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Sunday, April 14, 2024

Researcher’s guide to make footballers play better during Ramadan

The riddle of whether a footballer who fasts plays better or not, is closer to being solved, because of the work of a British-Asian researcher. Dr Ibrahim Akubat, 38 has produced a guide for football clubs to help them get the best out of their players during the month of Ramadan.

The father of one from Blackburn told the Asian Standard that his Guide produced in tandem with the Professional Footballers Association was not just focused on the fasting during a day, which some players go through, but everything else that goes with Ramadan.

“So we factor in things such as thinking about rest and fuelling and rehydrating during eating hours. What are the best and most efficient ways for clubs to facilitate this for players, that’s one of the things we feel can help.”

But Akubat’s work is only the start. He admits that conclusive research which shows whether fasting prohibits the performance of a player or indeed elevates it because of what some say are improved focus and spiritual highs is not yet available.

The debate has taken on an extra urgency as a result of the French Football Federations decision to ban it’s players from observing Ramadan fasts.  Eric Borghini the head of the FFF cited the principle of secularism to explain the decision. “The idea is that there is a time for everything: a time to play sports, a time to practice one’s religion.” One player who is reported to have fallen foul of the rules is under 19 player Mahamadou Diawara, who left the French camp as a result of the ban on fasting for Muslim players.

The impact on youth players is a major concern for Akubat given the experiences he cites and is aware of over the years. “Young players who are trying to make it in the game might not want to cause a fuss so they won’t make anyone aware that they are fasting which can be a safeguarding issue.”

“I know of a player whose parents spent an entire Ramadan in an Air BnB close to where he was staying so they could bring him his Suhoor (pre-dawn meal) porridge, because his club were not aware of his fasting.”

Akubat also cites other examples of managers or football coaches who have taken a sceptical attitude towards their players who observe fasting during Ramadan. No less than Jose Mourinho the former, Chelsea, Manchester United, Real Madrid and Inter Milan manager. In 2009 whilst managing the then Italian Champions, the Portuguese coach said that his Ghanian midfielder Sulli Muntari had possibly lacked energy in their 1-1 draw with Bari because he was fasting.

The point was raised again last weekend by a Liverpool football fan by the name of Nadeem, who responded to his team’s 4-3 defeat to Manchester United with the claim that star striker Mohammed Salah was impacted because of fasting. It is not known whether the Liverpool striker who scored his team’s second goal in the match was  fasting, however the commentators assertion that Salah had allowed a player to run past him without challenge raised suspicion amongst many fans. Nadeem made his point in a call to the BBC Radio 5 live post match football phone-in with ex-professional’s Robbie Savage and Chris Sutton.

Front cover of guide for footballers and clubs in Ramadan

The F.A. cup quarter final played between the two sides was high on intensity and action providing innumerable talking points. Manchester United’s hero Amid Diallo who scored in the final minute to break Liverpool hearts revealed in an interview post-match that he was fasting during the game. “I do it for God” said Diallo who came on as a substitute and was like an energizer bunny, giving his team a much needed boost as they attempted to come back into the game. When asked in the post-match interview, how difficult it was for him during Ramadan, Diallo acknowledged that it wasn’t easy but he wanted to fight for his team when he was on the pitch.

Akubat cites the example of Karim Benzema the former Real Madrid striker who scored three hat-tricks in the month of Ramadan to show the possible benefits of fasting. Such anecdotal examples are cited by those who wish to emphasise the benefits of fasting yet the real hard evidence is to come. Akubat’s work is looking to unearth the hard facts by delving into the multitudes of data which clubs have on their players and their fluctuating performance during games. Monitoring data on players within the game, and outside the game when fasting is a task he hopes to complete before Ramadan next year.

“My inkling says that the top players are not overly affected, and they would benefit by small adjustments in training schedules etc.”

“But the research will hopefully help the game at all levels and allow clubs and players to plan in advance months before Ramadan so they can get the best from their players.”

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