STRICTLY speaking, Premier League footballers aren’t supposed to be tucking into the turkey too much come Christmas Day, nor is there the option to go overboard on the wine. In many respects, the ‘merry’ is often taken out of the Christmas for the stars of England’s top flight tier, who no doubt receive the very best of Christmas wishes from their managers through reminders of the annual ‘Boxing-Day’ rules.
Boxing-day fixtures have always been a long tradition for most football families during the festive period in the English League, which, unlike most European countries, does not include a winter break half-way through the season. Commentators are quick to praise the Barclays Premier League as one of the best, most intense leagues in the world. The first is debatable, the latter, when scrutinizing the consistent run of games, is practically true. Of the 38 matches that each team plays, the Christmas period is usually a hectic schedule and a long run of games in quick succession means that it’s more likely for players to pick up injuries due to reduced recovery time. On December 28 last year, only two days following the Boxing Day fixtures, the Premier League had another complete schedule of match. Two thirds of these games consisted of just two goals or less, including two 0-0 draws, a 1-1, and a 1-0 result. It’s easy for fans to complain about the ever-rising price to watch football, but are they really getting their money’s worth if all they’re paying to see are tired legs running around a pitch due to lack of recovery time between each game?
There is, of course, the counter-argument. Premier League footballers are some of the best paid in the global game and with their swollen weekly wages, perhaps they don’t deserve to hang up their boots temporarily over the holiday season and overindulge in those Christmas trimmings. The current set-up of the Premier League allows players to maintain their fitness levels which ultimately makes England’s league stand out against others in Europe as opposed to letting its reputation fall. This is all before considering how the Premier League finishes in early May and players have the chance to enjoy a long summer break before jetting off abroad somewhere to ease into a pre-season training camp. Per Mertesacker, who, since moving to Arsenal from the Bundesliga, has embraced not having a winter break, admitting that although it was initially mentally tough, the continuity of the Premier League throughout the winter season keeps him sharp and in the correct mind-set for playing football.
Yet, if we are to scrutinize the performances of England’s top clubs in a wider, European context, the cracks start to show. Not a single English team has reached the Champions League quarter-finals for the second time in three years, which only reinforces the reality that finding the right balance when playing in a domestic league is imperative for any club wanting to break into the last eight of the competition if they are to challenge the Barcelona and Bayern big boys. And when you take into account the five week winter break that the German Bundesliga has and then ask yourself why current world champions Germany are traditionally notorious for performing well at major tournaments, it’s all too easy to see why a break mid-way through the season wouldn’t be so bad for Roy Hodgson’s players. After England’s premature World Cup exit in 2014, Germany’s Thomas Muller was quick to sympathise with his Premier League counterparts, as well as commenting that England’s players always seem to lack fresh legs at World Cup tournaments. Interestingly, the Portuguese league runs continuously over the winter season too. Surely it’s not just a coincidence that this team, even with three times winner of the FIFA Balon d’Or, Cristiano Ronaldo, have continuously endured a barren run of world cup success?
The FA Cup must get a mention too. Too often do we hear managers, players and fans complaining about how the ‘magic’ of Britain’s finest domestic tournament has continued to lose its spark. Arsene Wenger for one has been heavily criticised in recent years for not selecting his strongest first eleven in FA cup ties, even when having to face Premier League sides.
However, with the increasingly impatient culture of managerial dismissals and the growing competitiveness and openness of the Premier League (this year has got to be one of the most unpredictable) it’s not surprising that the FA Cup has slumped into the background and has become increasingly overlooked. So, if there was to be even a four week break from mid-December – around about now – until mid-January, surely would this not help reignite the FA Cup flame that everyone lauds about when the odd ‘upset’ happens?
The idea of introducing a winter break into the Premier League is something that has long been discussed by football pundits, managers and players alike in the modern game. Some people say it’s wrong to question the structure of English football and second it to other European leagues. Some people say comparing is wrong in general because it highlights weaknesses and simply reduces variety.
But in the case of the Premier League, maybe, just maybe, such comparing may be for the greater good.
Featured image: The Guardian