Petr Cech uses his latest column to discuss recent fixture congestion and his concerns for player welfare...
Everybody knows these are difficult and unprecedented times, in football and in life more generally. The rise in Covid-19 cases in the UK, combined with injuries that are always common at this time of year, has really affected player availability at every club in the country over the past few months.
We are no exception and it has been clear how much we have struggled in recent weeks with so many players missing through injury, illness and isolation.
We therefore found it disappointing to hear today that our Premier League match against Brighton, originally scheduled for when we are now due to participate in the Club World Cup in Abu Dhabi, has been rescheduled for Tuesday 18 January when we believe there are clearly more sensible dates in that week for this fixture to be played.
Once again, we are extremely concerned about the welfare of our players in all of this and we are puzzled why Wednesday 19 January was not considered as an alternative date seeing as this would not compromise either team as we both play our next games the following Sunday 23 January.
We are already fulfilling fixtures with depleted squads. As it stands, we have fulfilled all of our fixture commitments to date, despite not being able to start our desired starting 11 for some games over this period in which we have been playing two games a week. Scheduling us to play three games in seven days means the players’ welfare, fitness and wellbeing will be severely compromised.
I appreciate that the removal of FA Cup replays has freed up dates in that week, but compounding issues by such an unnecessary congestion of fixtures with a two-day gap between each match is an unhealthy situation. We also find ourselves playing against an opponent in Brighton who, in comparison, only have one other match in the same seven-day period. This cannot be good for the integrity of the game or the competition.
Everyone accepts we are all operating in unprecedented times. As a club, we are playing our part to keep everyone safe, make as many players available for selection as possible, and keep football going and the league on track, with player welfare paramount in our minds. It’s a shame that doesn’t appear to have been reflected in recent decision-making around fixtures.
I know from my experience as a player how much difference an extra day or two can make in the recovery process. I played many games over many years during the Christmas period when it gets really hectic with game after game in England and I enjoyed it so much because it’s a special part of English football.
However, we have to realise that we are pushing the players now beyond their limits. We have a huge amount of fixtures, a huge amount of minutes for players who are also dealing with the unprecedented Covid times. Every hour is crucial for a player to recover and actually limit the risk of a potential injury and keep the performance levels without being at risk.
In England, we are the only league that has no winter break and the only league that has three substitutions rather than five. We have to play games every two or three days, not only over Christmas but now it seems like all through the season, and we feel the need for more support from the Premier League in situations like this.
When the squad is already hit by injury and Covid-19 absences, we are asking fewer players to do even more, so you are overloading them and you cannot spread it out between the group. It is unfair on the players to keep asking them to do more and more while the obstacles in front of them are becoming bigger and bigger.
The Club World Cup is a fantastic tournament that we are really looking forward to. Even though the tournament dates have changed from their original plan, we always knew it would take place during the domestic season and we would have to rearrange some of our Premier League games as a result.
We acknowledge this is the price of success and we would never complain about that. What we do ask for is that our players are given more consideration when these decisions are made. When there was a rare opportunity for player welfare to be prioritised, we have let them down again.