Premier League clubs are yet to schedule a third vote on whether to allow five substitutions during matches despite growing pressure to reconsider – a decision that has been described as “peculiar” by the chief medical officer of players’ union Fifpro.
Manchester City’s Pep Guardiola and Liverpool’s Jürgen Klopp were among the managers to voice concerns over player welfare at the weekend amid the frenzied fixture list caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, with Trent Alexander-Arnold now expected to be out of action for up to four weeks following a calf injury sustained in Sunday’s 1-1 draw.
But it is understood that despite calls from Klopp, Guardiola and Manchester United’s Ole Gunnar Solskjær to introduce the additional substitutes that would bring the Premier League in line with Uefa competitions and other major European leagues, clubs have yet to even schedule their next shareholders’ meeting where any vote would have to take place.
A proposal to allow five substitutes from a total of nine players on the bench – as adopted during “Project Restart” during the summer – was initially voted down in August before being raised again ahead of the new season at the start of September and again being rejected.
Most of the support for retaining the extra substitutes is believed to have come from the top six, but votes from at least 14 clubs are required to pass a motion.
It is understood that the Professional Footballers’ Association has also written to the Premier League in the past to ask for clubs to reconsider, having also previously consulted Fifpro. The union – which represents more than 60,000 players worldwide – released a statement on Friday which said the current fixture pile-up lacks sufficient considerations for their “health, wellbeing and performance and requires an urgent and ongoing revision by competition organisers”.
“It was peculiar that the Premier League did not allow five substitutions,” Vincent Gouttebarge, Fifpro’s chief medical officer, told the Guardian. “By contrast, it is allowed in all the other major leagues in Europe and in the Champions League and Europa League, and it is obviously one of our recommendations. It would be nice to have the same everywhere because it provides the manager with an opportunity to rest some of his players and perhaps manage workload better. The Premier League is one of the most affected because it is the top league in the world and it attracts elite players who are also playing international football.”
A study commissioned by Fifpro after the 2018 World Cup in Russia found that 64% of the elite professional players believed they have insufficient rest between matches, with Premier League teams estimated to lose on average £45m due to injury-related reduction in performance per season as a result.
As well as the mandatory implementation of the five substitutes rule, they have also recommended that players are given a minimum of four weeks holiday for their off-season break and a flexible two-week in-season break, as well as committed to developing an online monitoring tool to track player workload and the impact of travel and injuries.
“It’s been two years since our survey and we have been repeating this message all the time,” said Gouttebarge. “The problem is escalating all the time. Fifa has also implemented an international window at the end of January and the start of February when there is normally only domestic football and it is going to be important that the players are given sufficient time to recover.”
He added: “I’m sure the people who are in lockdown at home are very happy to see European matches on Tuesday to Thursday and then they can watch their domestic competition from Friday to Monday. We have been engaged in such a cycle since approximately the start of September without any midweek breaks. It’s all about cumulative load – every player can play three matches in eight days but it’s very difficult when you are doing it without a break, as well as the physical and mental strain of competing and performing.”