When August comes round as a football fan the excitement really starts to build, despite whatever has happened in the transfer market, international tournaments or pre-season friendlies, nothing beats the start of a new season. But this August, for some, is going to be particularly difficult both mentally and physically. If I listed players such as Franck Ribery, Nicolas Anelka, Yaya and Kolo Toure, Karim Benzema, Samir Nasri, Mesut Ozil or Edin Dzeko you would be forgiven for thinking I was selecting my Champions League fantasy football team, but I am not.
The players listed are just a few of the current football stars who are Muslim and, if active, this week will be at the start of the Islamic festival of Ramadan. This year Ramadan coincides with the end of pre-season and the start of the Premier League and Football League seasons, running throughout the month of August, leading in to important European qualifiers at the start of September. For those that are practicing Muslim’s they will be expected to follow the rules of Ramadan religiously and this could have an adverse affects when it comes to their performance in training and on a football pitch.
For those of you that don’t know what Ramadan is about, here is some knowledge; ‘Ramadan is a time of spiritual reflection and worship. Muslims are expected to put more effort into following the teachings of Islam and to avoid obscene and irreligious sights and sounds… Purity of both thoughts and actions is important. The act of fasting is said to redirect the heart away from worldly activities, its purpose being to cleanse the inner soul and free it from harm. It also teaches Muslims to practice self-discipline, self-control, sacrifice, and empathy for those who are less fortunate; thus encouraging actions of generosity and charity.’
In relation to physical demands for footballers the biggest affect of Ramadan is fasting. At its most basic level the rules are no food or drink of any kind during daylight hours. Now August in England is not always the summer we are always optimistically expecting, but the weather is hot enough at the moment and fluid intake has extra significance at this time of year. Some of the Premier League’s top players, such as Yaya Toure and Nicolas Anelka, will be expected to perform to their usual high levels, despite being unable to take on fluids readily and keep dehydration at bay.
It is the same situation for the bodies other fuel, food. Eating is also only allowed between sunset and sunrise, so a footballer’s body clock will be seriously out of sync from their usual diet plan. Club dietitians will have to specially adapt any diet regime to fit the guidelines of the fast. The times a player eats and what players eat and drink is a precise art form nowadays to give all players the best chance of top performance. Today’s Premier League takes no prisoners and now demands a player is well fuelled and at the peak of physical condition to compete. Muslim players will be following the rules of Ramadan strictly, despite the fact it could affect performance. So this means no food or fluids before training, no pasta or lucozade to give you that energy boost pre-match or to recover from training or match situations.
Oral restrictions will take their toll on players; they are not allowed to secrete any fluid from their mouths, so no spitting allowed chaps. Not only that but what comes out of their mouths is important in relation to what they say, there shouldn’t be any swearing and players are supposed to stay as calm and peaceful as possible at all times, so no two-footers or arguing with Referee’s either. During Ramadan you cannot vomit nor have blood in your mouth, so players may have to go a bit easier in training and match situations than normal. If a player is injured there is also restriction on how they are treated, obviously no fluids to be taken on board, but this also means no type of pain killer or other drug to be taken orally. A player could have spray treatments on external skin but that is about it. If a player is in need of an operation, unless life threatening, it wouldn’t take place until after daylight hours or ideally after the festival has finished.
As well as performance levels in matches and training, this Islamic festival could also affect transfers. For example, Muslim players like Samir Nasri, Ibrahim Afellay, Lassana Diarra, Karim Benzema have all been linked with moves away from their current clubs this summer, however with the demands of Ramadan, things such as medicals, can be affected. During daylight hours nothing can enter the body or be taken from the body, so blood tests could only happen until after sunset. Also contract negotiations, whereby a player is due to earn substantial amounts of money, is in opposition to the principles of Ramadan.
Muslim’s are expected to take the period of Ramadan as seriously as possible, therefore they are expected to pray 5 times daily at 4am, 1.30pm, 7pm, 9pm and10.30pm – if a game is on this will have the reverse affect as players will have to pray after playing times, meaning football encroaches on them practicing their religion. The times of prayer can lead to tiredness, especially when you think of the lack of energy in the body. Mentally the regime, combined with the physical demands can have a big affect on where a players head is at, that can lead to a decrease in performance levels.
With many of our Premier League stars, such as Marouane Fellaini, Hatem Ben Arfa, Maouane Chamakh, Bacary Sagna, Abou Diaby, plus those already mentioned and others, being Muslim, August could be a tough month for both player and club. Let’s hope they can keep performance levels high or a few clubs could be facing an uphill struggle before the season has even begun.