England captain Millie Bright believes the current schedule for top female footballers is unsustainable (Paul ELLIS)
England captain Millie Bright has warned that the boom in women’s football is putting dangerous demands on players, with a host of star names set to miss out on the World Cup.
Bright will lead the European champions in Australia and New Zealand after regular skipper Leah Williamson suffered an anterior cruciate ligament knee injury, which has become a regular occurence in the women’s game.
England are also without Euro 2022 Golden Boot winner Beth Mead, who tore her ACL in November.
Mead’s partner and Arsenal teammate Vivianne Miedema is missing for the Netherlands, while France are shorn of forwards Marie-Antoinette Katoto and Delphine Cascarino with the same injury.
Bright herself has faced a fight to be fit for the World Cup after undergoing knee surgery in March.
But the 29-year-old said that injury has been “a blessing” as it allowed her time to physically and mentally recover after a gruelling few years.
Bright was central to England’s success at Euro 2022 and helped Chelsea to a league and FA Cup double this season.
“I think there is work to be done in terms of scheduling,” she said. “We are not robots, we need time to recover.”
“We want to perform for you guys (media), our fans, our clubs and our countries — we want to be at the highest level”, Bright told reporters before England flew out to Australia.
“It’s tough. I’ve been doing it for several years now and back-to-back tournaments, it’s hard.
“When you are playing every single minute for your club too and that is the demands of the game now, you can see how competitive it is getting, the games are getting harder and harder to win.”
A group stage was introduced to the women’s Champions League for the first time in 2021, while there are two domestic cup competitions on top of the Women’s Super League in England.
At international level, the Women’s World Cup has doubled in size from 16 teams in 2011 — this year’s tournament, starting on July 20, is the first-ever 32-team event.
“It’s everyone coming together to make sure the schedule works,” said Bright. “It doesn’t matter what club you play for, what country you represent. We care for the game, we care for the next generation coming through.
“We don’t want to see this amount of injuries. The conversation will never die until we see some change.”
– Research call –
The spate of ACL injuries has increased calls for more research into how training programmes, footwear, pitches and facilities can be tailored to the needs of female players.
The problem is not unique to football — ACL injuries have long been a talking point in women’s basketball in the United States.
Scottish surgeon Gordon Mackay, a former player himself, told AFP that women footballers were up to six times more likely to suffer ACL injuries due to factors such as pelvic shape and hormonal changes related to the menstrual cycle.
But Bright believes there are also more simple changes that can help.
A recent study from the European Club Association revealed that 82 percent of women players at top European clubs said their performance was affected by uncomfortable boots.
“From a female perspective it’s different, the body is very different to the male (body) so there needs to be research,” said Bright.
“For me it’s more than just one factor. It’s facilities, pitches, the amount of game we’re playing. The amount of rest we get is absolutely critical.
“It’s just everything together, all elements need to align. We want to put on the best show of football but we can only do that if you are fully recovered.
“If you are fatigued you will pick up injuries because it’s just impossible to keep going.”