Football counting cost of COVID as player injuries soar

Europe’s major football leagues saw their clubs hit by a near €50 million bill for players forced to miss matches due to suffering from COVID.

Broker Howden published its inaugural Men’s European Football Injury Index, which revealed the significant associated cost to clubs of players testing positive for Covid-19.

The research found that there were 494 Covid-19 cases reported across Europe’s top five leagues last season, resulting in players being forced to spend time off the pitch and missing a total of 7,068 days at a cost of €48.2 million.

Across all leagues, players missed an average of 14.44 days every time they tested positive for the virus.  Italy’s top division witnessed the highest incidence of cases. As one of the European countries hit hardest by the pandemic, 37% of players in Serie A tested positive for the virus during the 2020/2021 season, costing Serie A clubs €19.6 million in Covid-19 absences alone.

The report also found the rising injury numbers, severity and cost for the 2020/2021 season across Europe’s top five men’s leagues (English Premier League, the Bundesliga, Serie A, La Liga and Ligue 1) leading to a material financial impact to clubs when players were absent from matches through illness and injury – a statistic that Covid-19 has served to compound.

Injuries across Europe’s big five leagues were up 13.8% in the 2020/2021 season to 3,988 (3,504 in 2019/2020). Total injury cost to clubs in the top five leagues totalled €472.6 million, with the average cost of injuries per league at €94.5 million

The English Premier League experienced the most injuries at 938 in 2021/21 and the highest injury cost at €155.9 million, behind second placed La Liga on €84.5 million.

James Burrows, Divisional Director, Sport & Entertainment, Howden said: “This report has quantified for the first time the significant monetary impact that Covid-19 has had on the major football clubs in Europe last season. The pandemic has not only contributed to a 14% rise in injuries across the 5 major European leagues costing clubs a total of $473.6 million, but it has resulted in injury numbers peaking earlier in the season.

As the operating and playing environments for clubs and players alike become increasingly challenging, we’re focused on helping clubs and their players mitigate the increasing frequency and cost of injuries by using data and analytics to provide risk management advice and innovative insurance products.”

The report added player position influences injury type and frequency, with defenders totalling the highest number, suffering 1,422 in all, with midfielders recording the highest injury costs at €165.6 million. Players in the 26-30 age bracket recorded the most injuries at 1,551 and also the highest injury costs totalling €205.7 million in salary costs

The clubs with the highest injury costs in Europe were: Paris Saint Germain (€34.2m); Real Madrid (€28m) and Liverpool (€17.9m)

Howden added seasonality has also seen a distinct trend this year: injuries peaked earlier during the 2020/2021 season – in October and November rather than in December and January. It is possible that this trend can be attributed to a short pre-season and late start to the 2020/2021 season (with the exception of Ligue 1), added the report.

“A key question the report asks is whether the increasing cost of player absence that the wealthier clubs face was a possible contributory factor behind the attempted ‘Super League’ breakaway earlier this year,” said Howden.  “Statistics show that clubs involved in the proposed breakaway suffered disproportionately poorly compared to the others in terms of the cost of player absence.  The report suggests that this is not only due to higher salaries but also higher injury numbers.”

The English Premier League experienced the most injuries at 938 in 2021/21 and the highest injury cost at €155.9 million, behind second placed La Liga on €84.5 million.

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