The international break which ends this evening has been marked by numerous injuries. Between frenetic pace and seasonal parameters, physical trainers from professional clubs try to explain this dark streak.
Camavinga, Zaire-Emery, Vinicius, Gavi, Rashford… The third international window of the fall, which has come to interrupt an already overloaded calendar, is hit hard by a massacre of injuries, more or less serious depending on the case. And the misfortune of the clubs whose ranks are decimated is perhaps not over, while around ten high-stakes international matches are still scheduled for this Tuesday, between the Euro 2024 qualifiers and the qualifications. for the 2026 World Cup in the AmSud zone.
The players affected by these physical problems all have in common the fact of competing in as many competitions as possible (championship, national cups, European cups, etc.) with their respective clubs when they are not called up to serve. For example, Paris Saint-Germain players will barely have time to breathe between the reception of Monaco in Ligue 1 on Friday (9 p.m.), and the reception of Newcastle four days later, in the Champions League (Tuesday November 28 at 9 p.m.).
Forced to end his international career at the age of 29, the 2018 world champion Raphaël Varane had slipped a warning to the authorities as a legacy for future generations, and launched a cry from the heart in the columns of West France to denounce the unbearable pace imposed on players.
“In the short term, we can turn our backs, but in the long term, it’s just impossible,” judged the international defender.
“Obviously we play too many matches,” his side was indignant. Aurélien Tchouaméni during the last gathering of the Blues. (…) Today, it’s rare to have just one match per week. Organisms are put to the test. It’s up to the authorities to do something and at some point, it will be up to us, the players, to bang our fists on the table. (…) For a player to play 80 or 90 matches is not possible.”
“The health of the players is in danger”, already warned the Fifpro in 2019. The footballers’ union has been working for a long time on this problem of the incessant tightening of calendars, and publishes very detailed reports each year. Two years ago, the most unsustainable pace was attributed to Luka Modric, who played 24 matches in a row without having more than four days of rest between two of them.
Latest example? The players’ union Fifpro criticized in June 2023 the inflation of matches and competitions observed in 2022-2023, with a World Cup in full swing. The organization of the 2022 World Cup in Qatar in winter has even been found responsible for an increase in the severity of injuries, according to a study by the Howden Insurance Group. With two championships particularly affected: the Premier League and the Bundesliga.
However, Fifa does not seem to be moved by this, any more than UEFA, despite the call for “urgent reform” launched by Fifpro. The two most powerful organizations in football have even endorsed the extension of the Champions League and the Club World Cup, with ever more matches played.
“The actors are not listened to,” sighs to RMC Sport Nicolas Dyon, the physical trainer of Borussia Mönchengladbach.
For Gerardo Seoane’s assistant, there is no doubt: if the injury is the result of multiple factors, the main factor remains “the number of matches which increases each year”.
Fifpro calculated that the Brazilian Vinicius played, at 22 (he is 23 today), “nearly 19,000 minutes”, or “twice as much as Ronaldinho at the same age”. “We were able to calculate that Marcus Rashford had played twice as many matches as David Beckham at the same age,” confided to our colleagues at Temps Maheta Molango, head of the powerful English footballers’ union (PFA).
As the intensity of the matches has also increased, the players are even more exposed to this frenetic pace which puts a strain on the body. According to a study relayed by the BBC, a 96% increase in hamstring injuries has been noted in the Premier League compared to last season.
“I’m not surprised. It’s the most heavily used muscle group and therefore the most injured,” underlines Loïc Damas, physical trainer at AJ Auxerre, for RMC Sport.
The ordeal of the month of November
The most recurrent injury among footballers for at least ten years, hamstring muscle injury is symptomatic of the extreme congestion of the calendar. “We are running out of time,” laments Loïc Damas. “If we managed to respect three or even four days between two matches, that would be perfect, but it doesn’t happen like that. The different muscle groups don’t have time to recover. They are exposed to high-intensity exercises : sprint, acceleration, deceleration.”
On the other hand, can the frenetic pace alone explain the worrying evolution in the number of injuries observed since the start of the season, and more particularly during this international break?
“We know that the month of November is critical, for several reasons: we change the season, it is colder, there is more humidity, the grounds are oilier and do not offer the same reaction to slips , to changes of direction. We also changed schedule, the light is not the same, fatigue has accumulated”, recalls Nicolas Dyon.
The Borussia Mönchengladbach physical trainer is not the only one to mention the significant damage inflicted on cognitive functions by an accumulation of fatigue (loss of concentration, lack of vigilance, all leading to bad decisions, etc.). The invisible preparation of the player (nutrition, sleep, recovery) also comes into play, as do psychosocial factors.
“When a player has something that changes in his life, it can be a new contract, an extension, a change of status, a promotion, a separation, a birth… All this constitutes a factor likely to cause an injury,” underlines Loïc Damas, who observed this on several occasions with AJ Auxerre, with “injuries which occur in moments of life”, after an emotional shock.
“The young Warren Zaire-Emery is promoted to the A, and celebrates his first tenure. If the same thing happens to him with the Espoirs, will the injury be as serious? I don’t know”, asks the AJA trainer. “There are so many elements that cause an injury to occur, but the pace of the calendars is a factor that we could easily control. “We should reduce the pace,” argues Nicolas Dyon. This is something the highest football authorities do not seem to be considering.