A Congested Football Calendar and the Wellbeing of Players: Correlation Between Match Exposure of European Footballers Before the World Cup 2002 and Their Injuries and Performances During That World Cup

Ekstrand, J., Waldén, M., Hägglund, M.

Objectives: To investigate the correlation between exposure of footballers in European clubs to match play in the months before the World Cup 2002 and their injuries and performances during that World Cup.

Methods: The team doctors at 11 of the best football clubs in Europe prospectively recorded players’ exposure and injuries during the 2001–2002 season (July 2001–May 2002). Sixty-five players participated in the World Cup in Korea/Japan (June 2002). During the World Cup, the clubs reported injuries sustained by these players, and their performance was evaluated by three international experts.

Results: The number of team matches during the season varied between 40 and 76 for the different countries involved. The individual player had a mean of 36 matches during the season. Top players played more matches, especially during the final period of the season. Players who participated in the World Cup played more matches during the season than those who did not (46 v 33 matches). World Cup players did not show any increased risk of injury during the season. About 29% incurred injuries during the World Cup, and 32% performed below their normal standard. The players who underperformed had played more matches during the 10 weeks before the World Cup than those who performed better than expected (12.5 v 9, p,0.05). Twenty-three (60%) of the 38 players who had played more than one match a week before the World Cup incurred injuries or underperformed during the World Cup.

Conclusions: There is considerable variation in the number of matches played per season in European professional football leagues. Top-level players are obliged to play many matches especially during the final period of the season.

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