‘Tis the season to be playing

A mid-winter break in the English Premier League is not what the fans want, writes Jason Dasey.

Christmas football fans
No time to put your feet up: The festive period is a profitable time for clubs and administrators, not to mention a highlight for fans [GALLO/GETTY]

As sure as people will marvel over the Christmas tree this year, there’s bound to be a renewing of the debate about the merits of a mid-winter break.

The argument is that the Barclays Premier League needs to take a couple of weeks off to bring it into line with the Primera Division, Serie A and the Bundesliga. That way, players would be able to recharge their batteries for the second part of the season.

Personally, I think it’s a load of poppycock.

English Premier League squads of 25, plus youth team players, are more than big enough to handle the workload.

Rotation is increasingly in-vogue so managers can pick and choose who they need when matches come so thick and fast.

And let’s not forget that football is effectively part of the entertainment industry. These highly paid players need to be performing when the most fans are able to watch.

When you’re receiving up to $300,000 thousand a week, it’s not too much to ask, is it?

Festive spirit

There’s nothing like watching a top-flight match over the holiday period.

During my days of living in the London suburb of Shepherds Bush in the 1990s, I would walk to nearby Loftus Road to catch Queens Park Rangers in action on Boxing Day.

The festive spirit added to the atmosphere as fans converged on the stadium on a chilly December day. The often-cheerful mood was unlike any other game in the season.

It would be hard to imagine the Christmas-New Year period in the UK without football.

Former England winger and now Asian TV pundit Peter Barnes remembers that every Manchester City player would receive a free turkey from the club during his career. Usually they would have Christmas dinner with their families before joining the squad to prepare for the Boxing Day fixture.

In the 1970s, there was an even heavier schedule of games. And with squads of just 15 – and only one reserve allowed on match-days – players needed to be made of tougher stuff than today’s pampered breed. 

Former Liverpool defender Stephane Henchoz experienced both sides of the coin.

Before moving to the Premier League (initially with Blackburn), the Switzerland international had two seasons with Hamburg under notorious disciplinarian Felix Magath in the mid 90’s.

Although there was a winter’s break of more than a month, it was a long way from the relaxing R & R that a player might crave.

Instead, squads were expected to have another gruelling pre-season schedule – similar to what they went through in the summer – to ensure that they would be in tip-top shape for the resumption of hostilities. And with Magath in charge, this was something to dread.

Wayne Rooney: Unlikely to put his feet up this Christmas [GALLO/GETTY]

It’s been rightly said that the festive period can prove crucial in sorting out the men from the boys and deciding that season’s champions. But not always. Who can forget how Manchester United trailed leaders Newcastle United by 12 points in January 1996 after losing to Tottenham and drawing with Aston Villa only to ultimately catch Kevin Keegan’s men and take the title by two points?

And just last year, what about the way that Blackburn Rovers came to Old Trafford and conquered on December 31st 2011? Steve Kean got the better of Sir Alex Ferguson on his 70th birthday in a famous 3-2 victory yet Rovers ended up getting relegated, Kean lost his job and the Red Devils only missed out on winning their 20th title on goal difference.

To their credit, the Manchester United players didn’t use the excuse that they were tired after a busy December in which they competed both domestically and in the Champions League.

Options and opportunities

From a player’s perspective, the quick succession of games gives an immediate chance to redeem oneself, replacing a poor performance with a better one. It also offers fringe squad members an opportunity to force their way into regular starting positions.

For a few back-ups, it will be their first action since suiting up for the early rounds of the League Cup.

And for teams who don’t rotate players, there is the real risk of burnout just a few weeks later. Case in point: Tottenham Hotspur, who developed a habit of fizzling out over the past couple of seasons because of Harry Redknapp’s preference to stick with the same players.

New boss Andre Villas-Boas seems more sold on shuffling his deck to bring in fresh blood.

And speaking of Spurs, their winger Gareth Bale raised more than a few eyebrows amongst former players by his decision to miss two matches in October because of … paternity leave.

As joyous an occasion as the birth of his first child was, it did seem a little over the top for Tottenham’s best player to sit out two important games. Incidentally, the club failed to win both of them.

Even with salaries and demands escalating, these kinds of concessions seem to be commonplace with the pros of Generation Y. No doubt many of them would love to put their feet up this Christmas.

But fortunately, for pure commercial reasons, it’s unlikely that we’ll see a winter break any time soon in the Premier League.

With so many fans watching at the stadium or on television, the festive period is a time of massive profits for clubs and administrators alike.

So, all those players who whine and bleat to their agents about too many matches should go back to their play-stations or listen to their music with those massive headphones – whilst drinking a concrete milkshake or two (i.e. toughen up!)

Now we’re talking turkey.

Jason Dasey is an Asia-based Premier League TV broadcaster and host of The Football Fever Podcast a weekly football show with an Asia-Pacific perspective. Twitter: JasonDasey 

Source: Al Jazeera