Qatar 2022 has absolutely wrecked football’s schedule to an extent that might change football
FIFA World Cup|
For most, the 2021/22 season ended the moment that Real Madrid lifted the Champions League trophy. That’s for most and given that the most happen to be even the most bandwagon football fan, that’s not saying much although that is the large crux of the football-watching population.
But for the soccer addicts, aka the people who need their almost daily fix of the beautiful game, the season only ended about five days ago when the UEFA Nations League’s group stages finished. Well, technically those were only the first four matchdays with 5 and 6 set to take place in September, just after the transfer window shuts. But still, for the addicts and the players, that’s when the 2021/22 season ended, five days ago. But for Kevin De Bruyne, Virgil van Dijk and a host of other stars, they were nothingness games of football.
Five nothingness games of football, to be exact, in the space of less than two weeks but meaningless games that few cared about. And for those that actually watched it, the football was far from ideal or even remotely exciting. There are always exceptions, as there always seems to be, as Austria whupped Croatia 4-0, as Hungary taught England a lesson in humility twice and as Germany sliced and diced Euro 2020 winners Italy.
Nations League? It’s not normal to make us play four games in 10 days after a season like this. It’s inhumane.
Yet for the large part, the football was slow, ponderous, it lacked any real energy or drive to it with players playing like they were playing a game of football after spending the whole day playing hundreds of games of football. Which is exactly what the truth is. Kevin De Bruyne, ever so apt and direct, pointed it out beautifully when he said "For me, the Nations League is unimportant. We have to play those matches, but it's a kind of practice campaign. Everyone has had a very tough season.”
It has been a tough season. The Belgian alone has played 45 games for Manchester City this season including all but eight games in a league season that quite literally went to the final day and a semi-final run in the Champions League. Trent Alexander-Arnold played 46 games, Jordan Henderson played 56, Diogo Jota played 54, Virgil van Dijk played 50, Vinicius Junior played 52, Raheem Sterling made 47 appearances and the list simply goes on and on.
Now sure, this means nothing in isolation but there’s more to come, so hold your horses.
Because you see, the 2022 World Cup is around the corner. Normally, in a normal world where World Cups were awarded to hosts with the best possible bid, the 2022 World Cup would be going on right at this very moment. Well not right now, but it would have, technically, started in two days and ended about two weeks before the start of the new season. But since it was handed to Qatar, and the country is insanely hot in the summer, we get a winter World Cup.
That places it right in the middle of the league season with Premier League players getting a nine-day break before the tournament starts and an eight-day break before the league season resumes. However, FIFA, UEFA, and all those organizations that plan and create football’s schedule have an excuse already pre-built and installed because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Now to be fair, as excuses go that’s a superb one because the pandemic demolished, ripped apart and destroyed lives.
Forget about a football but lives, it absolutely demolished lives for the entire world. So when it comes down to a football calendar, it forced shifts, changes and then a compression. But that was two years ago, with football restarting three months into the pandemic. Of course, you do have to give those organisations some leeway because of bureaucratic nonsense but having two men’s international competitions in the space of eighteen months is absolutely insane.
There’s no other word for it. Because essentially what happened was that UEFA, and FIFA, saw a two month break where no-one played or watched any competitive men’s football but old football and decided let’s make them pay for that and bombard them with the beautiful game. That’s without any thought, any sense of idea or some semblance of emotion about what it would do to both those that play the game week in and day out, as well as those that watch it.
Now add that to a normal 60 odd game season, international breaks, and then a UEFA Nations League at the end of the 2020/21, 2021/22, and 2022/23 seasons, and it’s inhumane. It means that someone like Kevin De Bruyne, or Virgil van Dijk or anyone from a European nation could potentially play 80 games in only the 2022/23 season with a three-week break. Of course, they won’t play every single game but they’ll probably play a majority which is around 70.
Just let that sink in.
70 games across 10 months which will essentially mean playing a league season at full-pelt for four months, then playing a World Cup at full-pelt for your nation and then coming back to continue the league season at full-pelt with two dollops of international breaks in the mix. That’s topped off with the superb UEFA Nations League semi-finals, final and third place games, and then they get a break of a month(ish) before the season restarts in time for the new Champions League schedule and Euro 2024 at the end of that season.
You add that to the last six months and it would see that tally not just cross but go well beyond the 100 game mark and that is just downright ridiculous. Because even if you take that as 17 months of football it means 100 games over 500 days with 30, maybe 40, days of break spread across that period. Just let that sink in and imagine what the state of these players' bodies will be at the end of next season.
Gareth Bale, who plays for Wales, put it rather nicely when he said “It is too much. Things obviously need to change. I think every player will tell you there are way too many games – it is impossible to play at a high level for that amount of games and there will be consequences in the long term. People’s bodies can’t deal with that kind of calendar year after year.” Now this is just the schedule for the men’s teams but the women’s schedule is only slightly kinder to their bodies because there are fewer teams, although that is changing.
We're going to see new levels of domestic cup rotation. Random men from the street playing in the Carabao Cup third round. https://t.co/EJvmQGceAv— Grace Robertson 🏳️⚧️ (@GraceOnFootball) June 19, 2022
However, one has to take into consideration that a large portion of them are working two jobs in order to keep the dream alive because of the lack of equal pay, which is only changing now. It's absolutely insane and things become even worse when you realise that nobody, absolutely nobody, is doing anything to change that. One could make the argument that footballers are being paid enough and then some to satisfy that.
But while true, it doesn’t mean they should be run into the ground for as long as they can and then repeat that with the new batch. It’s shocking the disdain and hate that the organisations of the beautiful game have for the people that make fans want to spend months on end watching Tv. Because in the end, flogging these players to play football, football and then more football while expecting them to produce magic day in and day out is ridiculous.
It, in the end, will reduce the quality of the program and force people to switch to something else as many TV broadcasters have realised this last season. But then again, in Bale’s words, “they (organisations) want to make more money and it’s a business at the end of the day. For player welfare, money needs to be overlooked and you need to look after the players because without the players, there’s no product.”
Making money is all well and good but when the players you want to make the money off aren’t producing up to the levels because of the fact you’ve piled nearly 100 games on their shoulders, doesn’t that mean something needs to change? Or maybe that’s just common sense because otherwise, something would have already changed.