After scoring the goal which won her injury-ravaged team a crucial point in the UEFA Women’s Champions League away to Juventus last night, Arsenal striker Vivianne Miedema implored those in control of the women’s game to take better care of their athletes to prevent more players sustaining injuries due to overload.
On Saturday, Miedema’s strike partner Beth Mead, the BBC Women’s Footballer of the Year and Player of the Tournament at this summer’s UEFA Women’s Euro, suffered a rupture to her anterior cruciate ligament, an injury which Miedema confirmed will keep her out of next summer’s FIFA Women’s World Cup finals. Mead’s absence is one of several at Arsenal who were only able to name 18 players in their matchday squad last night rather than the 23 allowed.
Mead’s is one of a succession of ACL injuries being incurred by some of the leading female players in the world. Last night, Germany’s Olympic match-winner, Dzsenifer Marozsán returned to action after missing seven months of action including the UEFA Women’s Euro. Double Ballon D’Or winner, Alexia Putellas also missed the tournament after sustaining the same injury on the eve of the tournament. The Best Young Player at the last FIFA Women’s World Cup, Giulia Gwinn is in danger of missing next summer’s tournament after suffering her second ACL injury while training with Germany last month.
Speaking today in her column for the Dutch newspaper, AD, Miedema sees these succession of injuries to the world’s leading players as no coincidence. “I see a worrying pattern. The playing calendar for both the women and the men is simply too full. Actually, it’s just a shame. We are in a world that goes on and on and there are few players who say anything about it. I do. We go completely crazy with the tax on football players and football players. I can already envisage some of the reactions to this column, you know. ‘We have the best profession in the world, we earn a lot of money and we don’t have to complain. Just play football.'”
While women’s soccer around the world is being raised to professional standards, the demands on female players, particularly those competing at the international level, are beginning to raise concerns. With the coronavirus pandemic leading to the postponement of the Tokyo Olympics from 2020 to 2021 and the UEFA Women’s Euro from 2021 to 2022, European internationals like Miedema could have to play in summer tournaments in five successive years.
Added to that is the increased number of matches in the UEFA Women’s Champions League which introduced a six-game group stage last season and the proposal this month from UEFA to start up a new women’s Nations League for European national teams from next season which will create six more competitive international games around the hectic autumn period during which Women’s Champions League group-stage matches will also be played.
Miedema, a European champion with the Netherlands in 2017, was unable to effectively help her nation defend her crown after contracting Covid-19 during the tournament. Returning to play the entirety of their quarter-final defeat against France, she admitted in the aftermath that she pushed herself to return to action too soon. “I have been really ill and have been in bed with a fever of 40 degrees. It just sucked… I played 120 minutes against France, I have no idea how I did that.”
Not at the top of her game at the start of this season, Miedema asked to step away from the season for a few weeks as she explained, “at the beginning of this month I deliberately took a step back. I felt that my body and mind were ready for a rest. For people who do not work in top sport, that will sound strange. People who do work in our world will understand it better, but many players don’t feel that freedom to stand up for themselves or just want to continue in their tunnel.”
“My coach Jonas Eidevall was initially surprised by my request, but soon found that I was right. I spent a large part of the European Championship last summer in my hotel room with Covid-19. After that, the preparation for the season started almost immediately. I went through in one go and I paid the price for that. I had to get out and went to Australia in those two weeks.”
Speaking after last night’s match in Turin, Arsenal coach Eidevall admitted he was happy to see a refreshed Miedema scoring goals again. “I’m very pleased with her goal. There is always the balance between freshness and having continuity in training and playing. We need to strike that balance. You can see that Viv was fighting really hard today with the team on the pitch. “
Eidevall also shares Miedema’s concerns about the women’s playing calendar. “I really think we need to consider in women’s football when we look at the calendar, how we can put the players health first. They are constantly going between really competitive games at club level, onto international level. It has taken a lot of my time thinking about it because my gut says that we are not creating something that is good for the players.”
“My idea was to have protected periods for the players with no club football and no international football for a period. At the moment there are players who get barely any vacation and it’s consecutive, year after year after year. It’s great if we’re going to have more competitive games but let’s have a calendar that allows players to recover so we can keep the quality too.”