As a fan of the beautiful game, there’s never been a better time than now for watching the sport we love. League games, domestic cup matches, Champions League, Europa League, international friendlies, preseason tours, World Cup qualifiers… there’s more soccer to watch than there ever has been before.
We, the supporters, have an insatiable appetite for it, lapping it up faster than a stray cat given a warm bowl of milk.
When the Premier League wrapped up a few weeks back, most of us instinctively flocked to the not-yet-finished La Liga to help fill the void in our Saturday mornings. Then that night, MLS was there to further feed the hunger. And when there just so happens to be a day when there’s not any action to take in, many have the gall to bitch about it. What the… how the hell is there no soccer on today? Now what am I going to do?!?! If you check my Twitter timeline, you’ll find that I’m guilty of it, too.
Those that provide the game to us, however, are more than happy to meet the demand.
Did I say “meet”? I meant to say “exploit”. For every match we desire, that means another opportunity for those in power to turn a profit on our obsession. And as such, the temptation to offer more games to make more money increases at what feels like an exponential rate.
The problem is, the footballers that entertain us and are offered up as a product for us to consume are not a limitless commodity.
The guys we see turn out on pitches across the globe are humans just like you and I, and their bodies are just as fragile. Even the most extraordinary of athletes need time to rest and let their bodies recuperate. But with the demand for top level football increasing, players are finding less and less time to do so.
If you selfishly don’t believe me, just take a look at the growing list of stars that will absent from this year’s World Cup finals in Brazil due to injury.
Defending champions Spain will be without Bayern Munich’s Thiago Alcantara, Real Madrid’s up and coming Jesé Rodriguez and back up goalkeeper Victor Valdés of Barcelona. Sure, none of them are surefire starters, but an argument could be made for how each could improve the squad’s chances at defending their crown.
If you want to look at a team who’s been robbed of a number of starters, take the Three Lions: North London rivals Kyle Walker and Theo Walcott were both left out of England’s 30-man roster, and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain may soon join them. Or maybe take a look the Dutch, who will be without Rafael van der Vaart, Kevin Strootman and Gregory van der Wiel.
A host of other truly world class players are also going to miss out over fitness concerns. Belgium’s Christian Benteke, Colombia’s Radamel Falcao, and France’s Franck Ribéry were just yesterday joined by Germany’s Marco Reus after the Dortmund wunderkind suffered ankle ligament damage in a tune-up match against Armenia. And all four of those players missed significant chunks of their club sides’ seasons due to other injury layoffs.
For players at the biggest sides, it’s quite possible that a player could be subjected to sixty-plus matches in a calendar year between preseason, league play, cups and international duty. And with competition for places so stiff, the training sessions in between those matches has intensified and added further strain to their bodies.
So when exactly will the powers that be say, “Enough is enough”?
As long as there is money to be made, probably never. It will likely take the players banding together to say their legs just can’t take it any more. But with many players’ contracts featuring appearance bonuses and national teams’ pay normally scaled on caps as well, they’re just as unlikely to balk because they all want their cut of the pie, too.
What does all that mean? That it’s probably up to us, the consumers, to take a stand and say that we don’t accept our favorite players missing out on the biggest events.
However, until we can all be satisfied with a weekend without football, that’s never going to happen either.