So what is the subject today chaps? It is something that has bugged me a while and the sort of thing you will all talk about at the ground, down the pub or on social media and none of you will agree on it. Yes today I am looking at why modern day footballers cannot play as many games of footie as their contemporaries have in the past? Why do we continually read that our players need to be rested, or can’t play 2 games in a week? At the same time we hear the pundits on radio and TV who are all ex players questioning the validity of the claim. After all they played more games, so they tell us and on worse pitches but would you bet on sport in 2013 being played on a Wembley surface like the on below
This piece will throw some surprising facts at you and I hope open many debates. It will not however offer any definitive conclusions, mainly because I do not have the knowledge to do so. I am more interested in offering some facts, maybe and opinion but then being educated by you the reader with your comment and feedback. I will however start off by saying that having grown up with the English 1st Division in the 1970s and 80s and our club’s domination of Europe my sympathies do lie with the old school who don’t really see the issue with playing 2 90 minutes in a week.
This question posed on a NUFC forum funnily enough was what set me thinking a while back, but just got around to penning a few ideas:-
‘So, nearly into October and we have begun resting players already. I can see why to be honest, we have a small squad which is incapable of battling on in 4 fronts. But on the other hand, we are talking about lads who are supposed to be in their physical prime here and some managers complain about having to play 3 times in a week? And granted, that it’s not just Newcastle who do this.
In Spain, we see the likes of Messi, Xavi and Iniesta playing 60+ games a season and whilst la Liga possibly isn’t as quick as the PL, how come they manage it? My belief is that modern players and wrapped in cotton wool too much and if they are constantly being told they are tired by their boss and the media, then surely they will begin to believe it?
I remember a famous stat about when Villa won in the league in 81/82 (I think) and in that season, they only used 13/14 players in what was a 42 game top division season. How did they manage it? Yes, football may well be quicker now but it’s a lot softer a game now than it was back then in terms of tackling, etc.’
Any thoughts lads and lasses?
I mean surely he has a point. Messi may play against lesser teams most weeks but they all kick him and he played 73 games for club and country in 2011/12. and 61 in 2011/12. I threw the question out there on twitter and was answered by many of you. The most popular response was that the whole game is more athletic, players run much greater distances in top matches and players are asked to train far more often.
I might counter that with the facts that pitches were dreadful back in the 70s, diets were not understood and organised for players. I could also say that the players were out on the piss, 3 or 4 times a week and still played twice.
It may also be that whilst the pitches are better for the football we see and the firmer services whilst superb for a fast passing game do not offer as much give and are therefore tougher on the muscles and joints. This I do believe to be true but of course I am not able to quantify the impact. I am sure also the move from old style studs to newer blades and moulds has had an effect here. On the flip side the game is far less physical in terns on tackling since the tackle from behind was outlawed and the slide tackle effectively so.
Anyway I am certainly no expert but before I continue I will explode one myth, which all 40 plus readers will agree with. The suggestion that modern players run far greater distances in the 90 minutes is just that, a myth. Try telling anyone who recalls the 70/80s era with affection as I do that Jack Wilshere or Mikel Arteta ran twice as far in games as Ray Kennedy, John McGovern, Dennis Mortimer, Liam Brady or Graeme Souness and they would be surprised. Yet this is what we are often told.
The truth is different and according to research compiled and studied by Don Kirkendall, co-author of the book “”Exercise and Sport Science,” the average soccer player runs 10,000 m a game. Research shows that this distance was recorded as 8,800 in the 1970s. The growth is explained by evolution of game play and growing training and intensity of the players. 10,000 m, or about 6 miles, works out to be an average speed of 4 mph. If you wish to read more from Exercise and Sports Science click here.
So just to give you the whole picture I thought I would look back at some of the great teams from previous decades:
Liverpool 1976/77 – Games Played in Season 62.
Division 1 Champions. League Cup 2nd Round, FA Cup Runners Up and European Cup Winners
First Team Squad 16 players.
The first great team I truly remember.
Games played just for club:
Ray Clemence (GK) – 62
Emlyn Hughes (CB) – 62
Ray Kennedy (CM) – 61
Phil Neal (FB) – 61
Joey Jones (FB) – 59
Steve Heighway (W) – 58
Kevin Keegan (CF) – 57
Players used in League with more than 2 appearances 15.
Nottingham Forest 1978/79 – Games played 63
Division 1 Runners up. FA Cup 5th Round, League Cup winners and European Cup Winners
First Team Squad – 20 Players
2 years after promotion to the top flight this team had won the league and conquered Europe under Clough in successive seasons.
Shilton (GK) – 63
John Robertson (W) – 63
Viv Anderson (FB) – 59
Tony Woodcock (CF) – 57
Larry Lloyd (CB) – 55
John McGovern (CM) – 55
Gary Birtles (CF) – 54
Players used in league with more than 2 performances – 17
Aston Villa 1980/81 – Games played in season 45
Division 1 Champions, FA Cup and League Cup 3rd round
First team squad 14 players
Same team week in week out and all 4 of midfield played 42 from 42!
Jimmy Rimmer, Ken Swain, Ken McNaught, Dennis Mortimer, Des Bremner, Gordon Cowans and Tony Morley played all 42 league games; Gary Shaw played 40, Allan Evans 39 and Peter Withe, 36 whilst Gary Williams (22) and Colin Gibson (21) contested the final place in the starting 11. David Geddis and Eammon Deacy made 9 appearances each.
Liverpool 1983/84 – Games played in season 67
Divsion 1 Champions, League Cup Winners, FA Cup 2nd Round, European Cup Winners
First team squad 18 players
One of the greatest club sides in history.
Bruce Grobbelaar (GK) – 67
Alan Hansen (CB) – 67
Alan Kennedy 9FB) – 67
Sammy Lee (CM) – 67
Mark Lawrenson (CB) – 66
Ian Rush (CF) – 65
Phil Neal (FB) – 64
Graeme Souness (CM) – 61
Player used in League with more than 2 appearances 16.
Blah, blah, blah Dave you may say but the facts are that in the 70s and 80s top, top sides who were conquering all comers both domestically had a core of players playing 60 plus games for their clubs. Please bear in mind also that the majority of these players were internationals and the stats above are just for club appearances.
There was only one substitute on the bench back them, pitches in winter were donkey fields and many players players over 70 games in a season when internationals added in. Last season only six Arsenal players manged over 40 appearances in all competitions and the most appearances was by RVP, supposedly a ‘crock’ who played 48 games and has continued to play virtually very week since at United.
For those of you and I am sure there are many saying are the 70s and 80s truly relevant to us now and what about Arsenal? Surely you are an Arsenal blogger Dave?
Yes of course you are right, the 90s and the new century with better pitches and more substitutes more relevant as it is far more a squad game and yes I am an Arsenal blogger so let’s bring it back to the Gunners:-
Arsenal 1990/91 – Games played 50
Division 1 Champions, League Cup 4th round, FA Cup Semis (No Europe)
First team Squad 19
Seaman (GK) – 50
Dixon (FB) – 50
Winterburn (FB) – 50
Bould (CB) – 50
Davis (CM) – 48
Merson (CF Intoxicated) – 49
Smith (CF) – 49
Players used in league with more than 2 appearances 16 and 4 players played in every single game the club played including our present 1st team coach! Merson playing whilst under the influence missed one match as did Alan Smith leading the line and topping the league scoring charts.
Manchester United 1993/94 – Games played in season 62
Premier League Winners, FA Cup Winners, League Cup Runners Up, European Cup 2nd Round
First team squad – Basically 14
Dennis Irwin (FB) – 61
Steve Bruce (CB) – 61
Peter Schmeichel (GK) -60
Gary Pallister (CB) – 60
Paul Parker (FB) – 55
Paul Ince – (CM) – 55
Ryan Giggs (LM) – 50
Eric Cantona (CF) – 49
Player in league with more than 2 appearances – 14.
Arguably the only club side in the Premiership to rival Arsenal 02-04 for quality. If you doubt me ask United fans of that era. United’s first Double and the whole back 5 played together all season.
Maybe this is still not present day enough so we moved on to the Wenger years….
Arsenal 1997/98 – Games played in the season 53
Premier League Champions. FA Cup Champions. League Cup 5th round and UEFA Cup 1st round
First team squad – 21
Nigel Winterburn (FB) – 49
Ray Parlour (RM)- 47
Marc Overmars (LM) – 46
Patrick Vieira (CM) – 46
Manu Petit (CM) – 44
Lee Dixon (FB) – 40
Dennis Bergkamp (CF) – 40
Players in league with more than 2 appearances 17.
Arsenal 2003/4 –Games played in season 60
Premier League Champions, FA Cup Semis, League Cup Semis, Champions League Quarter
First Team Squad – Basically 20
Kolo Toure (CB) – 55
Jens Lehmann (GK) – 54
Robert Pires (RM) – 50
Thierry Henry (CF) – 50
Sol Campbell (CB) – 49
As I said at outset I am not sure I have any conclusions myself other than a conviction that players do not need to rest as much as some think and could easily play more games. The average regular in the 70/80s was playing in excess of 50 and in some cases over 60 club games as season. These days everyone calls for squad rotation and the resting of players. I have no doubt this is key when players are young and still growing and we should have learned our lesson with Jack Wilshere. I recall how carefully over 2 season George Graham look after Paul Merson before unleashing him full time in 86/87. However I am not so easily persuaded that top professionals who have fully developed their muscles and bone structure need recuperation and hence rotating.
If all are fit and Wenger is convinced of his best 11 I still feel he should play them week in week out. Certainly between 1997 and 2004 this was his way and it proved successful. Yes of course we had good cover if required and with 3 subs allowed the cover got plenty of game time, but is I asked most of you to name the staring 11 in 98,02 or 04 you would all get 10 the same at least. You only have to l0ok at Manchester City last season and they won the league with the same core. They really only used 1 keeper, 7 defenders, 6 midfielders and 4 strikers. For those that question our depth in midfield and Man City effectively won the Premiership with 6, Silva, Toure, Barry, Milner, Nasri and De Jong. I would guess if most of you were asked would you have Milner, De Jong or Barry in our team you would say no and yet Milner and Barry for the most part were regulars in a triumphant campaign. By the run in barring injury the team was the same week in week out and every City fan could predict the starters and for me this is critical to their success.
Can there be any doubt at all that consistent selection bears fruit? As Tony Adams himself said only recently you don’t mess with partnerships in central defence. Adams/Bould, Adams/Keown, Adams/Campbell, Campbell/Keown, Campbell/Toure etc. Does anyone now if all 3 are fit which is Wenger’s favoured pairing today. All 3 are fit so make your decision and stick with it from now until May in all 3 competitions.
In the centre of midfield we have 3 positions in our formation and so far just in the league we have utilised 9 players for those 3 berths. Man City’s entire squad submission this season only included 7 players who could conceivably play in the centre of their midfield. Toure, Barry, Garcia and Rodwell are the only out an out CMs with Milner, Nasri and Silva usually wider. So barring injury this blogger suggests that Monsieur Wenger picks the same 11 each week barring injuries and the same bench. They are fit enough they can play twice a week and my guess is that those selected will all bloody want to. Do this and my belief is that we can push with some conviction for 3rd place and the FA Cup. I know this is contrary to the popular belief that rest and rotation is the key to success but this child of the 1970s will take some convincing.
It is a broad subject and I have probably gone on too long and I do hope it will engender some debate. I am happy to be educated or challenged on this subject by those who know more and I am certain that is many of my readers.
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