Everyone Is Enjoying Football Except The Footballers

There is quite a history behind the development of football from cuju to Marn Gook, the obsession with the sport has continued to remain the same. However, in recent times, the monetization of the game has had far-reaching consequences for the players who should ordinarily be endeared by the game.

THE GUINNESS WORLD RECORDS recently tweeted: 

"We're going to confirm the champions league as the greatest sports competition in history."

Confirming the widespread acceptability and followership of the sport across the world. 

Modern football, widely believed to have originated in the UK, was created to serve as a means of recreational activity and 'entertainment for the British working class' (footballhistory.org). British colonial expansion soon propagated the game to several other parts of the world. However, from what was created to serve the purpose of recreation and entertainment, football has gradually evolved to become a commodity.

The commodification of football is a direct consequence of the influx of 'money bags' into football club ownership and administration. This has translated to the prioritization of making profits at the expense of the football players. While it is true that these 'money bags' cum club owners have caused significant development to the game in terms of remuneration of players and football club staff, construction of a state of the art stadiums, all of which have added glamour to the game. It is important to note that all of these have come at quite expensive costs. 

The glorification of profit has led to the commodification of the game and, as such, to create more ' commodities,' football associations, especially FIFA and UEFA, have been forced to launch more competitions to satisfy the wanton needs; of these 'money bags.' The effect of this is that it creates more football matches to be played by professional football players, which in turn increases the possibility of fatal injuries due to weary muscles. 

Toni Kroos, a midfielder who plays for real Madrid, was quoted by Reuters to have criticized FIFA and UEFA after the creation of the UEFA's nations league in 2018. His statement reads in part: " with the invention of all these new things, we seem to just be the puppets of FIFA and UEFA." He also suggested that the main motivation for the introduction of new competitions by both football bodies was the accumulation of profit. In a similar fashion, top football managers Pep Guardiola and Jurgen Klopp were quoted to have expressed displeasure at creating new football competitions and the overbearing consequences on players' productivity and well-being. 

Jurgen Klopp speaking to sky sports, made the following statement:

"at the moment, there is an imbalance between the numbers of players you have in a squad, the competitions you have to play, and the big gap between the breaks the boys usually would need and what they get."

The statement further reads:

"If you are an international player and play all the big competitions in the world, then you have two weeks off per year. That is a fact" (skysports.com).

Pep Guardiola was a little comical in his assessment of UEFA and FIFA. He was quoted to have urged both football governing bodies to extend the year to around 400 days. He also claimed the "footballing world was prioritizing quantity over quality" (CityXtra, SI.com). His criticisms come after UEFA announced proposed reforms to increase the number of teams participating in the Champions League from 32 to 36, thereby adding another ten games to the competition. 

Perhaps, the more alarming case is the situation of real Madrid superstar Karim Benzema. The French striker has continued to wear a wristband since 2019, which many have thought to be some kind of accessory, only that it is not. The French striker, according to Marca, "fractured his finger after a collision with Real Betis' defender Marc Bartra in 2019". After undergoing successful surgery, the real Madrid starman "rushed his rehabilitation to be available for the start of the next season" (Marca.com). This may look like a personal decision made by a 33-year old adult; however, it is imperative to note that Benzema is a pivotal player for both Real Madrid and the French National Team, and putting him on the sidelines for close to two months to heal his broken finger would have scathing effects on the 'commodity' the team is expected to produce. In as much as some might argue that footballers earn ridiculous amounts of money for them to even complain about the number of matches they are asked to play, it is important to take into cognizance; the fact that football players are also humans that have blood and water flowing through their veins and if their bodies were overstretched like it already is, it will be highly susceptible to wear and tear. 

Even young football stars are not spared from the excesses of the game. Borrusia Dortmund's American teenage sensation, Gio Reyna, played a total of 57 football matches between 2019-and 2021, high-intensity games in the German Bundesliga; this is coupled with the strenuousness of training routines. All of this has had ripple effects on the yet to fully develop muscles and bones of the teenager, little wonder that he has struggled to maintain fitness in the current season due to a recurring injury. Similarly, in the course of the 2020/2021 season, young Barcelona starlet Pedri played a staggering 75 games for both club and country, becoming the most capped football player in that season. While Pedri continues to be a regular starter for Barcelona and Spain, with no signs he is willing to slow down anytime soon, the long-term effects on his body might be devastating.

What then should world football governing bodies do? 

FIFA and UEFA should prioritize players' well-being before creating new competitions or initiating new formats for existing ones. Players' unions and football team captains and managers should be duly consulted before decisions are taken. 

Football fans should also rally around their favorite football stars by speaking up on their behalf as they did when the idea of a European super league was conceived. The reason fans should be vocal about players' welfare is that football players are mostly bound by their contractual obligations to football clubs and patriotic service to their national teams such that they cannot utter words of discontent or criticism for fear of retribution. This is not to say that football players cannot demand better working conditions. They must organize themselves through their unions to speak as one voice against the tendency of some persons to turn them into commodity-making machines to fill their pockets.

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