Brace yourselves – the long-awaited winter break could be hitting English shores.
With the new Premier League TV deal set to be announced soon, we could be getting a winter break.
I have long been an advocate of having a winter break in this country, so it was eye-opening to discover a surprising amount of opposition to the idea.
It seems that not having Premier League football to watch, even for only two weeks, is something people are not prepared to accept.
One of the unique things about English football is that it’s non-stop from September to May. When Spain, Italy, Germany, France and the rest of Europe and taking weeks off over Christmas, English football is still hard at work. In fact, they work even harder by playing anything between 10-15 games from the beginning of December to the end of January.
Even Arsene Wenger, who has long bemoaned the hectic winter schedule, would be upset if a break was introduced. He said: “I would cry if you changed that because it’s part of English tradition and English football. It’s a very important part of us being popular in the world, that nobody works at Christmas and everybody watches the Premier League.”
Indeed, the appeal of the winter schedule is that our time off from work and education can be spent watching the football.
On the rare occasions Arsenal are on the TV on Boxing Day, I would often watch it with my father and brother, as it’s one of the few times we’re all available to gather together and watch.
So from that perspective, I can certainly understand why some are reluctant to see a break implemented.
At the same time, I also want to see good games of football, and the only way to see that is if the players are fit and healthy.
The big benefit of a winter break is that it allows players to recover from fatigue and decreases the chance of injury in the second half of the season.
What we see now in England is players either playing through injury, being unavailable because of injury or playing at 10% less than their maximum to prevent injury.
You could argue that clubs should have deep enough squads to cope but having to make several changes because there’s no time for rest between games disrupts the balance of the teams.
All of this contributes to the quality of football declining over the winter.
You get games which remain 0-0 for a long time because the players can’t muster up the energy to attack for long periods. You see more errors from tired players. Most importantly, you see more disruptions caused by soft-tissue muscle injuries, which means players won’t be available for the first few weeks of the new year.
Consideration must be given to the mental side of football as well. It is mentally exhausting for the players to get though such packed, high-pressure schedules. Even elite players such as Kevin De Bruyne start to feel it. “You feel great for 10 games, then you feel OK for 10 games and then the rest you feel like shit,” he recently told the Guardian.
Whether you’re a neutral or a City fan, you don’t want players like De Bruyne unable to perform at his best because of fatigue. Players may be fitter now, but there are also greater physical demands to contend with.
If a break is to be introduced, it looks like it’ll be in January. This is a good compromise, as it means we can still have games on Boxing Day and New Year’s Day, and then have a two-week period to recover from that. At which point, teams may even be more willing to play stronger sides in the FA Cup third round.
On a personal note, the break would give me and many other fans a chance to recharge.
I’ve found myself being burnt out by the sheer amount of coverage football gets. From games every day, to the post-match reaction, the endless analysis of moments both significant and banal, the transfer rumours, and every other aspect you can think of – it wears me down. It’s an over-saturation of football.
If I could have the chance to step back from it all, take stock and go into the second half of the campaign with a clearer head, I’m all for it. And I think the players would be, too.