How Many Games do Soccer Players Play Per Year and What Are the Risks?

Leagues, cups, national team matches... the schedule of soccer players is getting tighter and tighter. This can have significant consequences on their physical and mental health.
How Many Games do Soccer Players Play Per Year and What Are the Risks?
Leonardo Biolatto

Reviewed and approved by the doctor Leonardo Biolatto.

Last update: 22 October, 2022

The sports industry – and soccer, in particular – is extremely demanding on players. Soccer players play many games per year, and that number keeps getting higher. This has major consequences for both their physical and mental health.

The schedules are very tight. In 2022, when the World Cup was being played for the first time on an atypical date, local and regional matches were compressed into the European summer. Let’s take a look at how such a hectic schedule can affect the players.

Playing too many games leads to injuries

Today’s footballers are super-athletes. Every detail of their physical preparation, nutrition, and rest is taken care of. However, they’re still human, and their bodies have their limits.

With so many matches, it’s common for various types of injuries to occur. In particular, there are many injuries caused by overexertion, stress, or repetition of movements.

Muscle injuries are also commonplace. Contractures and tears are the most frequent. In the case of contractures, the muscle is involuntarily tightened and causes pain. Meanwhile, when it comes to tears, the fibers are broken, which requires a longer recovery time.

Likewise, other anatomical structures, such as the bones and joints, suffer from the number of matches played by soccer players. The constant effort can exceed the regenerative capacity of bone tissues, resulting in a stress fracture that forces a sick leave of 8 weeks on average.

Eduardo Camavinga plays too many games
The accumulation of dates in a short period of time overloads the bone and muscle structures of soccer players.

How many matches do soccer players play each year?

Professional soccer seasons start in July or August and end in May of the following year. In between, and even in June, players playing for national teams must travel long distances to represent their countries.

In fact, FIFA international tournaments are an example of how competitions are added to the calendar almost without taking into account the players’ rest. To cite one case: Lionel Messi played in the Copa America 3 times and a World Cup with Argentina between 2015 and 2019, in addition to playing almost every match for his club.

In a normal year, a professional soccer player can play approximately 70 matches. That is one match every five days.

This is a breakdown of matches by competition:

  • A national league: Most leagues have 20 teams and are played in two rounds, resulting in a total of 38 matches per season.
  • National cups: Teams that reach the final usually play at least 5 or 6 matches. Some leagues, such as England’s Premier League, have two national cups. France also had two but eliminated one in 2020.
  • International competitions: Teams that reach the round of 16 of the UEFA Champions League play eight matches. They may play more if they come from previous rounds. If they reach the final, they play a total of 13 matches.
  • Selection matches: There are 5 FIFA dates per year, and two matches are played on each one. Exceptionally, an additional match may also be added.
  • Other cups: By winning a tournament, a team gains access to other finals to play against another champion in the so-called “Super Cups.” They’re usually between 1 and 6 matches, depending on each case.
  • Friendly matches: All teams play pre-season friendly matches and tour abroad for economic and sponsorship purposes. Although these matches are less intense, these minutes also add up for the players.
Lionel Messi plays too many games
Messi has a high presence rate at the club and international level, so he accumulates a notorious amount of matches in a calendar year.

Too many games also affect player’s mental health

Although soccer is an activity that generates passion in those who practice it, it can’t be ignored that it’s a source of stress and fatigue due to the responsibility involved in fulfilling the expected performance. In this sense, it’s much like any other job.

Sustained exhaustion can have negative consequences not only for the body, but also for the mind. Some of these include the following:

  • A lack of motivation for the player’s daily routine
  • Negativity or a sense of rejection towards the activity
  • Mood swings or irritability
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Increased risk of anxiety

Soccer players play too many matches

Due to all the above, more and more players’ and coaches’ voices have been heard asking to decrease the number of matches and to plan a healthier schedule. One of them was Jurgen Klopp, coach of Liverpool of England, who complained about the accumulation of matches at defining moments of the season.

The truth is that the schedule is so demanding and cruel that it takes everything and everyone by surprise – even the players, who are the protagonists and the most valuable part of the world of soccer.

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The contents of this publication are for informational purposes only. At no time can they serve to facilitate or replace the diagnoses, treatments, or recommendations of a professional. Consult with your trusted specialist if you have any doubts and seek their approval before beginning any procedure.