Burnout in Footballers: A media-driven myth or a misunderstood reality?

By Ellen Farrell.

When Arsene Wenger admitted that Alexis Sanchez was “not himself” after Arsenal’s 2-1 victory over Leicester, there were suggestions that the Chilean was suffering from fatigue. Tearing up defences with dazzling displays of footwork and goals galore, the forward has set the Premier League alight but is this light in danger of burning out?

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Widely regarded as the signing of the summer, Sanchez has already scored 18 goals for the Gunners in a debut season which has propelled him on the way to legendary status at the Emirates. But the usually lively player cut a forlorn figure in the recent win over the Foxes – while a crunching tackle from Matthew Upson did not help matters – and he was replaced in the second half.

Wenger warned back in December that Sanchez was “in the red zone physically” and at risk of burning out. But burnout is not a problem recognised by everyone in football, notably former players Michael Owen and Robbie Savage who dismiss it as a myth.

The pundits voiced their opinions when Liverpool’s Raheem Sterling controversially told England boss Roy Hodgson he was too tired to start a Euro 2016 qualifier against Estonia last October. Sterling was on the receiving end of extensive criticism and Savage rubbished the idea of burnout in players, instead calling it an “excuse for managers to field weakened teams in cup competitions or rotating their squads to pacify unsettled players”.

But other commentators are quick to suspect burnout in players who arrive from abroad, deliver eye-catching performances and then suffer a dip in form. We’ve seen this in star players such as Arsenal’s Mesut Ozil and Manchester City’s David Silva in seasons gone past.

So are the media at fault for creating a myth that can conveniently be used as a scapegoat for poor performances or are players genuinely at risk of burnout?

The Premier League is considered to be the most demanding in the world; with many players including Chelsea’s Cesc Fabregas admitting it is the toughest league, mainly because of the hectic festive fixture pile-up.

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It leads to the inevitable debate of a winter break. Advocates insists a break is vital for players to rest and recuperate, enabling them to perform to their optimum potential for the remainder of the season.

But the Premier League is at the mercy of a consumer culture which has catapulted the league’s value to astronomical heights. Football has become a commodity and there is a strong demand for this commodity over the Christmas period.

The Premier League is the only major European league without a rest period – the Bundesliga takes nearly a month off. So when most players are tucking into their turkey, England’s in the midst of a gruelling schedule, which, this season, saw Manchester United play five games in the space of 15 days. This surely has to take its toll. Footballers are, after all, only human so why would they be immune from suffering burnout? If anything, with the demanding schedules, they are arguably more susceptible to physical and mental exhaustion.

With the announcement of the latest broadcast rights, maybe now is the perfect opportunity to push forward the agenda for a winter break. If a break was to be introduced, then we would discover once and for all if there’s substance to the claims that burnout in the Premier League is a myth.

Follow @ellencfarrell

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