Each year the debate about the benefits of having a winter break in British football resurfaces. Is the busy Christmas schedule the most exciting and lucrative few weeks of the year? Giving fans the chance to enjoy watching their team during their Christmas holidays. Or is it too much for the players, giving them no time to recover from injuries and handing our European rivals an advantage going in to the later rounds of the Champions League.
Certainly it seems that most coaches and players would like some time off over the winter. Germany, which has two few teams in the Bundesliga, has a break of six weeks. With Premier League teams playing six or seven games whilst the German teams will be resting and recuperating. Although their calendar has changed this year the Spanish La Liga usually has a two week break over Christmas. Are these weeks in the middle of the season contributing to the success of German and Spanish teams in European and International competitions?
What do other countries do?
The debate for a winter break is one which has been around for years and will continue for years to come. It will however be interesting to see what happens as we approach the World Cup in Qatar in 2022 and how that will affect the league, as this may set the precedent for future winter breaks to be implemented should the league be able to successfully navigate around the World Cup.
Germany currently have one of the longest winter breaks at six weeks, giving their players plenty of rest ahead of the final stretch of the season. If also means the players ae fresh for crucial league, domestic cup and obviously European cup competitions. As there is a lot of money and prestige associated with European glory the elongated winter break could offer a competitive advantage.
Italy on the other hand have a significantly shorter winter breaks at just 2 weeks, with Spain normally taking between 10 days and 2 weeks themselves. This still remains a significant amount of rest time for a player, allowing time for the body to heal so that they are in top condition for their return to action.
What do the professionals say?
The debate has included both people from within and outside of the game with two prominent figures quoted as saying:
"There is no winter break and I think that is the most evil thing of this culture. It is not good for English football," – Louis van Gaal
"When England get to World Cups they look a bit tired. The body can recover but the head's another story." – Germany striker Thomas Muller
A number of key players have come out however saying they enjoy the excitement of the Christmas period, with bigger and more vocal crowds and knowing that this time of the year can make or break their season.
Premier League Injury Statistics
In considering the status of Premier League injuries approach the busy Christmas period there are currently 98 players out injured as of the end of November 2015 (Source: http://www.premierinjuries.com/). Despite being top of the injury table the fortunes of Liverpool have bene turned round following the arrival of Klopp, but if you look at Leicester it pays to have a full strength squad with them flying high in the league against all expectations.
|Team||Injury Percentage (%)|
|West Ham United||5%|
|West Bromwich Albion||3%|
If you compare this against the German Bundesliga for the same period there are currently 63 players out of action (Source: http://www.transfermarkt.com/1-bundesliga/verletztespieler/wettbewerb/L1) which is significantly less than seen in the Premier League.
Of course it is hard to attribute success directly to having a winter break. The Premier League is home to many international players who then link up with their national teams and enjoy high level performances in the summer. However there is some evidence to show that playing matches in quick succession impacts on performance levels. Data from Prozone compared performance following two days rest compared with three days’ rest. They found that those with just two days rest needed longer to recover after high intensity activity, made less sprints and took longer to reach top speed. The time away from playing and travelling to matches will give medical teams the chance to help any small injuries recover fully and give the players a chance to mentally relax.
It could be argued that the intensity of the Premier League can lead to more injuries, but what is clear is that if Germany have fewer injuries presently then following a winter break allowing all players (both injured and fit) to rest, there will be even fewer injuries compared to the Premier League.
In considering winter breaks as having a competitive advantage, last year’s European Cup was contested by a Spanish and an Italian team, with the Europa League being won by a Spanish team. Does the existence of a winter break have any influence over the overall success of a nation in Europe?
Fans will point to the enjoyment they get during this period and claim that the high wages paid to players mean they should be able to cope with an increased workload. Certainly the high number of games is a treat for any football fan. Losing the traditional games on Boxing Day and New Year’s Day would leave many fans disappointed and deny some smaller clubs lucrative match day revenue. Perhaps Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho came up with the best solution when speaking to BT Sport in suggesting a break in January. Allowing the best of both worlds. An exciting Christmas period of matches but allowing the players the rest period afforded to the remainder of Europe.