Is There Too Much Football?

June 27, 2019

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It’s never truly been proven whether or not garden centres experience an upturn in business at this time of year. Of course, according to the time-honoured cliche this is when football fans across the country are forced to venture outside, to perform all the tasks they’d put off when the season was on – paint the fence, mow the lawn, pay attention to the children. 

With no World Cup and no Euros football fans might have been forgiven for dreading the garden centre more than normal this summer. And yet for all that this is in the mainstream consciousness an ‘off-year’ there has been a remarkable amount of football on since the end of the club season over the past few weeks.

There was the inaugural UEFA Nations League Finals in Portugal the week after the Champions League final. Before that, the Under-20 World Cup won by Ukraine. On top of this, there has been the Copa America, Africa Cup of Nations, the Gold Cup, the Under-21 European Championships and, of course, the Women’s World Cup.

While few of the matches from these tournaments are up to the stature of those played at a World Cup or European Championships it has still been enough to catch the attention. With all this in mind, is it possible that there is too much football on the annual calendar? Have we now reached breaking point?

From a fan’s perspective, football fatigue is becoming increasingly common. Even at the top level, viewership across the sport has slumped of late prompting a discussion about what the future of live sport will be. While fans once felt compelled to catch a match whenever one was on TV, now social media means they can stay informed without having to watch all 90 minutes.

However, there is also a sporting aspect to the concern over the sheer level of football now played over the course of the year. The sport, it is widely agreed, is pushing its best players too hard, asking too much of them. Alexis Sanchez, for example, has had one summer off in nine years. Might that be a factor in the decline of the Chilean in recent years?

Sanchez certainly isn’t alone in being broken by the summer football calendar. Last season saw countless players fail to find their best form having had barely any time to rest and recuperate between the World Cup and the start of the club campaign. Take Luka Modric, for instance. The Croatian won the Ballon d’Or last year largely on the basis of his successful World Cup, but then endured his worst ever season at Real Madrid after that.

Many of Gareth Southgate’s England team suffered the same fate. Look at Kieran Trippier, John Stones, Kyle Walker, Eric Dier, Dele Alli and even Harry Kane, who was never given the time to fully recover from the injury he played through the 2018 World Cup with.

Football is surely reaching a crossroads in regards to just how much it asks of its elite performers. At what point will players break? At what point will they start to push back at how their schedules are being packed, affording them very little time, if any, to rest between seasons?

If anything, though, it seems that players at the elite level will be asked to play even more football in coming years. The Club World Cup, for instance, will be expanded from 2021, with 24 teams taking part in the competition. The Champions League runners-up and Europa League winners as well as the Champions League winners will be involved. The Spanish Supercopa, which used to be a two-team competition, will involve four teams this season with the mini tournament to be hosted outside Spain in February.

This trend isn’t entirely exclusive to football. For years, tennis’ biggest names have voiced their opposition to the sheer number of tournaments they are required to play over the season. At least in tennis players have a degree of autonomy to pick and choose where they play, though. Footballers don’t have that.

The natural impulse of a fan is to rejoice at the thought of more football, especially through the otherwise lean summer months. It keeps us all away from the garden centre, after all. But if such a packed schedule is comprising the quality of the very thing we’re watching, is it really worth it?

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Author: Graham Ruthven

Graham Ruthven is a football writer and broadcaster based in Glasgow, Scotland. He was written for the New York Times, the Guardian, Eurosport, Bleacher Report, Four Four Two, The Scotsman and others. He is also a football shirt aficionado and still maintains to this day that Dennis Bergkamp didn’t mean it

Twitter @grahamruthven

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