Why the Premier League Needs a Winter Break

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Why the Premier League Needs a Winter Break
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As you open your presents, tuck into turkey and fight off the urge to nap during the Queen's Speech on Christmas Day, spare a thought for Premier League footballers.

Almost all will be training on December 25 and many will be travelling for a busy Boxing Day schedule.

Of course, it is not easy to feel sympathy for professionals to get paid six figures every week to play a game we all love at the expense of missing a festive celebration, but their plight must be considered during the hectic Premier League calendar.

From Saturday, December 21, there are 40 Premier League matches in a period of 12 days. Some teams face the prospect of four games in that period. Manchester United are among those who will feel the strain, as their League Cup semi-final with Sunderland on January 7 comes just two days after the FA Cup third round. These cup contests are preceded by a heavy spate of Premier League action, including away trips to Hull and Norwich.   

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The Premier League is the only major European league that puts its players through such fixture congestion at the turn of the year. Serie A, Ligue 1, the SPL and La Liga all take a few weeks off, while the Bundesliga shuts down for nearly a month. World champions Bayern Munich will suffer very few repercussions for travelling to the FIFA Club World Cup in Morocco, as they get to come home to a nice break, and probably a relaxed training camp somewhere warm. 

Every year, players and managers express their desire for a Premier League winter break, with Gus Poyet and Manuel Pellegrini among those voicing their concern this season. 

A break would not just serve the purpose of giving players and coaching staff time to relax with their families—it would have myriad benefits for the league and English football as a whole.

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According to FIFPro research (which I discovered via a Guardian column from Sean Ingle), teams playing with two days' recovery compared to three were 46 percent less likely to win.

This statistic may have less impact when every team has the same fixture disadvantage, but the biggest concern is that players will be more tired. And playing while tired leads to a lower quality of play and a greater risk of injury.

According to UEFA (via The BBC), there are four times as many injuries in the Premier League in April and May as in leagues with a winter break. 

The knock-on effect of this is a disadvantage for English teams in European competitions and a hindrance for the vast majority of Premiership players who represent their national teams. 

In a column published in the Daily Mail, Jamie Carragher explained how he played 70 games in the 2005/06 season. By the time he faced Portugal in the quarter-final of the 2006 World Cup, he said he was "on his knees."  

If the Premier League had a midseason break, perhaps the gruelling schedule would not take such a toll.

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Speaking to the BBC in 2007, Phil Neville said he expected more and more players to retire from international duty as a result of the English fixture list. It is little wonder that we see such lacklustre performances from the England side when the players are expending so much of their energy on the teams who pay their wages every week.  

A winter break is a fantastic idea with very little opposing viewpoints. Ultimately, the only stumbling block is the desire to make money. The FA, the Premier League nor club owners have much interest in reducing the amount of fixtures—and therefore revenue—nor moving or eliminating FA Cup and League Cup obligations

"There is no stomach among the Premier League clubs for a reduction in their numbers and a two-thirds majority is needed for such a change," said Richard Scudamore in 2002, representing an opinion that has changed very little int he past 11 years. 

The Premier League chief executive, however, last year hinted that the elimination of FA Cup replays could help free up some space in the calendar for a short break. 

For the health of the players, the quality of the league and the strength of the national team, a winter break is a resoundingly sensible option. If sanity prevails, this season will be the fixture-laden straw that breaks the camel's back.

 

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