MANCHESTER, England - Global soccer players union FIFPRO said that the World Cup should never again be squeezed into a November-December window, and that Raphaël Varane's international retirement should ring alarm bells about the sport's smothering schedule.
FIFPRO released their World Cup 2022 Post-Tournament Review and Player Survey on Thursday, and said the results confirmed their fears around players' mental and physical fatigue and injury risk.
Varane helped France reach the World Cup Final — then announced on Feb. 3 he was ending his international career over a "suffocating" schedule.
"(Varane's) decision should really, really make competition organizers nervous, because it's ultimately those players who are on the field creating the game, they're creating the product that is being sold by everybody ... and they're the players the fans come to see," FIFPRO General Secretary Jonas Baer-Hoffmann said during a video conference call on Tuesday. "And if they're taking career choices of that drastic nature, based on their physical and their mental health, caused by the pressure that is on them, that is what we've been warning about."
Varane had just eight days between the World Cup Final and his first game back with his club Manchester United.
Sixty-four World Cup players were surveyed, and a lack of preparation and recovery time, and the resulting increased health risks were the key takeaways. Only 11% of players surveyed favored the November/December World Cup timing.
Baer-Hoffman said a repeat of 2022 would be unacceptable.
"If you want to pursue a winter World Cup again, you need (the leagues) to completely change their schedule and provide appropriate training and recovery time pre and post-tournament," he said. "(It is) unlikely that they will agree to that."
Eighty-six percent of players want at least 14 days of preparation time, 61% would like 14 to 28 days of post-World Cup recovery time. The condensed schedule meant the pre-World Cup turnaround for many European-based players was just six or seven days. Some players failed to recover from nagging injuries to play in Qatar.
"Which is quite unfortunate (during) the pinnacle of their careers," said FIFPRO policy advisor Michael Leahy.
Premier League players logged the most World Cup minutes, while Manchester City recorded the most minutes of any team, and Barcelona had the most players (17) at the tournament.
The impact of stoppage time was also significant. Players ran almost one extra mile during the average of 11.6 minutes of added time.
(Reporting by Lori Ewing; Editing by Toby Davis)