So this is Christmas, should football be done?

Sesha Subramanian and Dominic Lee debate the introduction of a winter break in English football.

Sesha Subramanian
10th December 2018
Image- Pixabay

The discussion surrounding a winter break in English football is one that emerges each and every year as Christmas approaches. To some, the winter break would offer valuable time for recuperation, making English teams more competitive in Europe and solving the problem of fatigue when it comes to international tournaments in the summer. To others, however, the winter break would destroy the hallowed institution of festive football, another victory for those that wish to commercialise the game even further. Here, our writers take opposite sides as they debate the pros and cons of a winter break being introduced. 

For- Sesha Subramanian

If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. That’s a line that has often been said in a variety of contexts and although I normally tend to agree with that, I have to say that the lack of a winter break in English football does not fit into the “not broke” category.

Consider this, a good team in the Premier League, if they are also involved in Europe and till the later stages of the domestic cup competitions, can play between fifty and sixty games a season. The English Premier League also happens to be the most competitive league in the world. Every week, every team including Manchester City and Liverpool have to be at their best because on any given night, even teams battling relegation in England pose more of a threat than a team of similar stature in other countries.

Playing Real Madrid at the Bernabeu following a game against a rough and rugged Crystal Palace on a rainy night in London is a far cry from coasting to a 2-0 win against Espanyol in sunny Barcelona and then playing Bayern Munich in Europe. So anything that can be done to reduce the level of physical and psychological stress needs to be done because all this takes a toll at the end of the season. This level of stress not only affects player performance when they go out to play in summer tournaments like the World Cup and the Euros but also affects the quality of football later in the season – a period when the top teams need their best players on their best form as the title race narrows to a conclusion and they find themselves in the last four or the final of cup competitions.

It need not be a long break but even a short recess of about 10 days like they have in Spain would help players recover after an intense first half of the season. The break will also help coaches evaluate team performance till that point in the season and over that holiday period, they can focus on specifically addressing their weaknesses. It will not be as intensive as pre-season but it will allow them enough time to try and rectify things that have gone wrong and strengthen things that have gone well for them. All in all, having a winter break cannot be bad for anybody involved in the game of football.

Against- Dominic Lee

The Premier League soldiering on over the winter has largely been a staple of English football that set it apart from the rest. However, from the 2019/20 season onwards the Premier League will come to a halt for the festive period, allowing players to rest up over the winter- or enjoy one too many glasses of sherry on Christmas day. The FA hope this will encourage England to succeed at future World Cups and European Championships but this direct correlation between a winter break and national team success seems a little far-fetched.

Though the last two World Cup winners- France and Germany- both enjoy the 2 longest winter breaks of any European league, with 24 days and 30 days respectively, not all these players will play in the same domestic league- though it can be argued that most will still receive winter breaks in other leagues. However, for a league as diverse as the Premier League in terms of player nationalities, it’s hard to see how a winter break would have any real influence on the performance of the national team- possibly even helping competing national teams with players in the Premier League.

We then have the argument that football over the festive period is a British tradition and while the FA plans to leave the money-making Boxing Day and New Year’s games alone- we can all guess why that is- the winter break or “mid-season” break as the Premier League call it will most likely detract from fan experience.

All of us familiar with winter football know the joy of sitting down on a cold plastic chair in your warmest coat, pasty and Bovril in hand all to watch Stoke lose again. I got a little side-tracked by personal experience there but my point still persists, football over the winter is a British tradition and the Premier League’s capitalist overlords have still kept the Boxing Day and New Year’s games, so I fail to see where English players gain any advantage over other European Leagues.

In short, the Premier League’s winter break, while an attempt to encourage national team success, is simply an excuse to make Boxing Day and New Year’s games even more of a TV event all at very little benefit to the players and even less to the paying fans.

Against- Rory Ewart

One of the Premier League’s unique selling points for its audience is its action packed winter schedule.

Sky Sports alone in its recent advertising campaign takes huge pride in the top league action it can offer, boasting 19 December games on offer for customers to enjoy over their mince pies and eggnog, more games than any other month in the league calendar.

It’s therefore evident that this point in the season arrives with serious weight to it, with many a Match of the Day pundit claiming that if a team can maintain their lead at the top of the table, then they are in the driving seat for the title come May. Only Liverpool (twice, in 2008/09 and 2013/14) and Arsenal (2007/08) have slipped from being top of the pile on December 25.

The Boxing Day and New Year’s Day fixtures are more often than not heavily anticipated. The league ‘big boys’ that occupy the top echelon of the table will feature in these fixtures, with the likelihood being that a clash of these sides will occur. This, in addition to the spectacle of festive footy adds to the unique offering the Premier League can offer to fans across the world.

Clearly then, this point in the league calendar has been crucial in terms of the title race in the modern Premier League era. As well, it is a chance for some alternative Christmas celebrations, with it offering many families the opportunity to attend games when it may not otherwise be possible during other months of the year.

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