Michael Pavitt

The final whistle of today's match between Barcelona and Athletic Club may come as something of a relief to Pedri, as the Spanish youngster completes a marathon run of matches.

The game marks the 18-year-old’s 55th appearance for Barcelona since joining the La Liga giants last summer.

This summer saw Pedri feature in every minute of Spain’s run to the semi-finals of the delayed Euro 2020 tournament, where Spain suffered a penalty shootout loss to eventual champions Italy.

Pedri’s subsequent participation at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics saw him rewarded with a silver medal after a 2-1 extra-time loss to Brazil. The teenager featured in all of Spain’s six matches at the tournament, with the 74 minutes he clocked up in the final fixture of the group stage representing his shortest time on the field at the Olympics.

Just eight days on Pedri completed the full 90 minutes of Barcelona’s opening match of the new season, prompting social media users to continue insert random high numbers and declare it to be the number he had played over the past 12 months.

The actual figure will be 76 since signing for Barcelona last year, and making his debut in September, should Pedri feature in today's match.

While comments have been made jovially, football fans have been making a serious point about whether it is appropriate to play that number of matches in such a short space of time. Particularly when a potentially long career remains ahead of the teenager who - judging from the sheer number of matches - will be vital to Barcelona’s post-Lionel Messi era and Spain’s national team.

Barcelona manager Ronald Koeman, who criticised Pedri’s inclusion at the Olympics, has now confirmed the midfielder is set to have a two-week break to allow him a chance to recover.

Pedri is set to play his 76th match since joining Barcelona last summer ©Getty Images
Pedri is set to play his 76th match since joining Barcelona last summer ©Getty Images

"We have been thinking for a while about what is best for Pedri," Koeman said before the match against Athletic Club. "We have taken this decision because we don't want to get to the November and December and have injury problems.

"It's impossible to sustain the amount of games he has played this season and two tournaments in the summer. He needs a rest, at least two weeks."

Koeman added that the break could be prolonged should Spanish national coach Luis Enrique opt not to call Pedri up for September's three World Cup qualifiers. The requests for Luis Enrique could be piling up, with five of the players who started the Barcelona and Real Sociedad match last week having featured in the Olympic final eight days earlier for Spain.

Spanish defender Pau Torres is another player currently on a break, which began after he played the full 120 minutes of Villarreal’s loss on penalties to Chelsea in the UEFA Super Cup. Torres played in four consecutive matches which went to extra time in a 12-day period at the start of this month, with the Super Cup and the Olympics following participation at the European Championship after a full domestic campaign which concluded in winning the Europa League.

Brazil’s Richarlison has similarly begun a new domestic season with Everton after back-to-back summer tournaments, which ended with Olympic gold and a final defeat at the Copa America.

FIFA’s own website labelled Richarlison’s schedule as "insane" earlier this month, as it charted his recent schedule in a timeline.

Richarlison has begun the domestic season after back-to-back summer tournaments ©Getty Images
Richarlison has begun the domestic season after back-to-back summer tournaments ©Getty Images

Despite the extra demands on players caused by the pandemic and concerns over their long-term welfare, the football schedule seems to be becoming even more demanding.

FIFA has pushed for the launch of an expanded Club World Cup featuring 24 teams, with the COVID-19 pandemic forcing the governing body to delay its plans.

A feasibility study for the men’s FIFA World Cup to be held every two years was given the green light by FIFA in May after a proposal by the Saudi Arabian Football Federation. The motion to hold the study received 166 votes in favour and just 22 against at the FIFA Congress.

While Saudi Arabia was said to have been behind the move, some have suspected that FIFA President Gianni Infantino is the driving force behind such an idea as the governing body seeks to cash in on holding its most lucrative competition more frequently.

Infantino last year claimed it was time to "sit down and debate" the calendar, outlining his aim to "protect national teams" and ensure the global game benefits from changes.

As highlighted this week, several players to have participated in the FIFA Legends circuit have declared their support for World Cups being held every two years, including Yaya Toure and Javier Mascherano.

Former England footballer Michael Owen was another to weigh up a biennial World Cup, with results of his Twitter poll showing general opposition.

FIFA certainly would benefit from more regular staging of the World Cup, although it is unclear who else would.

The tournament itself could suffer with the prestige devalued, while continental events would have lesser importance and would surely need to be shifted outside of their traditional slots in the calendar.

Least of all the current players.

While former players may be in support of even more football, perhaps the game’s current stars should be placed at the forefront of the conversation. While FIFA has promoted its scrapping of the Confederations Cup as a way to reduce players' workloads, I suspect the tournament was nothing like as lucrative as another World Cup would be.

The sport will have to have some serious conversations about how it manages the schedules of top stars, which should be a priority.

A bad outcome would be that the world and continental governing bodies could push to protect their own interests and competitions when discussing the future global calendar for the sport. Should an impasse lead to the current schedule being maintained or worse bloated further by additional competitions, the strain would be felt by the players and the coaches who have to manage the health of the stars they put onto the field.