Overload: Why Qatar 2022 Had So Many High-Profile Injuries and Lessons Learned

Jan 20, 2023

One of the biggest concerns going into the Qatar 2022 World Cup was the high number of injuries that occurred before the tournament. A hot, desert climate was deemed a contributing factor, but there’s a more sinister reason for these injuries that warrants investigation. More importantly, there are lessons to learn from these injuries and their causes.  

Players who missed out 

Before we get into the “how” of the World Cup’s injuries, let’s examine who got injured. The injury list was hefty this time around. France and Argentina’s national squads had the highest injury count, which is ironic considering they made it to the finals. The likes of Germany, Spain, and Portugal also saw some key players sitting on the bench due to injury. 

Stars who missed the FIFA World Cup 2022 due to injury

  • Paul Pogba (France):  A damaged meniscus kept the twenty-nine--year-old midfielder off the pitch for Juventus and France, an injury requiring surgery. 
  • Karim Benzema (France): The French striker suffered a thigh injury one day before the start of the tournament during a training session. 
  • Nicolas Gonzalez (Argentina): A muscle injury kept the Fiorentina forward out of play for Argentina. 
  • Diogo Jota (Portugal): During a match against Manchester City, the Liverpool forward suffered a calf injury that didn’t require surgery but would sideline him from the World Cup. 
  • Timo Werner (Germany): The Leipzig forward suffered an ankle injury during a 4-0 victory over Shakhtar Donetsk in a Champions League match, ruling him out of World Cup play. 

That’s just a shortlist of the players who missed out completely due to injury. Let’s not forget that several players who played in the 2022 World Cup also had to miss games because of injuries sustained just before or during the games.   

Why so many soccer injuries?

There are hundreds of factors that can lead to soccer injuries. But there’s one in particular that seems most rampant—overload. By overload, we mean a high volume of playing time on the pitch over a long period of time without adequate rest and recovery. An article published in The Guardian mentioned an “accumulated workload of players in an already condensed season” as a factor for this year’s injury rate. 

This year’s World Cup was an anomaly in the sense of its timing. Unlike the typical summertime dates over which the tournament unfolds, the 2022 World Cup took place during the midst of regular seasons. Players were jumping from their normal season play into World Cup play without much of a break or prep time. Think about it—during the summer, players have finished their seasons and have more time to rest and gradually ramp up their training for the World Cup. Not this time around. 

Reports on overload in FIFA and soccer injuries

Fifpro released a report detailing training schedules and observations of player injuries. These findings may be surprising to some, but most footy players and fans are all too familiar with them. 

For example, the report found that players only had seven days of pre-tournament training for the 2022 World Cup. That’s less than a quarter of the usual prep time given for other World Cups, which average thirty-one days of pre-tournament training. 

Post-tournament recovery times haven’t fared any better, either. The report suggested that players would only have about eight days to rest before resuming their league season. Again, this pales in comparison to the usual recovery time of thirty-seven days. 

The insights surrounding individual players are startling too. For example, Harry Kane started every game for Tottenham Spurs this season, while Kylian Mbappé played 75 percent of his minutes in “back-to-back” games. 

Scheduling and intensity of this sort characterize overload. The body has a natural threshold regarding how much strain it can take versus how quickly it can recover. Unfortunately, modern soccer schedules push players past that threshold. The result is a plague of muscle and joint injuries because they’re overused. 

Key takeaways and lessons to learn 

Unfortunately, FIFA is a macrocosm of youth and amateur soccer worldwide. If the world’s greatest players who have access to the best medical staff and trainers can get exhausted, there’s no doubt that youth and amateur players face similar problems. 

In fact, we hear plenty of parents and players complain about soccer schedules today. It’s not uncommon for coaches and organizers to stack practices and games with little rest time, and then throw tournaments into the mix. It’s a counterintuitive approach. Players who can’t recover burn out, get injured, and stay injured. Lessons and protocols must be adopted to break the cycle. 

Lessons for coaches, players, and parents

  • Don’t stack practices, games, and tournaments to fill a calendar.pace things out!
  • Give players adequate time to rest between practices and games.
  • Ensure players are recovering properly after games.
  • Ensure players commit to regular soccer conditioning drills
  • Encourage players to eat a nutritious diet and get plenty of rest. 
  • Don’t encourage players to push through injuries unless cleared by a doctor.

Less can be, and is often, more

Soccer training is getting better in all aspects. Our understanding of nutrition is leagues ahead of what it was before. Our training protocols, ranging from soccer conditioning drills to tactical exercises, make old-school training look antiquated. Our recovery and rest techniques are why players now have careers in their late thirties and even early forties. 

So with all of that knowledge, the question we ask is, why are we overworking players? We know the consequences. 

The best way to counteract overload in soccer is to be aware of players’ limits and to push them reasonably close to, but not past, those limits. If we focus on training players to maximize their output on the pitch, not time spent, we’ll create a generation of players who aren’t worn out. 

Looking for more tips on safety and performance in soccer? Check out our blog for more insights. 

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