Christmas program in the Premier League: how does it affect player’s health?

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While most football players in Europe were enjoying a period of (relative) rest during the winter break, players in the English Premier League were exposed to a busy match schedule. Even though spectators love to watch their favorite players play during the Christmas period, it is questionable whether this tradition is beneficial for the players’ performance and wellbeing. But is there anything known about the consequences of this challenging schedule? Are there more injuries? Or are players able to cope with this challenging match schedule?

The number of injuries

In the last weeks, the Premier League teams each played 4 matches in as little as 12 days. Most teams had to play consecutive matches with only 2 days of recovery in between. In one of the most physically challenging competitions in the world, such a short recovery time likely increases the risk of injury. This can also be seen from the number of injuries in the Premier League during this festive period: 53 in total. This number is comparable to the number of injuries in the whole month of August, September or November (see Figure 1). Furthermore, even though we are only at the 7th day of January, the number of injuries in January is already close (i.e. 40 injuries) to the average number of injuries of a whole month. Therefore, based on the results of this season, one might conclude that the Christmas program in the Premier League isn’t beneficial for the football player’s wellbeing.

Missed trainings or matches

Furthermore, these results are not only seen in the current season. One study followed 56 teams from 15 European countries for 7 seasons to investigate the effects of a busy match schedule during the Christmas period. For each team, the number of days that each player lost (i.e. missing a training or match) due to an injury for the whole season were added up. Results showed that, on average, English teams had 300 ‘lost days’ more per season than teams with a winter break. On average, this means that in a team of 20 players, each player will miss 15 training sessions or matches more than players in teams with a winter break. Furthermore, Premier League teams had more severe injuries (>28 days missed) in the period from January-March (i.e. just after the intense match period), than teams with a winter break. To highlight the importance of these results, this difference was not found in the other periods of the season (i.e. August-December and April-May). These results suggest that the intense match schedule during the Christmas period seems to increase the risk of injury during the Christmas period as well as the period thereafter.

Conclusion

Traditionally, there is a busy Christmas program for the Premier League players. Even though fans like to see their favorite players play during this time of the season, one might question whether this match schedule is beneficial for the player’s wellbeing. Results show that the number of injuries during this year’s Christmas program (i.e. 12 days) is comparable to the average number of injuries during a whole month. Furthermore, a study found that the busy match schedule of the Premier League leads to 300 more ‘lost days lost’ due to injuries than teams with a winter break. To make matters worse, there is also an increase in severe injuries in the period after Christmas for the Premier League teams. Hence, it is questionable whether player’s wellbeing is a high priority when designing the match schedule for the season.

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