Football Features

The ESL backlash was a testament against greed, so let’s apply that same principle to league schedules

By Dr Rajpal Brar

Published: 18:58, 4 May 2021

Leagues and international federations decided on playing normal schedules in a compressed time frame – much of the incentive financial – putting players at risk. Why haven’t we seen outrage against greed on this issue?

The announcement of the Super League – twelve big market clubs looking to overcome the uncertainties of merit-based football and generate a guaranteed income stream to deal with financial deficits while cutting out UEFA and replacing the Champions League – lit the football world into a frenzy, with fans and clubs alike creating a maelstrom of backlash against competition and greed.

However, since Project Restart after the pandemic shutdown in 2020, footballers have faced an unprecedented fixture congestion as teams and leagues look to compensate for losses, resulting in a significant uptick in injuries for the season in total and month over month.

For example, according to Premier Injuries, the Premier League has seen a significant increase in injuries year over year, with this season’s total already nearly matching 2019/20 with multiple domestic and international games still left to play. The injury trendline is also increasingly negative with injuries becoming more frequent over the past month, particularly knee injuries.

This fixture congestion was further compounded by the inclusion of international breaks – during a global pandemic at that – which adds to player fatigue, injury risk, and of course an increased risk for COVID-19 transmission.

Adding to the problem; the English Premier League decided to veto a 5-sub rule for league games due to a perceived competitive advantage, a move that was led by the smaller clubs in the league.

With the unprecedented circumstances of the pandemic shutdown leading to a compressed restart that took place over the summer and the spectre of European Championship and Copa America in the summer of 2021, it would’ve made perfect sense for leagues to decrease the amount of games this season and for international federations to limit qualification matches and especially friendlies. It would have been a shock to the footballing status quo, but a needed one considering all the new, complex, potentially once-in-a-lifetime variables in play.

Instead, normal league and international schedules were fitted into a reduced calendar period resulting in massive fixture congestion, a shortened off-season following the restart into the 2020-’21 season, and many players playing non-stop football for over two years once Euros and Copa America conclude.

Make no mistake, the full calendar of games are being played due to financial incentives with teams hemorrhaging income after the pandemic and trying to compensate for those losses. However, where was the outrage in this case? Why wasn’t “football is for the fans” trending on social media? Why weren’t fanbases marching to stadiums and demanding for owners to step down or that football values had been betrayed?

Football is nothing without the fans, but it’s also nothing without the players. When greed and making up for losses manifested with the near-creation of the Super League and fans found their club values and football values threatened, we created a merciless tidal wave that pushed backed the ESL boats. However, when greed and making up for losses manifested in congested schedules and player’s health and fitness put into serious jeopardy, the reaction has been a mild swell and shrug of the shoulders. The boats continue to glide on, championed by an expanded Champions League format that forces players to play in even more games.

A point that Manchester City maestro and potential PFA player of the year Ilkay Gundogan pointed out:

The collective anger and rebuke of the European Super League created a spark against greed in football. That spark needs to be applied across all domains including changing the ridiculous amount of games that players are faced with (and perhaps even a Financial Fair Play with some actual teeth?) otherwise, the pushback against the ESL simply becomes selective attention and hypocrisy, ok with certain types of greed but not others.