Premier League: Why a Winter Break Is Needed and How It Could Be Implemented

Andrew Jordan@@Andrew_JordanSenior Writer IDecember 28, 2012

LONDON, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 18:  Conditions in North London worsen as the match is postponed before the Barclays Premier League match between Arsenal and Stoke City at the Emirates Stadium on December 18, 2010 in London, England.  (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)
Clive Mason/Getty Images

The winter break is one of the most notable events on a European football calendar.

Across domestic divisions like the German Bundesliga, Italy's Serie A, France's Ligue One, the Portuguese Liga and the Scottish Premier League, players get some much-needed time off, which helps footballers achieve better match fitness during the second half of the season.

This break is treasured by thousands of players.

However, the Premier League remains the only major league in Europe which does not take a winter break.

Instead of having a two-week break as in France and Italy, or the nearly month-long break in Germany, the Premier League's players labor through a crammed list of fixtures at the start of winter.

Consider Aston Villa, who have four matches over an 11-day span during the final days of 2012.

Every winter, there is a renewed effort to have a winter break applied.

This year, Arsenal midfielder Santi Cazorla is the player calling for a break in the Premier League to mirror many of the other top leagues in Europe.

In the opinion of the Spanish midfielder, 

I do think a winter break is beneficial because you are able to disconnect mentally, psychologically. There are times when you become saturated with games, you are unclear about things. The winter break, that happens in Spain and it makes you feel more relaxed mentally.

Cazorla is not the only player who has recently spoken out against the Premier League's policy of playing its campaign without a break.

Over the past week, the likes of Schalke 04's Lewis Holtby, former Wigan Athletic and West Bromwich Albion defender Paul Scharner and Aston Villa manager Paul Lambert have emerged to voice support for a winter break.

These players have cited this interruption as a way to spend time with their families, along with an opportunity to relax.

However, there are additional reasons why a winter break should be introduced in the Premier League, including player fitness.

The condensing of matches through the start of the new year could cripple clubs. Multiple league fixtures (including the third round of the FA Cup) and hard pitches can have a crippling effect on players' bodies.

A UEFA study showed that players in the Premier League saw their chances of injury double from January through March, when compared to other leagues which have a winter break.

During April and May, the likelihood of an injury becomes four times greater for a Premier League footballer than for players in other European leagues.

In comparison, during the months before the winter break, the injury chances for various European leagues are similar to the Premier League's rate.

These injury concerns are one reason why England have failed in international tournaments. Concerns with recovery have been a familiar storyline in most of England's tournaments since the Premier League's inception in 1992.

Starting with Sven Goran Eriksson after the 2002 World Cup, the three recent managers of England's national team have all lobbied for a winter break.

In 2002, the Football Association (FA) considered adding a break and chief executive Adam Crozier claimed,

Our very best are overworked. Sven says if we want to win the Euro club competitions and do well internationally, it's time to freshen up our players in mid-season.

Despite this statement, no winter break has been introduced to the Premier League in the past decade.

This includes attempts by the two England managers since Eriksson's departure, Fabio Capello and Roy Hodgson, to implement a stoppage in the season. Other managers have also supported a winter break, including Sir Alex Ferguson, Steve Bruce and Martin O'Neill, among others.

Stars like Wayne Rooney and Theo Walcott have likewise expressed wishes for an interruption in the campaign.

Club executives like Manchester United's David Gill have also supported a split in the season. Furthermore, Gill claimed a majority of Premier League clubs are in favor of a interruption of the campaign during the winter months.

Many of the top physios on Premier League clubs have also supported calls for a break.

Considering the widespread support for a winter break for over a decade, it is surprising that it has still not happened. Despite a decade of advocating for a two-week rest for Premier League players, greed and ignorance have prevented any change.

The person who is most responsible for this mess is Premier League chief executive Richard Scudamore.

Scudamore, who has been the CEO of the league since 1999, has consistently diverted the pressing question of a winter break.

Scudamore was first confronted with this question after England's quarterfinal elimination in the 2002 World Cup. At the time, he said, "We would like to have a winter break, but we can't see practically how to have one."

Following the 2002 meeting with Eriksson, Scudamore decided it was more important for clubs to have increased funds than a split in the season: 

We do not wish to sacrifice participation in the Worthington [now the Capital One] Cup at a time when the Football League clubs depend on it so heavily for revenue.

After Hodgson's call for a winter break this past October, the CEO maintained support for the league cup due to the finances it provides for clubs.

Scudamore did raise a proposition which would remove FA Cup replays. Although this would be beneficial for the health of many players, it will probably not happen due to the FA's ineptitude.

The Capital One Cup is the reason why a winter break will not happen in the near future, despite recently selling their television rights for £5 billion.

These rights are more important for smaller clubs than for the Premier League. However, the Capital One Cup could harm clubs from lower divisions.

Besides the low payday for clubs (compared to the FA Cup), the 72 non-Premier League sides which compete in the Capital One League are required to use at least six regulars in each fixture in which they participate.

This weakens clubs' league efforts. It also doesn't help that these lower-division squads do not have the depth of Premier League sides.  

If the Capital One Cup were to be removed, a two-week vacation could be instituted at the end of December and the start of January.

Matches normally compressed into a brief window during January would instead take place in September, October and November.

If the winter break were phased in, it could start after Boxing Day. Considering the tradition of football with the holiday, this would be an appropriate time to interrupt the season.

The vacation's window could last until the second week of January. The third round of the FA Cup normally takes place on the first weekend of January, but could be moved back with the winter break.

This plan allows for FA Cup replays to be replaced, which would be a further burden removed from many players.

The season for all English leagues would have to start earlier or end later, both of which Scudamore claimed were necessary if a winter break was to be implemented.

Until a winter break happens, Premier League players will continue to suffer from an increased chance of injury and likely poor performances with their national sides.

The quality of play will continue to suffer, and domestic clubs will struggle in European tournaments.

Let's introduce the break.

Follow me on Twitter @Andrew_Jordan


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