England is the only country in Europe’s top five divisions that does not take a winter break. Italy, Spain and France all have breaks lasting at least two weeks. In Germany the winter break lasts five weeks. Who decides that a break is not necessary and who decides that a period of over a month is needed?
In England the festive period is the busiest time of the year. Four matches are played in between the 20th of December and New Years Day. Seasoned veteran and Premier League new boy Louis van Gaal says it’s about time England caught up with the rest of Europe:
“I don’t want to change the culture of England, but it is not right. I have read that I have to change [the players] but when you say something like that you have to know if we can change and we have too many injured players.”
It is commonplace for teams to travel for a week of training in warmer climates like the UAE or Qatar during the winter break. Every team from Germany’s top tier went to warmer countries to take part in training sessions and practice matches – as well as some promotional and sponsorship events as well no doubt.
Manchester City are famous for having Arab owners who have pumped money limitlessly in to the club. The owner, Sheikh Mansour, is the deputy prime minister of the United Arab Emirates, minister of presidential affairs and a member of the ruling family of Abu Dhabi. Recently, Manchester City went on a midweek trip to the UAE where they trained and took part in promotional work. Playing their last competitive match on the 18th of January, the team flew to and from the Middle East by 8pm on the 23rd of January, less than 24 hours before their home FA Cup tie versus Championship side Middlesbrough. As we know now City were unceremoniously dumped out of the competition and faced heavy criticism for their pre-match preparation from the media and fans alike.
Manchester City manager Manuel Pellegrini defended the decision to fly to the Emirates before the match:
“People can think that if they like, but I have a different opinion… I don’t think there was anything wrong at the start of the game, because we had six or seven clear chances to score in the first half and we were in control. Before they scored we were playing very well.”
Clearly other commitments are taking preference over football and they suffered because of this. Football is the biggest sport in the world so marketing makes a massive difference to the finances of a club, but surely you can’t allow it to affect on field matters.
Manchester United went on a pre-season tour of America where Louis van Gaal, once again, complained about the fixture list and travelling being too much for his players. Manchester City also took part in the same Guinness International Champions Cup that city rivals United took part in. Chelsea, on the other hand, opted for a low key tour of Europe doing little in the way of promotion and marketing.
By the end of November Chelsea were six points clear of City in second and a further five clear of United who were in fourth.
This appears to show that travelling and promotional work overseas only works when players are given enough time off, which brings me back to the winter break.
Ligue 1 players are given around 17 days off to recuperate, Serie A 15 and La Liga 14. I find these odd fortnights to be a perfectly acceptable amount of time to be given off mid season. We even saw England’s very own Raheem Sterling being given a mid-season break. Personally, I was a fan of this decision by Rodgers and felt the criticism was unwarranted. Players, especially younger ones, need a few weeks to recover from the demands of professional football if they don’t want to suffer from burnout.
What I don’t understand is in the Bundesliga they get an extended break of five weeks – only to play three games in the space of a week on their return. Surely if they reduced the break to a month they could play a match every weekend rather than having mid-week matches.
It’s obvious the winter break will be a bone of contention for the future with players and staff looking for downtime mid-season. It will never be refined perfectly and breaks ranging from two weeks to five weeks to no weeks will continue as normal. Numbers of teams in the league will be a factor too with Germany having only 18 top flight teams while the rest of the top divisions have 20.
In regards to England, the amount of money paid out in broadcasting rights will hamper any festive break for the foreseeable future, if you pardon the pun.