Friday, August 05, 2005

World football's never-ending seasons

Summer used to mean a three-month break in European soccer; it is now down to mere weeks. Deportivo La Coruna had the shortest summer of all. The Spanish club ended the league season on 29 May and was playing again 33 days later -on 2 July - in the Intertoto Cup. There's been little time off, too for Liverpool who won the Champions League title on 25 May and resumed 47 days later chasing a qualifying spot in the same tournament.

Football seasons already have resumed in France and Scotland, the German season starts tomorrow and the English Premier League begins 13 August. However, even during the "closed-season", television broadcasters carried (and often financed) a host of tour games and friendlies.

The saturation, argues Stephen Wade is South Africa's Mail & Guardian, has been blamed for a decline in television ratings and led to concerns about player fatigue, burnout and injuries. In Asia, fans complained about lacklustre matches, high ticket prices and crass commercialism:

"There's a bit more football than there used to be," said Stefan Szymanski, a professor of sports economics at Tanaka Business School in London."But there is a lot more meaningless football being played ... It's not that's it's so terribly difficult to play two football games a week, the problem is that it's very difficult to be at the top of your game every single time you play."

"Clubs used to prepare for the season in the twilight. You didn't know it was going on," said John Williams, director for the Centre for the Sociology of Sport at the University of Leicester. "Now with the proliferation of TV coverage - even pre-season coverage - there is a sense that football never stops."

"It's pretty clear that over the past four or five years there have been more and more matches for the top players, for the top clubs," UEFA spokesman Rob Faulkner said. ``There's no doubt they are reaching a limit now, and we're sensitive to that. "It's a double-edged sword," he added. "The popularity of the sport means more economic interests, more people investing in the game, and more pressure on the players with their larger salaries."

"Nobody really knows what is the optimum or maximum games per year," said professor Jiri Dvorak, FIFA's chief medical officer. "I'd say about 50 to 60 games per year was OK, reasonable," he said. "But 70 to 80 is really the upper limit. I think it would be very difficult to increase the number of games much more."
Last season, Chelsea played 38 league games, 12 in the Champions League, three more in the FA Cup, and six in the League Cup. In addition, top players were involved in 11 England national team games. Throw in six warm-up matches, including Sunday's Charity Shield game against Arsenal, and the total is 76. Next year's World Cup in Germany, which runs from 9 June to 9 July will add to the squeeze.

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