Following this weekend’s English Premier League football action, questions have been raised about the welfare of players, regarding scheduling and substitutions.
The Premier League has long been hailed as one of the best sporting leagues in the world, commanding a global audience and therefore, a higher fortune with it.
However, managers of past and present have always discussed the lack of consideration for player care when it comes to the scheduling of fixtures. In particular, managers of clubs who participate in the European competitions (UEFA Champions League and Europa League) as well as those who reach the latter stages of domestic competitions, such as the FA Cup and League Cup.
This weekend (7 and 8 November) appeared to be the breaking point for some of those managers who called into question not only the fixture scheduling but the retraction of the rule to allow for five substitutes in a game, something that was introduced as part of Project Restart.
Premier League clubs voted on the continuation of this rule after FIFA announced that the rule could be implemented up until August 2021. According to reports, nine clubs voted for five substitutions, noticeably the ‘Big Six’ sides Manchester United, Manchester City, Liverpool, Arsenal, Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur were amongst them.
Manchester United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer led the way in openly accusing the Premier League of not considering player welfare, following their 3-1 win over Everton, which kicked-off at 12:30pm having only played three days earlier in Turkey for a Champions League fixture.
“We were set up to fail,” said Solskjaer to BT Sport in his post-match interview.
“I said to you before, I want to talk about the kick-off time. They set up the boys to fail. We've got Luke Shaw injured today because we've been to Turkey, we've played loads of games already this season, we've been to Turkey on Wednesday night, back in Thursday morning and we're playing Saturday in a lunchtime kick-off, it's an absolute shambles.
“I can't praise the boys enough for the character they've shown. Those boys deserve better than being thrown out here to fail.
“You have to understand how these players, in these times, how mentally and physically draining this is. And you set them up like this?
“We've lost Luke Shaw because of that. Set us up on Sunday then, there is no argument whatsoever. It's just a joke."
The staunch rant from the United boss sparked comments from Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp and Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola, off the back of their 1-1 draw on Sunday.
Klopp went as far as to name Premier League chief executive Richard Masters as the cause of the current issues being faced around the five substitutions rule.
“In my understanding it is a lack of leadership,” started the Liverpool manager.
“Richard Masters sold it completely wrong in my understanding. Going there and telling: 'So what do you think, what do you want, what do you want?' It is the only big league where you have only three subs. Surprise!
It was only last season that Liverpool faced a fixture congestion so compact that they were forced into playing two games in less than 24 hours in the Carabao Cup and Club World Cup.
Klopp went on to reveal that he spoke to the Premier League’s head of broadcasting Paul Molnar with regards to the problematic fixture scheduling.
Klopp said: “We played after the last international break at 12.30pm at Everton. Some of my players were on Wednesday night in Peru. These kinds of things should not happen. Sky, BT, Premier League, whoever, BBC – they have to talk.”
A similar line of questioning was put towards Pep Guardiola, who has been vocal in his discontent at the Premier League’s fixture congestions throughout his time managing in England, before an eventual introduction of a winter break.
He too was unsatisfied with the allowance of only three substitutions in the league.
“All the leagues in the world except this one – maybe because it likes to be different – accepts five [subs] to protect the players, protect the football and the physicality of playing every three games,” he said.
On the topic of scheduling, the Man City was doubtful of any compromise being reached: “I remember when I was a young, young lad and I read the news from England. Sir Alex Ferguson, Arsene Wenger and Rafa Benitez were complaining the same thing about what Klopp and Solskjaer is saying.
“I don’t have any optimistic solution. I understand that the TVs have to decide. I am pretty sure it is not going to change.”
The issue of player care remains in the Premier League for now but the public outcry for managers is hoped to see some relaxing of the grip that TV broadcasters seemingly hold over the scheduling of fixtures in the league and a possible re-evaluation of the rules surrounding substitutions.
Author: Jake Wilkin