Alessia Russo England

Why rest and recovery periods are needed in the women’s international match calendar

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Alessia Russo England
  • England internationals Alessia Russo and Keira Walsh share their thoughts on the current women’s match calendar

  • Scheduling conflicts often result in elite-level women’s players receiving insufficient rest and recovery periods

  • Russo returned to action for the 2023/24 season just 17 days after playing in the 2023 Women’s World Cup final

FIFA has just announced a new international calendar for women's football for 2026-2029. Whilst positive changes have been made, there will still be schedule pressure on high-usage international players, and regulated safeguards for in-season and off-season breaks have not been included.

As action-packed leagues reach their climax across the world, it serves as a reminder the gruelling toll elite-level players have had to endure in a congested season with minimal rest periods.

Take Alessia Russo. The England striker’s 2023/24 season began just 17 days after playing in the 2023 Women’s World Cup final.

Russo travelled from Australia to link up with Arsenal, where she joined from Manchester United, after the final on 20 August 2023 before being thrown into Champions League qualifying action on 6 September 2023 with her new club.

It left little time for Russo to recover physically and mentally from an intense World Cup and her lack of rest was well below the recommended 28 days minimum break for professional footballers.

"It was tough to have such short time off after the World Cup," reveals Russo, speaking to FIFPRO in January 2024. “For me personally, I moved teams and I think I had less than a week off before I was back in training.

"We had Champions League qualifiers, so it was something that we couldn't afford to miss and something that as a player you don't want to miss. But it's tough – the scheduling was heavy, and I had to look after myself and luckily there were things planned at my club that afforded me to do so. This was important and I'm grateful for them for letting me do that, but the schedule is hectic and something that needs to be taken into consideration when players are playing at such a high level all the time."

The clashes of major club and national team tournaments in the women’s match calendar raises the question of whether scheduling could be more aligned to create sufficient rest and recovery periods for players.

It is evident that the players themselves are feeling the effects of the current model.

Russo said: "There are so many games and tournaments, and you go through cycles of big games and big tournaments that you're always preparing for.

"Players need rest, and you need to find times in the schedule that can do that, especially on the back of a few tournaments. As a player, you never want to miss time with injury either. So, there's all different things that must be taken into consideration and worked with – it’s definitely an area of concern."

Physical and mental recovery

Russo is not alone in being catapulted from one season to another with insufficient rest – just ask Kiera Walsh. After playing a prominent role in England’s 2022 UEFA Women’s EURO triumph, Walsh was back in competitive action for former club Manchester City just 19 days after the EURO final at Wembley.

Much like Russo, Walsh had little time to recover physically and mentally.

"I was in a similar situation after the Euros at Man City: we had the Champions League pretty much straight after," explains Walsh, speaking to FIFPRO in January 2024.

She continued: "The World Cup was probably the most intense tournament I've played at. People speak about [recovery] physically, but mentally as well you need the rest.

"I can imagine that it was really hard for Alessia to fly back from Australia, having just lost a World Cup final, to then play in a Champions League game and mentally get ready, as well as physically."

According to FIFPRO Player Workload Monitoring, an analytical tool from FIFPRO and Football Benchmark, Barcelona and England midfielder Walsh is among the women’s players who have racked up the most matches and playing minutes in recent times.

Walsh’s workload numbers: 25 May 2018 – 25 February 2024

  • No of matches: 257
  • Total min played: 21,878
  • Mins played after fewer than 5 days rest: 11,206

Walsh’s numbers reflect a much-relied-on player who is a focal part of a successful club and national team often reaching competition finals and playing out a full league campaign – but it also calls into question whether the health and wellbeing of players at the top of the game is being prioritised in the current calendar.

"In Spain, we have such a long season: we finish in June [Editor’s note: current Liga F campaign will finish 16 June 2024] and we have so many more games than other countries."

Walsh continued: "Player workload is getting a lot more. Sometimes as female players, we don't get the same support that the male players do in terms of facilities, and I'm very lucky I’ve had that support in the clubs that I played at.

"Some other players aren’t, and I think we need to feel that support, and we also need to listen to how many games [are being played] and whether it is a positive step for us.

"It's difficult because you want to be playing in those games, but at the same time, we want to know that you're going on the pitch in good shape, and that you're going to be coming off the pitch healthy too."