As is often the case, the final international break of the year often serves as a reminder to the football community of the stresses placed on the modern player.
This was emphasized by Ben Dinnery’s recently compiled report for The Athletic, which outlined how the propensity of injuries has increased since last season.
Dinnery states that incidences of injury are up 15% versus a four-year average, and 30% on last season alone. Hamstring injuries, in particular, are up a quite incredible 96% year-on-year.
This builds on top of Howden’s recently published 2022/23 Men’s European Football Injury Index, which suggests that the rise in injuries last season was part of a hangover of the Men’s FIFA World Cup in Qatar. The report cited that international players who took part spent an average of eight days longer on the sidelines due to injury in the months following the tournament.
Over this period, they also report that injury cost has risen by almost 30% (£474.86m to £604.61m) across the top five men’s European leagues. And an average cost of over £156,000 per injury.
So what has caused injuries to continue to sharply rise this season? Does it go beyond a continued, compounding impact? While the sample size remains small, the obvious change this season is in the amount of additional time allowed by referees both at half and full time in matches.
Commenting on this change at the beginning of this season, Zone7’s Tal Brown suggested that the heightened workload due to the additional added time could throw a spanner in the works of performance support staff. Manchester United’s Raphael Varane went as far as to say that the schedule was so overcrowded that it had reached a ‘dangerous level’ for players’ physical and mental well-being.
Across the first two matchdays of the Premier League this season there were, on average, 12.5 minutes of additional time added, and that trend has continued from there. As a result, players are spending anywhere up to 17% more time on the pitch than they were as recently as last season.
And the players themselves are suffering, returning from international duty with knocks exacerbated by featuring in what were, in the main, meaningless matches. See, for instance, Real Madrid’s Eduardo Camavinga, who sustained a torn knee ligament while training with France ahead of their 14-0 win against Gibraltar.
For a calendar already fit to bursting, it’s another headache for teams as they head into a notoriously busy Christmas schedule.
But this is both a player wellness concern, and a financial one.
Using a combination of Transfermrkt injury data for the top five leagues and available player salary data, we have calculated that as a result of the mass of injuries accumulated in the first three months of the season, Premier League clubs have already lost an estimated £60m on wages for talent that is sitting on the sidelines due to injury.
And this figure is before accounting for the players that were required to rest over this past weekend, as the Premier League returned. Newcastle had an entire starting XI sitting out their victory over Chelsea, Tottenham had two goalkeepers and three teenagers on their bench against Aston Villa, and Liverpool’s Alexis McAllister noted that he ‘was falling asleep’ in Jurgen Klopp’s team preparation meeting for the crucial clash with Manchester City, following a grueling flight back from South American qualifying.
It’s not just a Premier League problem, of course. We have already mentioned Real Madrid’s Camavinga, and another of LaLiga’s prime talents, Gavi, won’t play again this season after sustaining a serious ACL injury while on duty with Spain. The 19-year-old had been virtually an ever-present for both club and country since breaking through in 2021, only missing seven league matches in three seasons. Another young star from Villarreal, Yeremy Pino, is also likely to miss the entire season with a similar injury.
It’s not been a good period for Barcelona in general. They have been forced to experiment with more and more young players as their regular first-teamers have been injured at various times; Frenkie de Jong, Ronald Araujo, Pedri, Robert Lewandowksi and Sergi Roberto have all missed key spells, while goalkeeper Marc-Andre Ter Stegen has returned from international duty with Germany crocked, too.
Barcelona simply don’t have the financial stability that can provide any leeway in an injury crisis. In 2022/23 they squandered just short of £15m on salaries for injured stars, and La Liga as a whole left £67m of wages on the treatment table.
The trend continues into Serie A (£80m), Bundesliga (£77m), Ligue 1 (£57m) and, let us not forget, the Premier League, who burned through £150m of unused salaries in 2022/23. The numbers we’re seeing so far this season suggest that they are well on their way to exceeding that figure.
That is a combined £431m worth of basic salaries – before bonuses and other commitments – not being properly utilised across Europe’s top five leagues. Consider the financial impact of reducing even 10% of these incidents through better informed management of player workloads.
While you will never be able to entirely eradicate injuries, men’s football is faster, longer and more frequent than ever; clubs and international federations need to ask if they are doing everything in their powers to appropriately monitor the health of their players.
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