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International Friendlies: The Debate

The recent international break has sparked debate surrounding the welfare of players as Premier League action resumed this weekend.

COVID-19 has caused the football schedule to be significantly condensed as competitions catch up, following the imposed break during the first national lockdown. Domestic football across Europe began later than usual, forcing pre-season training to be limited. Clubs had seven weeks, compared to twelve, to rest and prepare for the 2020/21 campaign. Those repercussions have been evident of late as a variety of players face time on the side-lines suffering with injuries.

Clubs who compete in the UEFA Champions League and Europa League face a series of mid-week games in order to recover from the late start. Causing club managers concerns to rise over their players welfare as the time to recover is not enough between games. The recent international friendlies and Nations League fixtures have only increased those concerns, questioning those fixtures considering the packed schedule.

There have been 103 muscle injuries before the latest international break, a 16% increase compared to the same time last year, as a consequence of a lack of pre-season and the current schedule.

England manager, Gareth Southgate commented saying, “They [players] are under huge pressure from their clubs.”

Adding, “In terms of the managers there’s a power game the whole time.”

During Friday’s press conference before Tottenham Hotspurs’ clash against Manchester City, Jose Mourinho said he’d like Southgate to be more specific as to who places pressure on them not to go on international duty by saying, “I would like him to say which are the coaches that put pressure on the players not to go.”

Considering the circumstances with COVID-19 and the number of matches players have to play in such a short period of time “the friendly is the problem”, according to Jermaine Jenas, who spoke about the matter on BT Sport at St. James’ Park before the Newcastle United vs Chelsea match.

It’s understandable that club managers are becoming frustrated as the international break increases the risk of injury and a players’ inability to recover in time.

Due to the abnormality of this year, covid remains ever-present. Players traveling on international duty also risk falling ill from the virus. Ruling them out of action as covid protocols need to be met before being able to return to training. Adding to the concerns of managers and injury list if a positive test result is produced.

Tottenham Hotspur midfielder Eric Dier said, “I don’t understand why they aren’t trying to help teams that are in Europe to be in a better position to be able to perform in the Premier League and to protect the players’ welfare.”

The only solution that seems appropriate to the intense schedule is the introduction of five substitutes over three. Pep Guardiola, Jurgen Klopp and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer are in favour of the rule change, but the Premier League are adamant in changing the rules considering the English Football League (EFL) changed their substitute rule for the recent weekend of fixtures.

“In the majority of the times, I use three. If I have the possibility to make four or five would be better, yeah, would be better. But that doesn’t mean that I would use the fourth or the fifth.” Said Mourinho on the matter of five substitutions.

Players find themselves in between the conflict of interests from their national team and club, while this debate is likely to continue into next season. The re-scheduled Euros takes place next summer and the Nations League finals will be held in October 2021, meaning international managers will be placing demands on players so they can make the necessary preparations for those competitions.

With no winter break this season because of the re-scheduling of fixtures it poses the question, how many injuries will it take until the welfare of players is addressed?

Author: James Parker