This weekend signals the start of the Bundesliga’s annual winter break, the German clubs will go away for Christmas and not come back until the end of January. As a Southampton fan I frankly would have loved a winter break this year as we’ve now picked up over half a dozen injuries and we’re dangerously out of form; breaking form when the fixtures are coming thick and fast in the winter can make or break a clubs season. Arsenal have made it their raison d’etre, collapsing around January. Every year around this time as one or two prominent clubs in England pick up some monumental injury list the question is asked once again; should the Premier League have a winter break?
The arguments for a winter break are very well made and it’s difficult to not be convinced. The principle one is one of injuries. It’s not a surprise that this time of year is when you see the most soft tissue muscle injuries; it’s generally agreed by specialists that high performance athletes need at least 72 hours rest and recovery time between performances to best insulate themselves from injury – the winter schedule in the premier League truly tests that and as the fixtures pile up more and more players start to drop off. Arsenal are a prime example of this and this seems to be there yearly curse, as always around this time 3-4 important midfielders drop out for a few weeks or months and their season never recovers. This can have a detrimental effect on more than just club performances as soft tissue injuries can be among the longest term and can easily see some of England’s stars miss out on summer competitions. More than just physical drops we also see mental exhaustion begin to set in and it’s easily understandable. Winter is a depressing time as it is, it’s always grey, wet and cold and you’re always getting colds as well. You want to lie in a couple more hours every morning and with the sun setting before 5 our energy levels are dropping earlier as well. All these same circumstances that plague most people’s winters and result in a general lull in productivity effect footballers as well, and this isn’t even factoring into account the sheer willpower required to push through sets of 3-4 high pressure, critical games each within a 48 hour period of the next. This time of year always see a dip in quality of the Premier League and it is something that could be easily avoided with a winter break.
Big Clubs Are the Only Benefactors
This is an issue that resonates particularly well with fans of smaller clubs, clubs who aren’t routinely challenging for Europe and higher. The winter break puts massive strains on squads; through injuries, mentalities and loss of form being particularly devastating as so many fixtures come at once. The bigger sides are well insulated from this effect however as they have the biggest squads as a result of having the most money and the widest influence. In January as well these are the sides that tend to make the biggest moves in the market, further helping them ward off this issue. For smaller clubs it’s a story all too common; 2 or 3 important players become injured, clubs get a fair few tough games all in a short time, they lose one or two, more become injured, more fixtures come along and the already depleted out of form side is quickly put back in its place and shunted down the table. The status quo remains. In order to make the Premier League more competitive for the length of the contest, something the Premier League prides itself on, a winter break is a must.
January Transfer Window
Every year at the start of the season managers are already calling for the same thing; end the transfer window before the season starts. It makes sense, it’s unfair especially for the smaller clubs as they can have their best players unsettled and taken from them without enough time to replace them. The January Window has the same problem, only worsened; the market is smaller, fewer players are for sale and if your club is put into a position where it must sell there is little they can do to recover from it. Having a winter break, especially in January would not get rid of this issue, but would allow for much greater clarity and calmness on behalf of the clubs entering the market.
No Football, What’s Even the Point in Anything…
Perhaps the most obvious issue with a winter break is that we’ll have no football for several weeks. Cast your mind back to the summers gone, no internationals, and no football whatsoever. You get stuck watching obscure divisions from around the world on some awful stream just to get your footballing fix. It’s a nightmare. Now imagine that over winter. Life is already depressing as it is; I’m too cold, I have a cold, I’ve spent all my money on Christmas and its already bloody dark. Now throw ‘and there’s no football on either’ into that mix and you have the recipe for sheer misery. These players earn fortunes, it’s not like they’re having to rough it through the winter schedule; they stay in 5 star hotels, are pampered by medical staff and all the rest. So they’re a little tired? Who cares. If I don’t get football in the winter on top of all the other bollocks I have to put up with then I might just kill myself. What’s worse, my suicide or some rich 22 year old pulling a hamstring? That’s what I thought.
Form is Irrelevant
Back to reasonable arguments I guess. A real issue that could occur with a winter break is that form can become irrelevant. Imagine you’re one of the smaller sides or one of the ‘Almost-Not-Quite’ clubs – you compete year on year for the chance to rise above your station, you hit terrific form just before Christmas with all your best players starting to fire. All of a sudden you have to stop playing for 2-6 weeks. There’s little chance you’re going to come back into the season with all the same impetus as before. Whilst many championing the winter break will point to cases like Southampton this season, that the more likely outcome is that the winter schedule will break this kind of club rather than make it, the point can’t be ignored that a break could also stand to reinforce the big clubs even more so as they are likely to have more consistent form throughout the season and up-and-comers are more likely to have to depend on bursts of great form to push them forward.
Perhaps a less convincing argument, but one that should be considered, is that we should keep doing things the way we’ve been doing them because it works. It’s one of the defining parts of the Premier League, one of its appeals. It’s non-stop action, both across the calendar year and across each game. The league is high intensity and physical and playing through the winter is one element that reinforces and strengthens that element. And this is the best league in the world; don’t listen to the footballing hipsters who spout Russell Brand’s sycophantic rants whose only real opposition to the Premier League is how much money is in it or how mainstream it is. This is the highest quality, most competitive league from top to bottom in the world. This is the only league where at least 3 teams every year have a good chance of winning it and at least 6 sides are competing for Europe. Why mess with a winning formula? We all love the Premier League; as much as we are want to hate it all sometimes because our sides just bloody lost again. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
It’s a question with a lot of elements, but all the sports science and logic supports a winter break whereas all the sentimentality is against it. There is fortunately a middle ground I see. We need a winter break; I think the benefits are just too great for both the league and national team. But we need to remove the worse elements of the break. If I were in charge of the decision I’d put a three week break in the winter only I’d do it in January, during the transfer window. Start the season a couple of weeks earlier and end it a week later, get some more games in the sunshine, have a cleaner January transfer window whilst retaining all the festive fixtures we love. And for those clubs who want to continue playing during that period? Arrange some local derby friendlies and give the fans a post-Christmas treat. A winter break is a good idea, but only if it’s done in the right way and honours and protects what makes this league so good and the culture of English football.