With the Festive season approaching the volume of live football shown on our screens tends to ramp up even further (if that is possible!). The hectic fixture list in the Premier League means clubs play seven games in just under four weeks.That's nearly 20% of the entire season squeezed into roughly 25 days. This schedule also coincides with the re-opening of the January transfer window and all of the drama attached.
While most football fans are aware of this, spare a thought for the those currently out of work in the League of Ireland.
The Professional Footballers Association of Ireland (PFAI) "is the sole representative organisation for all professional and semi-professional players playing in the FAI League of Ireland". In it's own words the association's mission is about "ensuring that its members are afforded the opportunity to develop their full potential in a professional and supportive environment...[and] aims to assist its members who are disengaged in seeking employment".
Sadly, unemployment is a predicament almost all players playing in the League of Ireland face on an annual basis. This is compounded by the fact contracts for the vast majority expire in the weeks before Christmas. The PFAI lists its members seeking employment on its website (full transfer list here).
Of the 106 players listed, 75 were last connected to a Premier Division club, while the remaining 31 were signed to a First Division team. The breakdown by position is as one might expect. Teams tend to field between 3 and 5 defenders and midfielders each, depending on tactics. These are the most represented on the list with 32 Defenders and 43 Midfielders searching for employment. Forwards make up 19 player on the list, while 13 Goalkeepers are currently seeking work.
I have previously argued that the League should reconsider the open-system (promotion and relegation) currently in place. Failure is punished which does little to bring stability to the League as a whole. An examination of player releases this season in the Premier League supports this view. The scatter plot below illustrates the relationship between league points (y-axis) and players released (x-axis).
This comes as no surprise to me. Relegation often brings with it large scale adjustment and downsizing. This can occur in both the size of the playing squad and the total wage bill. Usually it is both. Drogheda's failure during the 2017 campaign will no doubt have serious implications for the 2018 season. Unless the players released are recontracted, the club could start the new season with effectively a different squad of players.
Such instability is not good for the club or the league, and can damage the relationship with fans as they find it difficult to identify with a team that is in a constant state of flux.