Its not the shoes, its not the pitches: The EPL season is far too long
I read with great interest the BBC article on metatarsal injuries, the current scourge of the English squad. A lot was mentioned about the shoes, the nature of the pitch, and the sheer physicality required in today's games. But there was no mention on the number of matches played by the Premier League clubs.
I don't have the exact figure of matches played in the Premier League, but they play a lot of matches.
The Premiership elite 20 play each other club twice in a round robin format. That is 38 times in the season. In addition, all clubs affiliated with the FA can participate in the FA Cup, which is a knockout tournament. In the 2005-2006 season there were 674 teams that played. EPL teams typically get a bye till the third round of the FA Cup. And then there is the League Cup which is contested by 96 teams from the EPL and the FA League clubs (This includes the English League Championship, League 1, and League 2). All EPL teams join the League Cup in the second round.
This means a team like Arsenal will not just meet Manchester United twice in the EPL but it could also play against Sheffield United, Yeovil Town, or Macclesfield Town through the FA Cup and League Cup championships.
The Spanish La Liga has its Premier (Primera)and the Second (Segundo) division A too. There are 20 teams in the Premier and 22 teams in the Second division. They have an abbreviated version of the FA cup called the Copa Del Ray that is open to the Premier division, Second division A, six teams of the Second division B and the Third division teams. Again, I do not have the exact number of matches played but they appear to be much less than the EPL.
The German Bundesliga which sees the most attendence per match (11.56 million) in the football world, ahead of La Liga, Serie A, and the EPL has 18 teams in the First division. They also have a Second division that comprises 18 teams as well. In addition, there are a number of regional leagues too. Apart from the Bundesliga championships, all affiliated German soccer clubs are eligible to play the German Cup, in a structure similar to the FA Cup.
But what is noteworthy is that the Bundesliga teams enjoy a mid winter recess of six weeks from mid December to the end of January. This goes well with the German work ethic of having the shortest work week of around 35 hours on an average per worker as compared to the rest of the developed world. Which might also account fot their lower health costs and longetivity.
Metatarsal fractures are mostly caused by stress and repetitive motion. Unlike other sports injuries that are more traumatic in origin, for e.g., torn knee ligaments, ankle fractures, and pulled hamstrings. There is usually prodormal pain on palpation and weight bearing signalling a microfracture. If shoes were the problem, then soldiers would not get as many fractures as they usually do from marching for prolonged periods of time. That is why stress fractures of the metatarsals are also called March fractures.
It is the repetitive motion with overloading of the metatarsal bones with the subsequent fatiguing of the plantar musculature over the long period of the EPL season that is directly attributable to the players suffering from metatarsal injuries. You can only do so much with the design of the shoes and the nature of the pitch. In 2002, a trio of players including David Beckham, Gary Neville, and Danny Murphy were affected by the metatarsal bug before the World Cup. And in similar circumstances Micheal Owen, Ledley King, and now Wayne Rooney are fighting to get back into form for this year's World Cup with metatarsal injuries of their own.
I do not have details of players in the other top flight leagues going through the same injury problems and it maybe a coincidence or the fact that the EPL has the highest TV viewership and publicity that highlights this particular injury. But surely, players in those leagues play with similar shoes, on similar pitches, and are subjected to the same physicality, speed and strength and tackles as the EPL matches. Yet we are talking of two World Cups in a row that the English squad players have been subjected to the same type of injury? Surely, there is another causality at work. I think the FA needs to really look into the number of matches played. Especially, before a World Cup year. it is no use talking about the most talented group of players to grace the England squad in years, if those talented players cannot play. 1966 will still be the year that England won it all.