Sides will be required to play three rather than two games in each of the upcoming international breaks before Christmas.
Uefa’s decision to add an extra match during international breaks, increasing them to three games in the space of two weeks, has been described as “ludicrous” by Dr Paul Balsom, head of performance innovation for Leicester City and the Swedish national team.
Traditionally, national teams have played two games during each international break, but for the next two, in October and November, an extra friendly has been squeezed in after the coronavirus caused chaos with the football schedule.
In October, England play a friendly against Wales alongside their Nations League matches with Belgium and Denmark, and a month later a friendly with New Zealand is scheduled alongside their Nations League games against Belgium and Iceland.
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As a practitioner working with both a national team and a club side, Balsom knows the impact this can have on elite players who represent their country.
“Uefa now going to three-game international breaks is ludicrous,” he told i.
Balsom claims Uefa was not advised by anyone from a sports science or medical background on the decision.
“That is ridiculous,” he added. “What we can do is manage the situation as best we can. You learn to fight your battles.
”Players could, potentially, play nine games in around 26 or 27 days as a result of the additional fixtures.
“No player’s body is made for that,” Balsom said. “Maybe it’s time for the players to stand up. At the end of the day, it’s their health and safety. If their health and safety is being compromised… there’s research now that is saying the body cannot cope with it. There are injury statistics, but there are also studies with physiological measurements saying we’re not fully recovered three days after a tough game.
Players gather at the end of the UEFA Nations League soccer match between Iceland and England in Reykjavik, Iceland, Saturday, Sept. 5, 2020. England won the match 1-0. (AP Photo/Brynjar Gunnarson)
England players travelled to Iceland and Denmark during their last international break (Photo: AP)
“You have to take in the level of competition, the position of the player, the age of the player, etc. There are many variables. For an explosive, mid-aged fully fit player, three games a week, the body isn’t built for that. It’s not that we’re seeing a flattening off of the intensity and power. I think it will increase over the coming years.
“Some positions do lend themselves to playing more games than others. Playing football at centre-back is almost a different sport to playing central midfield or wide midfield player, or being a large target man striker or a little No 10 in behind. There’s a big variations in amounts of a game. Rotation will be the key. That’ll be the one thing that’ll have more importance this year than probably ever before. Strength in depth will be key.”
Uefa declined to comment, although sources were puzzled at why the triple headers in the international windows were criticised when the whole season is compressed. They pointed out that matches will be played at 72-hour intervals and that there was no alternative to recover dates postponed in March.