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Tottenham Hotspur boss Mauricio Pochettino believes the busy schedule players have to deal with is “dangerous” and the situation has been worsened by the introduction of the UEFA Nations League.
Pochettino is concerned about the toll that so many matches have on players and their risk of injury, a concern he feels the powers that be in football do not share.
Per Dan Kilpatrick of the Evening Standard, he said: “It’s dangerous. I’ve told you before that it’s so difficult [for the players]. Football is massive business and it’s not easy. The football business today does not care about the players—it’s all about games, games, games.”
As for the Nations League, it has not increased the number of games, but it has replaced friendlies with competitive fixtures, giving players less opportunity to rest during international breaks.
“Yes, it’s so difficult to understand this competition. You finish the World Cup then first international break you have to compete again in an official tournament. It’s better to say to the player: ‘training, rest, recovery.’
“Then they need to go and I understand the national team wants their best players, always. The problem is always for the clubs. It’s so difficult for the clubs.”
After the international break, Spurs face the prospect of having to play four matches in an 11-day period between October 24 and November 3.
That includes a Wednesday night match at West Ham United on October 31 just two days after playing Manchester City on Monday.
UEFA also announced plans last month to introduce a third competition from 2021, on top of the UEFA Champions League and UEFA Europa League, meaning even more clubs will face the strain of balancing domestic and European duties if that goes ahead.
Pochettino said clubs have responded to the heavy schedules by increasing the sizes of their squads, “but then when they’re all fit, then you have unhappy players because only 11 can play. It doesn’t help the dynamic of the group inside.”
He concluded: “Every day we are pushing the common sense of the football away, and it’s a problem because it’s hard to keep the sense of the football pure.”
This being a FIFA World Cup year, the issue is perhaps even more significant than normal, with many top players having had little opportunity to rest over the summer.
Spurs forward Heung-Min Son dismissed the idea of being too tired last month after he represented South Korea at the World Cup and the Asian Games:
ESPN FC @ESPNFC
“Fatigue is an excuse.”
Son Heung-min tells Tottenham he’s ready to play despite this crazy summer schedule: https://t.co/7vPZgnv31R https://t.co/VrlrKhUvSF
Nevertheless, his involvement could take a toll later in the season when the fixtures pile up even more.
A silver lining of the heavy schedules could be that clubs are willing to give younger players more opportunities to play senior football, but for those targeting silverware and a high league finish like Tottenham, it can be difficult to do that with results on the line.
Excessive rotation can also disrupt a team’s rhythm, so it’s understandable why managers may be reluctant to do so.
As for the Nations League, while it already appears to have had a positive impact on the quality of international football played in Europe during the breaks, Pochettino’s view offers another perspective that had perhaps not been considered.
Streamlining both the international and club football calendars could be of significant benefit to the players, but Pochettino’s concerns over that happening seem well-founded.