By Doug Reed
18-year-old Spanish sensation Pedri played more games in the 20-21 season than any other player in the world with a staggering 73 matches. This has raised concerns about the impact these demands will have on his future health.
Since his move to FC Barcelona last summer, he has had a meteoric rise making his debut in La Liga as well as for Spain’s senior national team. The end of the club season was immediately followed by his first ever major championship, Euro 2020, where he won the Young Player of the Tournament. This came back-to-back with his second, representing Spain in their run to the 2020 Olympics Gold Medal match.
Just the year before Pedri was playing in the Spanish 2nd tier with Las Palmas, featuring in 37 games, as well as playing a few matches for Spain’s U18s and U19s. This means Pedri has increased the number of games in his 2nd year in senior professional football, and first in the top flight, by 80% compared to his debut season where he was already playing regularly.
Over 11 months, the opportunity to rest for Pedri has been limited with an average of a game every 4.5 days and overseas travel of well over 100,000 km. A rapid increase in physical load, a still maturing body and a lack of recovery have strong evidence as risk factors for future injury problems.
Responsibility for Player Welfare
Who is responsible for protecting Pedri’s health from the dangers of an excessive workload? We can’t expect this to be be placed on his young shoulders. Players put pressure on themselves to play, especially young talents who are desperate to establish themselves, as well as having the pressure and expectations of the coach, fans and media. A player who refused to play in order to rest would likely receive strong public condemnation.
When asked about a holiday after the Olympics, his reply was “I'll do what Barca tell me to do."
So, should his teams FC Barcelona and Spain be trusted to not ask too much of him?
FC Barcelona asked for him not to be included in the Olympics squad, with Head Coach Ronald Koeman saying “For a football player, two top-tier competitions in the same summer are too much. He played almost every game in the domestic season and has played just about every minute in the European Championship. To have a four-day break and then fly to Japan to play in the Olympics is not ideal. It's too much. I understand that the players are keen to play, but we have a tightly-packed schedule and we need to protect our players.”
The Spanish FA refused their request.
The time between the end of Pedri’s 20/21 season and the start of his 21/22 is theoretically 8 days with Barcelona playing their opening La Liga fixture the weekend following the Olympic Gold Medal match.
Considering Barcelona’s concerns that he was playing too much and getting too little rest, it would be expected they would ensure he had an extended break after The Olympics. They gave their non-internationals a month and half off while those in Spain’s Euro 2020 squad were permitted 3 weeks.
However, their previous concerns for the young star’s welfare seem no longer to be an issue now they’re about to begin their campaign. Pedri was reported to have been offered just 11 days holiday and he turned this down as he wanted to show his commitment, highlighting the pressure players feel.
Instead, he will get just 5 days off from the final in Tokyo before retuning to his club’s pre-season training, and that will have included a minimum 16-hour journey across half the world. Is this enough time to rest and recover physically and mentally after a congested and non-stop 11-month schedule?
FIFA has the global responsibility to regulate the game to protect its interests including the health and well-being of players. Yet they have not set any limits on how many games they play or the minimum amount of off-season they must be permitted.
Protecting Players’ Interests
Pedri has been regularly being cited as a player capable of reaching the heights of legendary Barcelona and Spanish greats, Iniesta and Xavi. We hope he has the chance to fulfill his full potential and doesn’t suffer any health issues because of his current workload. But mechanisms must be put in place to ensure this, so we are not left depending on hope.
This situation highlights that there is a lack of players’ interests being put first across the game. Recognising this was what motivated the creation of Player 4 Player and we continue to dedicate ourselves to our mission of protecting and promoting players’ interests.
You can understand more about this issue and the potential consequences in our previous post “The Growing Risk of Too Much Football”