-Jacques Vierne is another who thinks that fatigue among English-based players was responsible for les Bleus lacking any va-va voom. ‘The problem is the English Premiership is a very hard championship, they played very many games and the legs were tired’, he said.

Have you noticed a recurring theme here – the French blaming their World Cup failure on the excessive demands of the English game? Not their failure to score a single goal in the tournament, not their geriatric defence, but the rigours of the English football season. Could it be that the real problem with English football isn’t too much football at all, but too many whinging French softies?

It’s a short, insecure career, and the risk of injury is ever-present – but can professional footballers justifiably claim to be overworked? Footballers in England may well play more games than they do on the continent, but they also do half as much training. Two hours a day on the training field and one, possibly two competitive games a week. It’s not exactly breaching the European working time directive is it?

But instead of ignoring the chorus of moaning French malingerers, FIFA (an organisation with a suspiciously French name) has launched an inquiry into footballer burnout. ‘There are rules about the maximum number of hours you can drive a truck, but there are no rules for footballers’, says Jiri Dvorak, FIFA’s chief medical officer (1).

FIFA reportedly wants to limit the number of matches a footballer can play in a season and plans to conduct research to determine this limit. Of course footballers are not machines and there must be a physical limit to the number of games they can play. But it’s strange how Dvorak has arrived at the conclusion that ‘professional footballers are definitely playing too many games’ before any scientific investigation has even taken place.

With larger squads and squad rotation systems now the norm it is simply not true that footballers are playing more games than in the past. Some would argue that psychological stress rather than physical exhaustion is the main problem. But has football really become more stressful – or is it the case that contemporary footballers, sensitive little souls that they are, feel less able to cope with psychological pressure?

There might be another reason why French footballers are so concerned about playing too much football. When he was at Arsenal, Emmanuel Petit issued a chilling warning. ‘Considering the number of games we have to play, I wouldn’t be surprised if we were soon forced to take drugs. And more and more footballers’ wives will cheat on their husbands because they are never at home.’

So, there you have it. Never mind burnout. Drug addiction and being cuckolded are the spectres that haunt footballers.

Read on:

spiked-issue: Sport

(1) Fifa back burnt-out Vieira, The Observer, 22 September 2002

To enquire about republishing spiked’s content, a right to reply or to request a correction, please contact the managing editor, Viv Regan.

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