Thursday, December 7, 2023

Why there should, but won’t, be a winter break

A quick Saturday round-up for you, as I have agreed to play in a 6-a-side tournament this morning. It’s safe to say my preparation for such an event has been less than ideal. Unless Old Fashioneds and mince pies are the secret to performing at the highest level.

Which I don’t think they are. More’s the pity. There are a load of games on today even though we don’t play till tomorrow. As much as I enjoy festive football, it does feel overdone this season. There isn’t a manager out there who hasn’t made some comment on how horrendous the fixture pile-up is and maybe we’re seeing the effects when it comes to players picking up injuries.

Aaron Ramsey’s thigh strain, for example, was probably more a consequence of having to play twice in three days, rather than playing all season long. Let’s remember, they had 9 days rest and recovery time after Man City and before Chelsea so if there are fingers to be pointed it’s best to direct them at those most responsible, and that’s the people who make the schedule.

The calls for a winter break will continue and on the face it, it makes sense. Other leagues do it, people cope. Festive football is certainly a tradition but is it really necessary to play every three days? Aren’t fans able to see the sense of not grinding players into the ground with a fixture list that can have a big impact on the overall success of their season? What’s more important, keeping your best players fit or having extra football during the holiday period when you could easily find some other way to pass the time?

There’s surely no good reason why we couldn’t have one less game in December and then a break in January. Other than the commercial forces which run the game these days missing out on all that lucre, of course. I mean, there’s room for any number of pointless Interlulls throughout the season, why not sacrifice a friendly game against some team nobody cares about for the overall benefit of the players? Don’t international managers complain their players are tired when it comes to the big tournaments?

And let’s remember: tradition is just a word. Nothing is set in stone. Things that always happen won’t always happen in the future. The World Cup taking place in the summer, for example, is more than just tradition. It’s like nightfall or sunrise, but because of money, corruption and broadcasting, we’re likely to have one in the winter. Meaning there’ll be no festive football that year, probably, as the domestic leagues take a break because $$$£££.

But the well being of players is not something anyone can make money from so it’s very low on the list of priorities, especially for the venal, avaricious lot that run the Premier League. The only thing they care about is money. The game has become part of the entertainment industry. It’s a sport second. Look at how our game against Man City was scheduled with no thought given to the teams in question, only the broadcasters. If they can find a way of monetising the winter break, then you can be sure tradition would fall into the background very quickly.

Forget the long-term benefit of having the best teams having their best players fitter and healthier throughout the season, making the league more exciting, and the football better. It’s about the TV companies now who want to target ads at subscribers sitting at home plump with food and drink and ready for the January sales. The people demand it, is their justification, and sure, who doesn’t like to watch or go to football when they have time off?

But it’s not as if the people would be bereft without it. There are movies and box-sets and Netflix and, you know, a whole great big world out there for us to do things in if there’s no football for a couple of weeks. We can cope, they’re the ones who can’t. And the players, the teams, the managers, and ultimately the fans, are the ones who suffer because they lose a star striker or a great midfielder or a top defender to an injury that is preventable if they had sufficient, and realistic time between games.

Sure, a manager can rotate his squad, use that ‘depth’, but some don’t have the luxury of 4 £20m+ strikers to choose from, and a clutch of top class internationals on the bench. Some have their best XI and not much more. That might be a consequence of finance, profile and ownership, but the points are just as important for those trying to stay in the league as those trying to win it.

Basically, I think there’s too much football at this time of year and until there’s a winter break we’re just going to have to live with the consequences which include poor performances, poor football matches due to tiredness and fatigue, dropped points and players picking up needless injuries.

We might come through it well, we’ve got a fairly kind of run of fixtures, and I suppose you can look at that as a positive, but if we pick up a casualty or two along the way, don’t blame the people who pick the team, or the ones who work to keep them fit, but the TV executives and broadcasting houses which create this schedule.

To end on cheery note, Lukas Podolski is really happy to be back, but then when is he ever not? And the Gent will be here later with his festive weekly review.

Right, time to test this bourbon + mince pie + football thing. I’ll report back with my findings, it could be just the thing to get us through the festive fixtures.

Till tomorrow.

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