Monday, June 11, 2007

Steven Gerrard: "I'm Worn Out", David Bentley, Fatigue in the Premiership

After seeing an article the Premier League's website ran several days ago (, which addressed Steven Gerrard's concerns about fatigue and another about David Bentley dropping out of an England U-21 international game for the same reason, I got to thinking: What are these players complaining about?

Being an avid fan of sports here in America (especially baseball, basketball, football, and hockey), I feel that players in the Premiership have no room to complain about fatigue and a lack of energy. Why? The answer is twofold.

Teams in the Premiership play a standard, domestic 38-game schedule. They play every other team in the league twice (once at home, once away) and are rarely on the road for more than three games in a row. They also only play one game a week for the most part, though sometimes teams play two in a week. Extra competitions can add to this amount of course, like the UEFA Cup, Champions League, national team games, FA Cup, and Carling Cup. Steven Gerrard played in 62 games this season after taking into account the combined 49 appearances he made in Liverpool's Premiership, Champions League and domestic cup games and 13 appearances for England, but that is a rather high number; most Premiership players appear in somewhere between 35-50 games per season. David Bentley played in 51 games for Blackburn this season. Here in America, most professional sports leagues' regular seasons are far longer than 38 games. Major League Baseball has a 162-game schedule and the NHL and NBA both employ an 82-game schedule. The NFL has only a 16-game regular season but there can be no argument over which sport is tougher on the mind and body when comparing football and soccer; obviously playing 16 NFL games is more difficult than 38 Premier League games due to the extreme mental and physical toll taken. There are also no playoffs in the Premier League, even the playoff system employed by the lower leagues is much less grueling than the one used in American sports. In America, the general system involves a quarterfinal round, semifinal round, conference final round, and final round or something of that nature. In the first three leagues on the table below, the playoff rounds consist of multiple games (Best of 7 in all rounds other than MLB's Divisional Series, which are Best of 5's). It's not uncommon for players in the NHL and NBA to play close to 100 games and for Major League Baseball players to play upwards of 165 games. Compared to the 35-50 games the average Premiership player appears in, that is ridiculously exhausting and grueling but yet players don't complain about it as often in the media though they have every reason to do so.

Major League Baseball: Divisional Series, League Championship Series, World Series
NHL: Conference quarterfinal, Conference semifinal, Conference final, Stanley Cup finals
NBA: Conference quarterfinal, Conference semifinal, Conference final, NBA Finals
NFL: Wild Card Round, Divisional Round, Conference Championship, Super Bowl

Travel is the other critical factor when discussing the energy levels of professional athletes. England is a relatively small country, especially when compared to the US, in terms of land area. Distance between cities is not nearly as great in England and teams rarely play multiple games in a row on the road like they do in the US. I don't think an English soccer player has heard the term "roadtrip" or "homestand" before because they generally alternate home games and road games, with the occasional 2 in a row at home or 2 in a row on the road mixed in. But even the games on the road aren't too tough because teams are able to go home and rest in between successive road games due to the short distance between cities. As discussed before, teams usually play only one game a week as well. In America, it's not uncommon for teams to play on back-to-back nights, or 3 times in 4 nights, or 4 times in 5 nights even. Professional baseball schedules consist of 3 or 4-game series' against the same team in 3 or 4 nights (they play each other once a night for as many games as their series lasts). Teams travel between cities on chartered airplanes but still, multiple-hour flights in the middle of the night after the team has just played are commonplace and not the most comfortable way for players to recuperate. Has Steven Gerrard ever played 3 games in 3 days or 3 games in 4 days with all of the games in different cities which are several hours apart by plane? My favorite MLB team, the Atlanta Braves, had a stretch from April 10-April 25 where they played every single night. From April 20-29, they were on the road (April 20-22 in New York, April 23-25 in Florida, April 27-29 in Colorado). From June 29-July 8, they'll be on the road as well (June 29-July 1 in Florida, July 2-5 in Los Angeles, July 6-8 in San Diego). English soccer players have never dealt with being away from home for extended periods of time while playing a game nearly every night. How can they complain of fatigue when they don't have to travel as often??

I'm tired of hearing Premiership players complain about fatigue. They don't play very many games a season and don't have to travel very far to play them.

1 comment:

Charles said...

Um, have you ever played baseball? And have you ever played soccer?

I don't mean this in a snotty way - I really can only imagine that these comments make sense if you've never played the games.

Baseball involves, at the absolute limit, something like 5-10 minutes of activity spread out over 3 hours. Soccer involves 90 minutes of running, often at a sprint.

Also bear in mind that modern soccer players do not simply play a game and then lounge around all week. It's incredibly hard work staying fit enough to compete in a competitive league (particularly one as fast and physical as the Premiership). You don't just magically have the capacity to run for an entire game - it takes a lot of work to get there.

Finally, the soccer "offseason" is like 6 weeks long. US pro sports have offseasons of 5-6 months. Even if you reach the finals and show up early for the preseason, you'll get upwards of 3 months. Soccer leagues finish in late May (or mid June this year in Spain), and then international competition cuts in a bit.

And then you start up again in mid July. It takes time to recuperate after pushing yourself at that level for 7 or 8 consecutive months.

All that said, I find Bentley's excuse to be a weak justification for backing out, but I do not doubt for an instant that these guys are exhausted. That may not be a reason why they should bow out of competition, but it isn't made up either.