Premier League Covid delays could lead to a DISASTER, says Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink amid fixture pile-up and fears players could hit a 'brick wall'... but Dutchman insists hectic schedule makes English football special

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Premier League Covid delays could lead to a DISASTER, says Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink amid fixture pile-up and fears players could hit a 'brick wall'... but Dutchman insists hectic schedule makes English football special

  • English football is facing a tough period with Covid causing a fixture pile-up  
  • Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink recalls a difficult season with Middlesbrough in 05-06 
  • His team-mates were forced to play 64 matches during an exciting cup run 
  • Hasselbaink believes the hectic schedule in England makes it special

Those fretting about fixture congestion can count their blessings they were not in Steve McClaren’s Middlesbrough team that reached a UEFA Cup final.

Boro played 64 games in that 2005-06 season, while also reaching the FA Cup semi-final and Carling Cup quarter-final — taking in plenty of replays along the way.

During one crazy phase they played 22 matches in 68 days, peaking with four in nine days in April. They had two league games on Saturday and Monday, a UEFA Cup semi-final trip to Romania on Thursday and an FA Cup semi-final against West Ham at Villa Park less than 72 hours after that.

Burton boss Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink has conceded players could hit a 'brick wall' this season

Burton boss Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink has conceded players could hit a 'brick wall' this season

Burton boss Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink has conceded players could hit a 'brick wall' this season 

There have been concerns over player welfare amid a fixture list pile-up caused by Covid

There have been concerns over player welfare amid a fixture list pile-up caused by Covid

Time was so tight the players didn’t even return to Teesside after their 1-0 first-leg defeat by Steaua Bucharest, flying direct to Birmingham to prepare for the West Ham game, which they also lost 1-0.

Their striker Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink recalls the crazy schedule with both pride and pain. ‘It was a lot of games,’ he says. ‘I was 34 and it’s not an age that goes together with so many matches of high intensity.

‘We didn’t have time to train, it was to maintain. We didn’t have the biggest squad so it was a case of resting between games and making sure we were tactically okay.

Hasselbaink reflected on a season with Middlesbrough in 2005-06 where they played 64 times

Hasselbaink reflected on a season with Middlesbrough in 2005-06 where they played 64 times

‘But footballers find the intensity and hunger from somewhere. If you are a top professional and want to play at the highest level, those big games are what you want.

‘There does come a time, however, when you will hit a brick wall. It is for the manager to judge where that brick wall is. Now we have a problem with Covid and if games are postponed, how are you going to fit them in, and where? If we keep on going like this, we will have to play four games in a week eventually and that will be a disaster.’

Boro, captained by future England boss Gareth Southgate, had great experience to deal with their epic schedule and McClaren handled it all shrewdly enough to be given the national team job at the end of the season.

He feared continued Covid delays could be a 'disaster for English football', but said a hectic schedule made English football special

He feared continued Covid delays could be a 'disaster for English football', but said a hectic schedule made English football special

Hasselbaink is now facing fixture chaos on the other side as manager of League One Burton Albion. Though a proud Dutchman, he has spent nearly all the last 20 years in England and does not want the pandemic to alter the hectic football culture over here.

‘Who is doing the complaining?’ he says. ‘Mostly overseas managers who have winter breaks in their countries and only one cup.

‘But this is the identity of English football. It’s how it has been, what makes it special.

‘Should you be able to work with a bigger squad? Maybe. Should you have five substitutions? Maybe. But let’s not change the English culture and let’s keep the games as they are. That is the beauty of it.’

NO GENERAL RULE TO STOP PLAYERS FROM OVERLOADING 

By Dave Appanah

Lead rehabilitation physiotherapist at a Premier League club

We will only really know if players are being placed at risk once we get through this period and are able to look back at the statistics to see if there have been more injuries.

There are a lot of factors involved in a robust injury prevention programme and this will differ from club to club.

A Premier League club like ours have a dozen sports scientists and physios on their staff which will enable them to provide more bespoke recovery strategies and treatments for players, whereas a League Two club might have only three or four managing a similar-sized squad.

Training and match load depends on the manager's philosophy, too. The statistics have shown, for example, that Spurs are running far more under Antonio Conte than they did when Nuno Espirito Santo was in charge. Which means that greater load is being placed on them during games and managing this takes a greater amount of planning. In practice, with games coming within 48hrs of each other, time to recover is at a premium.

Clubs with higher match and training loads will have to be careful during this period, especially with the added issue of Covid. Essential to good load management is squad rotation and having several Covid cases takes away this option. Covid has made definitely made things more complicated. 

At our club, we're picking up the positive cases a little earlier than during the first wave thanks to improved testing regimes. To date we haven't had really had any players who have suffered badly as a result of it. At worst, they have been symptomatic only for a few days and then recovered.

Team selection will also depend on the pressure that a manager is under to produce results and he always wants his best players available. The manager has to weigh up the recommendations of the sports-science and medical departments and balance them with the tactical situation, it could be the difference between winning and losing. 

Managers want to protect their players but, the truth is, nobody really knows what constitutes overloading. A younger squad might be more resilient than an ageing one. But then an experienced player might better understand his body's limitations and how to manage them than a younger team-mate. Each team and player is in a unique position. There is no general rule.

 

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