‘Nine games in 26, 27 days – that’s too much!’: Premier League players’ health is at risk from congested fixture list, warns leading scientist… as he even suggests reducing the number of top-flight teams could be a long-term fix
A leading Premier League sports scientist has warned that the current fixture schedule is placing the health of players in danger.
Paul Balsom, who is head of sports science and performance innovation at Leicester and also works with the Sweden national team, believes that the congested calendar – brought about by the suspension of football last spring due to the coronavirus pandemic – is unsustainable over the long term.
Balsom highlighted the month of October, when some players may play nine matches for club and country, as an example of a worrying trend. Reducing the number of teams in the English top flight is one solution, but Balsom knows the financial consequences of that may be too devastating to make it worthwhile.
The current fixture list is putting the health of players at risk, a leading scientist warned
He told Sportsmail: ‘Nine games in 26-27 days – that’s too much. We know that players won’t able to recover sufficiently. Maybe a centre-back could cope but for an explosive forward, a player like Jamie Vardy, it’s too much given the pace of the modern game.
‘It’s coming to a point now where the health and safety of the players is being put at risk, we all agree on that. You need a long-term fix where potentially you bring down the number of teams in the Premier League from 20 to 18.
‘But given how dependent we are on television money, I can’t say ‘go with 18 teams’ as the consequences are enormous, but the obvious answer is fewer games, especially as I don’t believe we have reached a peak of intensity in the game yet. That will continue to increase.
‘We are in a situation at the moment where there are few options. We have a certain amount of games to be played. We explored the possibility of five substitutes when last season restarted, but now we are back to three.
‘You’ve got the pace of the game, the contact injuries, the mental load as well. There is a huge mental stress on our players these days. One wrong decision can cost you a game.’
Balsom has been working on Movement Profile, a player tracking system used by top clubs including Leicester, Aston Villa, Rangers and Celtic, with the aim of easing injury lists.
The device, pioneered by sports science company Catapult, records every movement a player makes on the pitch to help coaches identify injury risk and personalize players’ training programs. A new version of Movement Profile launched this month.
Balsom added: ‘We are not seeing a decrease in the number of injuries in recent years, when you would have thought there would have been given the expertise we have.
‘At the moment we can still manage it. Once someone identifies that we are putting a player’s career at risk, then there has to be action.’