PFA chief claims England 'need to protect' Jude Bellingham after revealing the shocking statistics behind the Real Madrid star's career... and insists player welfare needs to be considered for the 'quality' of the sport

Jude Bellingham put in a beleaguered display in England's draw with Denmark There are fears that the Real Madrid star, who is just 21, is suffering from burnout LISTEN to It's All Kicking Off! Why Harry Kane is NOT the problem for England 

A few hours will pass before Jude Bellingham puts in a weary-looking performance in an optimism-sapping draw with Denmark but in a hotel across Frankfurt Maheta Molango is already using the England midfielder to prove a point that footballers play too many games.

‘By the age of 21, David Beckham had played 3,929 competitive minutes,’ the PFA chief tells Mail Sport. ‘Bellingham had played 18,486 before the tournament began and he isn’t 21 until the end of the month. It’s almost five times as much.’

Molango, here for talks with various officials after the PFA went legal on FIFA over an ‘overloaded and unworkable calendar’, continues. ‘Jude is football,’ he says.

‘You get a Jude Bellingham once every generation. You need to protect him. You need to give him a chance. I want to see him for another 10 to 15 years. If we don’t protect him we are going to lose him and we need people like him. People who make us dream. We need them. We need to protect the stars of the show.’

Molango is armed with a new, scientifically-backed report by global union FIFPRO into the heavy toll extra games are taking on the planet’s finest. Bellingham, who will make his 50th appearance of the season should he play in England’s final group game against Slovenia on Tuesday, is it's cover star.

There are fears that stars such as Jude Bellingham could suffer from burnout in their career

There are fears that stars such as Jude Bellingham could suffer from burnout in their career

The 20-year-old has already played a staggering amount of minutes during his short career

The 20-year-old has already played a staggering amount of minutes during his short career

Podcast All episodes
  • Is Kane doing enough for 'chaotically, pathetically bad England?'
    Is Kane doing enough for 'chaotically, pathetically bad England?'
  • LISTEN: What Jude Bellingham must do to elevate his game
    LISTEN: What Jude Bellingham must do to elevate his game
  • LISTEN: It's All Kicking Off at the Euros. Get the latest action daily
    LISTEN: It's All Kicking Off at the Euros. Get the latest action daily
  • EPISODE 91: Can Manchester City cope without Pep Guardiola?
    EPISODE 91: Can Manchester City cope without Pep Guardiola?
  • EPISODE 90: How Manchester United CAN win crunch FA Cup clash
    EPISODE 90: How Manchester United CAN win crunch FA Cup clash
Play on Apple Spotify

Over 45 damning pages, the stats are alarming. Last season, Manchester City and Argentina’s Julian Alvarez was named in no fewer than 70 matchday squads. His compatriot, Tottenham’s Cristian Romero, travelled 86,451 miles.

As of late May, Bellingham’s Real Madrid teammate Vinicius Junior had made close to 350 appearances at an average of 49 per season. That figure is more than double the amount recorded by Ronaldinho by the same age (Vinicius turns 24 next month).

The uplift in games comes as the result of an already bursting calendar - but when FIFA announced it would be expanding the Club World Cup to 32 teams, including 12 from Europe (Manchester City and Chelsea from the Premier League), and running it from June 13 to July 15 in the United States next summer - Molango decided that enough was enough.

LISTEN NOW

EXCLUSIVE

EUROS DAILY: Is Kane doing enough for 'chaotically, pathetically bad England?'

article image

‘It was the straw that broke the camel’s back,’ he explains. ‘Next season a club like City could play as many as 86 games.’

The PFA joined their French counterparts in the legal action and will be represented by Dupont-Hissel, whose lawyer Jean-Louis Dupont won the Bosman ruling, allowing players to leave clubs on free transfers, in 1995. ‘Our case is around the European charter of human rights,’ Molango, himself a qualified lawyer, explains.

‘It speaks about the right to holiday, like any other employee. The right not to be obliged to forced labour, the right to collective bargain. A footballer is an employee like any other employee, and a person who should be able to expect to get some time off.’

Should they win, Molango believes it will be ‘seismic’ for the governance and dilute the power of those in charge. ‘Going forward is going to be about the employers and the employees. UEFA and FIFA would be out of the equation,’ he explains.

‘They organise the competition. That’s it.’ It could also put an end to the likes of Newcastle and Tottenham jetting 12,000 miles to Australia on a lucrative end of season schlep. ‘There needs to be a protected summer break,’ he says.

National team-mates Julian Alvarez (left) and Cristian Romero (right) are two players who have suffered from football's congested schedule

National team-mates Julian Alvarez (left) and Cristian Romero (right) are two players who have suffered from football's congested schedule

PFA chief Maheta Molango is concerned about the 'quality' of the sport given current demands

PFA chief Maheta Molango is concerned about the 'quality' of the sport given current demands

‘The science says there needs to be at least three or four weeks of no football. So no post-season tours. No confederation tournament. And no FIFA tournament for a month. Then we say a maximum number of back-to-backs. By that I mean weekend, weekday, weekend, weekday. We have players playing nine or 10 in a row. The science talks about a maximum six back-to-backs. And then the maximum number of games, based on age.’

The risk should they lose, Molango believes, is that the Bellinghams burn out. That those brilliant flames are extinguished prematurely. But while his primary concern as head of a trade union is the wellbeing of his members, he believes the issue goes beyond that. ‘It’s no longer a question of welfare,’ the 41-year-old explains. ‘It’s the quality of the show. Most fans acknowledge they are not seeing the best version of the players on the pitch. They are overworked mentally and physically.’

Molango feels the issue goes beyond the wellbeing of his members. ‘Forget for a second about player welfare, because it seems that people don’t care,’ he says. But even if you simply look at the business side of it, we need to rediscover the value of scarcity. We only look at the US when it suits us. Look at the NFL. They play 17 games but they make £10bn a year. We play 38 and make £4bn. So surely we must be doing something wrong? Less is more. It’s not just player welfare. We kill the game. I love football but I am saturated.’

A lot of England's stars looked beleaguered throughout their clash with Denmark on Thursday

A lot of England's stars looked beleaguered throughout their clash with Denmark on Thursday

Many who watched England labour on Frankfurt’s pudding of a pitch will have noted how a number of those in white shirts collapsed to the divots at the final whistle. But Molango believes the cliff edge actually arrives later in the year. ‘People don’t have a pre-season and they pick up injuries,’ he predicts. ‘You see a drop in November and you put it down to a loss of form but it’s actually a consequence. The problem is the accumulation. And it’s not per competition – that’s how they get away with it.’

There will be critics who claim Molango and the PFA are getting worked up about nothing. About a situation that will effect around 46 players from a total of 55,000 members every four years.

‘It’s a misunderstanding of what our membership represents,’ he responds. ‘First the calendar is not just a problem for a few, the elite. In England the decision to scrap the replays is a direct consequence of UEFA adding two games to the Champions League. Fact. Don’t be mislead. The decisions that UEFA and FIFA take end up putting pressure on the domestic calendar. My former clubs, Oldham, Lincoln, Wrexham those are the ones paying the price for the additional games in the Champions League.’

Molango insists 'there needs to be at least three or four weeks of no football' to help players

Molango insists 'there needs to be at least three or four weeks of no football' to help players

It is a valid point. As is his next one. ‘When FIFA say it’s only 1 per cent of games – of course they do because those players are not their ‘assets’. They belong to the clubs. You should be grateful that the clubs allow you to use their ‘asset’. It’s a free ride. You are using someone else’s asset for free. So be thankful for that.

'FIFA has decided to get themselves involved and do something that they knew would be a problem because they got involved in club business. Nobody told them to get involved in club business. The minute they get involved in club business you are going to have problems because you will annoy clubs, annoy leagues, you will annoy people.’

Back in January 2022, FIFA president Gianni Infantino flew to Manchester to talk to Molango, Paul Pogba, Steph Houghton and Juan Mata, among others, after a group which also included Harry Kane and Declan Rice wrote a letter urging a rethink on workloads.

For Molango, the time for talking is now over. ‘We feel we have exhausted all diplomatic avenues,’ he argues. ‘Not only has it not got better, it has got worse.’ Before he leaves for a match that will provide more evidence for his cause he stops to makes his point again. ‘We play too much,’ he says.

OTHER NEWS

1 hour ago

Video: Derek Chisora kissed his opponent, wound up the Klitschkos and threatened to SHOOT David Haye! - the controversial heavyweight's most chaotic moments outside the ring after he headbutted a Deliveroo driver

1 hour ago

World champion bodybuilder fronts court after allegedly being busted with millions of dollars in illegal steroids

1 hour ago

Princess Beatrice and Edoardo Mapelli Mozzi share a kiss in unseen photograph from their wedding - as they celebrate four years of marriage

1 hour ago

New Balance's sale includes discounts on trainers with up to 50% off - including popular 327 and 550 styles (plus, save an extra 30% with our code)

1 hour ago

Toyah Cordingley murder trial delayed

1 hour ago

Chelsea to finish top four, Crystal Palace to finish in the top half and Leeds to win the league valued at 18/1 - as the Premier League and Championship kick off next month

1 hour ago

Man United and Liverpool 'set to battle it out to sign France star on a free transfer'... as Red Devils look to beat their arch-rivals to another target after landing £52m Leny Yoro

1 hour ago

What the 9 human cases of bird flu in the U.S. so far tell us about the disease

1 hour ago

UK pay growth slows but likely still too high for Bank of England to keep lid on inflation

1 hour ago

Michelin-rated restaurant fights back against online blackmailers

1 hour ago

India taking 'baby steps' to get involved in semiconductor value chain: Goldman Sachs

1 hour ago

Indianapolis Turning Point: Reddick set to steal regular-season title? What to expect in Indy return?

1 hour ago

This is what it's like to party in a country on the brink of war

1 hour ago

Oil and gas regulator rejects reports of govt meddling in North Sea drilling applications

1 hour ago

Refused to give up first-class seat to child: Online debate erupts

1 hour ago

Six NFL Quarterbacks Taken In The UFL Draft On Wednesday

1 hour ago

German coalition approves controversial 2025 budget to boost economy

1 hour ago

Shady's back: Eminem to perform at Abu Dhabi F1 after-race concert

1 hour ago

I’ve placed a big bet on this forgotten FTSE 100 share and think I’m onto a winner

1 hour ago

Motor racing-Magnussen to vacate Haas F1 seat at end of season

1 hour ago

North Korean Defector to Lead South Korea's Unification Council

1 hour ago

New Minister wants to form a state-owned water company

1 hour ago

Manipur Govt launches re-verification drive to curb illegal immigration from Myanmar

1 hour ago

Revealed: The coronavirus outbreak plan ignored by the government during the pandemic

1 hour ago

Mystery buyer sets record for most spent at dinosaur auction

1 hour ago

Charlize Theron explains The Old Guard 2 release delay

1 hour ago

Man Utd's stance on Matthijs de Ligt transfer emerges after medical completed

1 hour ago

EU’s von der Leyen vows to fight for democratic, ‘strong’ Europe in bid for second term

1 hour ago

Wage growth falls back further but continues to outstrip inflation

1 hour ago

Joe Biden walks slowly off Air Force One after testing positive for Covid

1 hour ago

Nawazuddin Siddiqui admits he did Rajinikanth’s Petta only for the money, says he feels ‘guilty’ for ‘cheating’ in his performance: ‘Itna saara paisa…’

1 hour ago

Weather damage estimated to be in excess of R1bn as next storm hits today

1 hour ago

Huge sale in Dubai: Amazon's Prime Day is underway

1 hour ago

Here’s how the repo rate impacts your pocket

1 hour ago

Former Secret Service agent says Trump would-be assassin Thomas Crooks scouted rally spot in advance

1 hour ago

Bellingham ‘set up’ by senior England players who were ‘happy’ Real Madrid star took media ‘flak’

1 hour ago

Is this the anti-ageing elixir we've all been waiting for? Scientists reveal whether it could REALLY slow human aging too - as 'supermodel granny' drug that extends lifespan of mice by 25% is created

1 hour ago

China investigators suspect construction work caused fire that killed 16 people in shopping mall

1 hour ago

Vietnam's President To Lam becomes caretaker of Communist Party while chief Trong focuses on health

1 hour ago

Real Madrid fans will 'be made to wait for Kylian Mbappe's debut', with club's new superstar signing set to MISS their pre-season tour of the US

ALONGWALKER VIETNAM: Kênh khám phá trải nghiệm của giới trẻ, thế giới du lịch ALONGWALKER INDONESIA: Saluran untuk mengeksplorasi pengalaman para pemuda global