On the weekend of Round 5 of the FA Cup, we will be treated to some tantalising clashes: Arsenal host Liverpool, Chelsea are at Manchester City and Southampton will head to Sunderland in search of a place in the last eight of the world's oldest football cup competition.
Many of the Premier League's biggest stars, however, will not even be in the country this weekend.
Straight after their goalless draw at The Emirates on Wednesday evening, Manchester United took full advantage of the break in the fixture list by jetting off to Dubai for some "warm-weather training."
The Red Devils are not the only side to have swapped the waterlogged British winter for the 25-degree sunshine of the United Arab Emirates—Stoke City, West Ham and Norwich City have all followed suit.
Warm-weather training in the luxury and splendour of the UAE certainly sounds like a good idea from the perspective of those who get to do it—but is it actually beneficial, or is it merely an excuse for some millionaires to go and sit by the pool?
Well, there is plenty of evidence to suggest it is beneficial.
Norwich are viewing their trip as an opportunity to get some solid training sessions under its belt, as the inclement weather in East Anglia at this time of year has prohibited their practise time. Chris Hughton told the Daily Mail's Jim Van Wijk:
It has been difficult for us because Norfolk has been hit a bit heavier than most with the weather, when we have had quite a few days where we have struggled to get them onto the training pitch.
So, we are looking forward to a good few days training on some decent surfaces.
Having pristine conditions in which to train is clearly nothing to be sniffed at. Furthermore, Sam Allardyce claims warm-weather training helped West Ham long before they had boarded a plane. He explained the mental benefits of their sojourn to James Dickenson of the Express:
Once the lads knew the trip was booked four or five weeks ago, it has been part of our turnaround. It was something for them to look forward to, to strive for and to know that they are going to do what I've done every year for the last 14 years.
The critical need for it for every player we have is for them to get a bit of sun on their back, do a little bit of light training and ease the pressure on the mind, soul and body. They will come back refreshed.
At a time of year when there is a lot of pressure on footballers, an opportunity to escape from everything to relax and refocus could be very helpful. It is for this reason—and for injury recuperation—that Wayne Rooney was sent for warm-weather training with his family in January.
From a scientific perspective, warm-weather training is also said to have its advantages. In a study carried out by the University of Oregon (reported by the New York Times' Gretchen Reynolds), a group of cyclists were shown to perform 7 percent better in cold weather when they trained in 104-degree heat compared to 55-degree comfort.
There are also physiological benefits from being in the sun. Not only does nice weather make it easier to get up and be motivated, but according to research found by Ryding 2 Health magazine, the vitamin D delivered by the sun's rays can help prevent muscle injuries and improve "reaction time, muscle strength, speed and endurance."
They even suggest that German and Russian athletes used to be encouraged to use sunlamps to improve performance.
The concept of midseason warm-weather training, of course, is nothing new. Bayern Munich are one of many continental sides that use the winter break to train and play friendly games in the UAE. If it works for the best team in the world, then why wouldn't it work for the Premier League's elite?
There are some who may argue that warm-weather training is an unnecessary distraction. Players are made to get on an eight-hour, long-haul flight to an unfamiliar setting with a four-hour time difference for the sake of a few days.
Once there, they may be subject to a whole different set of extra-curricular distractions. Can Manchester Utd's players concentrate on their pursuit of the top four when they are being spotted going out to bars in Dubai?
There is also the concern that it is perceived as a reward for players. The Mirror's Steve Bates claims David Moyes was trying to keep their Dubai trip under wraps because he didn't want people to think his ailing troops were being given a treat after losing eight Premier League games.
One might also argue that it is a dangling carrot incentive for a team to find itself knocked out of the fifth round of the FA Cup.
However, with clear practical, physical and mental benefits, it would appear that the positives far outweigh the potential negatives of warm-weather training trips.
Send us a postcard, won't you, Mr. Moyes?
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