Worn-out Egypt players in 'critical zone' due to congested schedules

Karim Farouk , Saturday 11 Jun 2022

In the aftermath of Egypt's stunning 2-0 loss against Ethiopia in the African Nations Cup qualifiers on Thursday, shell-shocked pundits were puzzled as to who should shoulder the blame: Coach Ehab Galal or the Egyptian Football Association?

Egyptian national team player
Egyptian national team players react during the match with Guinea on 6 June, 2022. Photo courtesy of EFA


A recent report from the FIFPRO, published on 26 May under the title "A calendar that respects players' health", may bring us the answer.

The report said that excessive workload, without adequate rest and recovery periods, has detrimental effects on the players and the game.

"The most adverse effects harm the body (injury risk, travel fatigue, etc.), players' career (impact of injuries, shortened careers, etc.), their performance (no time for training and conditioning, inability to sustain peak performance, etc.), lifestyle (time for family etc.) and mental health (stress and reduced focus, mental burn-out, etc.)," the report read.

The report and survey conducted among top experts, coaches and players following the coronavirus pandemic, which resulted in packed schedules for players, have determined that 50+ games constitute an excessive workload and that any player should not play more than 55 matches per season.

It noted that the cumulative exposure to back-to-back appearances (matches with at least five days between them) put the players in a "critical zone" and that together with long-distance travel and shortened off-season and in-season breaks "can be detrimental to a player's health, performance and career longevity."

The FIFPRO called for a more protection of the off-season breaks and said it is imperative to have a four-week off season and at least a six-week preseason. Therefore, 40-42 weeks would be the maximum length of a season with a maximum of 50 games in all competitions.

Burnt-out players

The aforementioned criteria have not applied to Egyptian players since the pandemic erupted. After the domestic league resumed in August 2020, there have been no proper off-season breaks or pre-season preparations.

To make up for lost time, the Egyptian Football Association (EFA) had to draw up a congested schedule with the hope of going back to normal by 2023.

Ahly and Zamalek players, who form the backbone of the Egyptian national team along with a handful of foreign-based players, have had to endure a hectic run of fixtures.

The players had to play every three or four days over the past two seasons, without adequate time to rest.  

While there was a five-week break after the end of the 2019/2020 season in late October, with the new season starting on 11 December, Egyptian international players barely had time off.

The national team played against Togo during the international break and the players of Ahly and Zamalek were overwhelmed with African Champions League commitments.

The 2020/2021 season ended on 28 August, but the close season overlapped with World Cup qualifying games against Angola, Gabon and Libya, leaving little room for the players to recover ahead of the new season, which kicked off on 25 October.

The impact has been devastating.

Ahly playmaker Magdi Afsha played a total of 57 games in 2021/2022 and is now struggling to regain his form, whether at his club or his national team. Midfielder Amr El Sulaya, Egypt's vice-captain, played 50 games and was injured several times during the ongoing campaign.

Zamalek's tireless midfielder Tarek Hamed has been out with a knee injury since December after playing 47 games last season and teammate Mahmoud "El-Wensh" Hamdi, a central defender, is suffering from nagging knee problems that affected his recent displays after he featured in 46 matches last term.

Other players are struggling with form or repeated muscle injuries due to the hectic run, such as last season's top scorer Mohamed Sherif (Ahly), who is now a shadow of his former self, Zamalek's in-form winger Ahmed Zizo, left-back Ahmed Fattouh as well as Ahly midfielder Hamdi Fathi and defenders Yasser Ibrahim, Mohamed Abdel-Moneim and Ayman Ashraf, who have sustained several injuries throughout the current campaign.

"I don't understand why we are playing every three days. I am not talking here about my players; I am talking about all the players and all the clubs. This is bad and will cause damages for Egyptian football," Zamalek coach Jesualdo Ferreira told a press conference in May.

He echoed the concerns of several other coaches, who had complained about the heavy workload on the teams and players.

"At the beginning of the season, we proposed several scenarios and league formats for the clubs, but they all wanted to keep the current format," said Ahmed Diab, who heads the newly-formed Egyptian Premier League.

"We warned them it would be intense because it is a very busy year with several competitions and we want to finish the season on 30 August. Next year, we will be more comfortable and we would be in line with most of the international calendars by 2023."

More games mean more gains for the clubs but they come at a heavy cost, posing a great risk to the well-being of players.

What happened against Ethiopia has been revealing, and a mere change of coach is no guarantee to success.

(For more sports news and updates, follow Ahram Online Sports on Twitter at @AO_Sports and on Facebook at AhramOnlineSports.)

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