Protecting players from excessive workloads must be the starting point for any new international match calendar, one of the leading figures at the world players’ union FIFPRO has said.
FIFPRO announced a new agreement with the World Leagues Forum on Monday, which will involve collective discussion on a whole range of matters related to the employment of professional male and female footballers, including the schedule.
A new calendar for the men’s game must be signed off to start in 2024, and although controversial plans with biennial World Cups at the centre appear to have been shelved, a resolution of some kind must be reached.
Manchester City duo Ilkay Gundogan and Kevin De Bruyne were among a group of players who expressed their concerns over the football calendar and the risk of burnout last season.
FIFPRO believes the current system of FIFA and UEFA-led committees overseeing the calendar has become a bit of a sham, but is working to keep player welfare at the top of the agenda.
FIFPRO general secretary Jonas Baer-Hoffmann told the PA news agency: “There is more attention than ever to where the players’ interests lie.
“The problem is that so far the conversation has always been structured around the competitions and not the calendar. The same thing happened this time – the attention was on how to change certain events, mainly the World Cup.
“And since that has lost traction, the conversation which is really important, which is the calendar and the structure for protecting players’ health, has slowed down.
“But we’ll be calling the other stakeholders to the table imminently now to push for amendments in the calendar, with or without amendments to the competitions.”
The organisation believes players should have a four or five-week off-season rest period completely away from the club and national team environment, a similar break of around two weeks mid-season and a cap on too many back-to-back games to avoid heightened risk of injury or player burnout. Back-to-back games are defined as appearances of 45 minutes or more, less than five days apart.
“The challenge is now to find an agreement between the stakeholders that sets the calendar and the framework that is healthy and allows everybody the space that they want, without immediately jumping to the protectionism of everyone’s own competitions,” Baer-Hoffmann said.
“That is ultimately where this has all fallen apart so far. There’s only so much football that you can put in there and I think the propositions for player protections that we formulated are very straightforward.
“I think the paper that draws up the calendar needs to be the first one and then we can look at at the formats of the competitions after.”