The average duration of football matches in the world's leading leagues in recent months has exceeded the not so long ago seemingly unrealistic mark of 100 minutes. This is due to a directive issued last year by the International Football Federation (FIFA), which called on referees to take into account essentially all significant delays when determining the time they add to the regular time of games. The new trend has already caused resistance from the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) and the International Association of Professional Footballers (FIFPro). They believe that stretching out matches increases the already enormous load on the players and provokes an increase in injuries. The thesis was confirmed on the opening day of the Champions League: Manchester City was forced to play against Crvena Zvezda with a request reduced to the minimum.
The research company CIES Football Observatory, a partner of the International Football Federation, has published an extremely interesting ranking based on data from the football statistics company Wyscout. It ranks 70 leagues, including all the top ones, by the actual length of matches played in the previous and current seasons. As it turned out, it slightly, by 16 seconds, went off scale beyond the 100 minute mark, which a couple of years ago looked incredible, since it was customary to add no more than five minutes to the main time of 90 minutes, if no emergency occurred that led to too much long pauses.
In first place in the ranking were the two top divisions of Saudi Arabia, a country that lured a huge number of stars from Europe last summer. In it, a match lasts on average 106 minutes or more. However, the Big Five championships and some that are immediately behind them in the championship hierarchy are not too far behind the Saudis. The average duration of matches in Portugal is over 104 minutes, in Spain - over 103 minutes, in England and Italy - over 101 minutes. Only in France and Germany does this figure symbolically, by a few seconds, exceed the hundred-minute mark. At the same time, it turned out that more than half of all matches in the 70 championships included in the study exceeded it. The Russian Premier League (RPL) is located at the bottom of the ranking. But she was only 37 seconds short of reaching the mark.
The CIES classification reflects a fresh football trend. He first came to attention at the end of last year during the World Championships in Qatar. During it, most matches lasted much longer than spectators were used to, and some - for example, between the British and Iranians in the group stage - almost lasted for a full two hours, despite the fact that there were some exceptional incidents during them in terms of severity and complexity didn't happen.
The phenomenon was associated with a FIFA directive that appeared before the championship. She demanded that the referees, when determining the amount of added time to the main time of each half of the match, take into account absolutely all “unnaturally lost time.” This definition included, in fact, any more or less noticeable stoppage of the game associated with both substitutions or injuries of players, which were always taken into account by the referees, and, for example, with previously often ignored reviews of controversial episodes by VAR, lengthy preparation for the execution of a penalty, sending offs and even goal celebrations. FIFA's recommendations were immediately adopted by top club competitions.
Meanwhile, at the beginning of this season, the installations of the parent organization for the first time encountered serious resistance from other football structures. The International Professional Footballers' Association has spoken out against extending injury time. FIFPro, which has long insisted that the current calendar of domestic and international competitions is leading to at least top players being "overworked", making it difficult for them to stay in optimal shape and increasing injury rates, called the working conditions created by FIFA "completely intolerable". And on the side of the union, in addition to some grand clubs - such as Manchester United - and celebrities like Kevin De Bruyne and Raphael Varane who play for them, the Union of European Football Associations unexpectedly came out and made something of a demarche. In August, the outstanding former Croatian midfielder Zvonimir Boban, who now holds the post of UEFA director of football, one of the key ones in the organization, announced that in its competitions, that is, primarily in European competitions, it would not comply with the “absurd” FIFA directive, in fact, advising leagues to abandon this practice as well. Explaining this decision, Boban recalled his playing career, saying that during the last 30 minutes or so of a match he usually played with extreme fatigue. Adding ten minutes or more to the regular time, in his opinion, could turn out to be “a tragedy from the point of view of the players’ health.”
Those who like the position of UEFA and FIFPro could see confirmation of their correctness on Tuesday, the first day of the group stage of the Champions League. As part of it, a match took place between the winner of the previous edition, Manchester City, and Crvena Zvezda, which is not very highly rated in comparison with it. The English giant won a rather difficult victory over the Serbian club with a score of 3:1. And as the reasons why the Manchester team experienced problems, their coach Pep Guardiola mentioned the losses suffered by his team. And indeed, Manchester City, a club with a fantastic bench in terms of depth and quality, managed to enter the meeting with Red Star with an application truncated almost to the minimum - 16 players. This was led to by an avalanche of injuries that befell the favorite. Almost half of Manchester City's key players have been out of action in the past weeks - Kevin De Bruyne, Jack Grealish, Mateo Kovacic, John Stones. And during the Champions League match, Bernardo Silva also ended up on the injured list. In all cases, we are talking about football players who faced excessive, according to FIFPro, loads in 2022 and 2023, playing for the club and national teams.