Should the Premier League introduce a winter break?
December 21, 2017
Just as you can be sure that Christmas will arrive on the 25th December each year, you can be equally as sure that the festive football period will spark a debate about winter breaks in the Premier League.
In fact, this debate is likely to be more intense than ever this year, with a World Cup lying in wait next summer and eight Premier League games scheduled for Boxing Day alone. Most sides will play four times in nine days over Christmas and New Year and the League Cup quarter-finals will also be hosted during this time.
In this post, we’ll ask the question once more. Should the Premier League have a winter break, or are clubs right to continue playing over the festive period?
How will Europe’s top clubs spend their time this winter?
To our European counterparts, the notion of the Premier League not having a winter break is inconceivable. After all, offering players a defined mid-season rest is commonplace across virtually all other major leagues across Europe to protect players and optimise their performance throughout the whole of the year.
This year will be no exception, and while our Premier League clubs are preparing for the busiest period of the season, Europe’s elite sides are getting ready to wind down.
In La Liga, for example, the final round of festive fixtures will take place on Saturday 23rd December. The clubs will then enjoy two weeks of rest before returning to action on Saturday 6th January.
Thanks to a shorter league season, Bundesliga clubs break up even earlier on Sunday 17th December, before the competition resumes on Friday 12th January when champions Bayern Munich travel to take on Bayer Leverkusen.
While there is a shorter break in Italy’s Serie A, the nation’s top-flight clubs will only play two games between Friday 22nd December and Friday 5th January. Crucially, no games are played on Boxing Day, meaning that players enjoy a full week away from the pressures of gameplay and can spend time with their families.
Contrast this with the Premier League, and the difference is palpable. If we take Everton’s schedule, for example, we see they will be required to play four games in just nine days between Saturday December 23rd and Monday 1st January. This includes a home game against champions Chelsea and Manchester United, as well as challenging away trips to West Bromwich Albion and Bournemouth.
This is a truly hectic playing schedule, particularly when you consider the fast and physical nature of the Premier League. It’s also one that contrasts starkly with Europe’s competing leagues, particularly at a time when British clubs are trying to reclaim their dominance on the continental stage.
Injuries and fatigue: the arguments for a winter break
This difference in breaks takes on additional weight in a World Cup year, especially given England’s failure to reach the quarter-finals of a major international tournament since 2006.
There is cause to say that while many national players for leading sides such as Germany and Spain will arrive in Russia well-rested and relatively refreshed, England’s representatives will be jaded in comparison and more likely to suffer from niggling injury concerns.
This has certainly been the case in recent times, when leading lights such as Wayne Rooney, Jack Wilshere, David Beckham and Michael Owen have all either missed major tournaments through injury or arrived carrying the effects of various knocks. This so-called injury curse is one that has previously baffled people, but it’s fair to surmise that it has much to do with the relentless workloads of Premier League players.
As if to reaffirm the importance of a mid-season rest period for players, the two countries with the longest winter breaks have performed consistently on the world stage during the last decade. Spain won the European Championships in 2008 and 2012, while also lifting their inaugural World Cup in 2010. Defending world champions Germany, also prevailed in Brazil in 2014, when a disappointing and low-key England failed to progress beyond the group stage.
A question of attitude? The arguments against a winter break
While this makes for a compelling argument, it is one that can be easily challenged with cold, hard facts. Although it is true that all of England’s World Cup hopefuls currently ply their trade in the Premier League, it also cannot be ignored that 69.2% of Premier League stars are from overseas.
This means that numerous players from Spain, France and Portugal play key roles for Premier League clubs, and yet still manage to perform with distinction at major tournaments. Sure, no other international squad boasts as many Premier League players as England, but the influx of foreigners into the English game does not seem to have damaged the prospects of the top European nations.
Similarly, England’s top-flight clubs play as many league and European games as their main rivals, aside from those in Germany who play just 34 Bundesliga matches. So, the lack of winter break does not actively increase their workload over the course of the season, with some even arguing that playing more regularly during December enables players to ease their schedule towards the end of the year.
In fact, the only factor that actively increases player workloads, is the presence of the League Cup, with other leading European associations hosting just one domestic cup competition. In this respect, it can be argued that this tournament is a greater cause of fatigue for league players than the lack of a defined winter break.
Some will also point to tradition being a key argument to keep the festive schedule, as Boxing Day and New Years’ football has been a staple of the English game since its inception.
The last word
While there is a clear argument for a full winter break in the EPL, such a drastic break in tradition may not actually be required.
Instead, the Premier League could simply look to reduce the number of games played over the festive period, while retaining the traditional Boxing Day and New Years’ fixtures.
Similarly, eradicating the League Cup competition may also serve as a more effective option than introducing a winter break, particularly as so many clubs are already indifferent to this tournament and often play second-string sides during games.