Is Soccer Getting Faster?

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Scientific studies has found that today’s football players are faster than those of even a decade ago, and significantly so compared to those in earlier eras.

There is also a trend for a lot of goals being scored in the final 15 minutes of games as physical and mental resources start to become depleted.

And with the advent of pressing styles of football, even the fittest players can run out of energy in the second half of games, with research indicating that there is often a lot to be gained by making substitutes at the right time during games.

Top footballers make a lot of repeat, short sprints, and, whilst they may not be able to match a top 100 meter runner over the full distance, they could give them a run for their money over part of the way.

An example, in point, is striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. Back in 2013 when he was Borussia Dortmund, he achieved 3.7 seconds for a 30 metre sprint. Compare that to Usain Bolt’s world record for the 100 metres set in Berlin in 2009, and over the same distance, Bolt was fractionally slower.

In terms of the fastest players in the world, the man who currently holds the record is Bayern Munich Alphonso Davies, who in one league match two years ago was clocked at 36.51 kmph (11.686 mph).

Little wonder that he has acquired the nickname “The Roadrunner.”

Whilst modern methods of determining playing performance were not available in earlier eras – there were no fit-bits, heart monitors, body vests, or any of the other tools that feed into statistical driven analysis used by many clubs nowadays – the reasons for this can clearly be understood.

In the first place, the quality of pitches has significantly improved from what they used to be at all levels of the game, with the use, in some cases, of artificial pitches, and also more understanding about the science between grass preparation and maintenance.

No longer having to cope with the mud heaps that were typical, even at some of the biggest clubs, players are able to move about the pitch without getting bogged down.

At the same time there have been significant advances in nutrition and diet, so that the modern day player is fitter and able to sprint faster than their yesteryear contemporaries. Again, modern training methods and the employment of sports scientists mean that there is much more attention paid to facets of the game like sprinting technique and ability. 

At the same time, the way that the modern game has evolved has led to a change in the body shapes of the average footballer. In the 1970s and 1980s, most players had a muscular build, but that is giving way to a more lean, slender body type, which lends itself to speed on the ground.

One characteristic of many modern games is that intensity levels may actually have dropped since the turn of the century. This has been replaced by a lot of high intensity sprints, followed by lulls where players take a rest.