Background: The influence of injuries on team performance in football has only been scarcely investigated.
Aim: To study the association between injury rates and team performance in the domestic league play, and in European cups, in male professional football.
Methods: 24 football teams from nine European countries were followed prospectively for 11 seasons (2001-2012), including 155 team-seasons. Individual training and match exposure and time-loss injuries were registered. To analyse the effect of injury rates on performance, a Generalised Estimating Equation was used to fit a linear regression on team-level data. Each team's season injury rate and performance were evaluated using its own preceding season data for comparison in the analyses.
Results: 7792 injuries were reported during 1 026 104 exposure hours. The total injury incidence was 7.7 injuries/1000 h, injury burden 130 injury days lost/1000 h and player match availability 86%. Lower injury burden (p=0.011) and higher match availability (p=0.031) were associated with higher final league ranking. Similarly, lower injury incidence (p=0.035), lower injury burden (p<0.001) and higher match availability (p<0.001) were associated with increased points per league match. Finally, lower injury burden (p=0.043) and higher match availability (p=0.048) were associated with an increase in the Union of European Football Association (UEFA) Season Club Coefficient, reflecting success in the UEFA Champions League or Europa League.
Conclusions: Injuries had a significant influence on performance in the league play and in European cups in male professional football. The findings stress the importance of injury prevention to increase a team's chances of success.
Keywords: Elite performance; Epidemiology; Injury Prevention; Soccer; Sporting injuries.