Alan Shearer has decided he needs to fix football. It’s all gone downhill, but he’s got a plan to give the poor tired players a rest and improve the standards again.
Here’s what he says to begin with:
“Some of the [Premier League] football we are seeing at the moment is drab. Poor games played by exhausted players in a season where there is no time to rest, no time to recover. The quality of matches is suffering.
I’d say the intensity and the standard of 75 per cent of games has dropped off dramatically, a consequence of so many matches in so little time and with no time to stop.”
What Alan wants to do is scrap the next international break to allow some rest time, then everything will be fine again. Well, I’d also be quite happy to scrap the international break, but that’s because I find most international football apart from the latter stages of the World Cup Finals quite dull, and England playing friendlies is less entertaining than a six-hour open top bus tour of Hull. In November.
However, that’s as far as my agreement with Shearer goes. Because he’s just come up with this theory about poor standards and tired players with no evidence to support it. Look at his words again:
“Some of the [Premier League] football we are seeing at the moment is drab.”
Yes, Alan, some of it is drab. Some of it is ALWAYS drab. But we don’t normally get the chance to watch so many of the drab games in full, do we. If Burnley v Sheffield United is duller than a 1970s living room, usually only 20,000 people need to know that. This season the full dullness is presented live for the nation, if the nation wants to see it.
“Poor games played by exhausted players in a season where there is no time to rest, no time to recover. The quality of matches is suffering.”
As ever, some teams – the good ones, who are in more competitions – are playing a lot of games. Newcastle, on the other hand, have played one game a week in the last month and still haven’t been very good. They’ve had plenty of time to rest and recover, but are still poor. So exhaustion can’t be the reason there.
“I’d say the intensity and the standard of 75 per cent of games has dropped off dramatically.”
Oh, you’d say that would you, Alan? Do you have any evidence? No, you don’t, because the fact is that intensity of matches is as high as ever. This can be judged by the average high-speed running distance (speed of 5.5m/s minimum), which is higher this season than last season, and last season was the highest full season on record. In February, the sixth month of this season, Premier League players averaged 617.78m of high-speed running per game, which is about 5 per cent higher than the sixth month of last season. (This was all reported by Jonathan Northcroft in The Times on Saturday.)
Overall there is a bit less recovery time on average, because the season is being squeezed into a tighter timeframe. But so far this isn’t causing a drop in individual performance. Players are coping with it.
But what about the increase in injuries because “there is no time to rest, no time to recover”? Well this is also a myth. Levels of the common injury types are not much different to last season. PhysioRoom reports that over the first half of this season the level of thigh injuries was about the same as the average for the previous four seasons, and although hamstring and calf injuries were slightly up, groin injuries were down. There are always a couple of clubs suffering large injury problems, as Liverpool are this season, but that’s just the random nature of these things. For years it seemed to be Arsenal who had a never-ending injury list. It’s nice to give someone else a turn.
The trap Shearer has fallen into is that the lack of crowds and atmosphere gives the appearance of lower intensity, even in matches where the quality is good. When you combine that with the wall-to-wall coverage – with so many different kick-off times that it’s almost possible to watch the whole of every single game live if you have that much time to spare – it’s easy for an ex-player to think, “I’m seeing a lot of poor football here. They must be suffering.” But no. It’s just the viewers who are suffering more than usual.