Football leagues across Europe have gone on their annual winter break this week, with Spain, Italy, Germany, Portugal, and others putting a halt to league matches. Meanwhile, in England, Premier League sides are preparing for Boxing Day fixtures which will cap off what has been yet another busy Christmas schedule.
In the space of a week in December, Premier League teams have played 3 games, such is the hectic schedule over the Christmas period. This timetable, as well as the fact that many major leagues in Europe have those winter breaks, has led to the re-emergence of debate over whether or not the Premier League, and English football in general, should have such a break.
To put things into perspective, over the course of a season, a Premier League team which is competing in the UEFA Champions League will play a maximum of 69 games (counting the EFL Cup and FA Cup with replays). On the other hand, if it was a Premier League team competing in the Europa League, they would play a maximum of 71 games.
Compare this to, for example, a La Liga team competing in the UEFA Champions League. As a result of not having a 3rd domestic competition to compete in, such a team would play a maximum of 60 games, 62 if in the Europa League.
Unfortunately for those Premier League teams that may have to play a total of 69/71 games, the footballing schedule is relentless. Not only do they have the domestic and European schedules to worry about but, every two years, many players have international competitions to worry about. Effectively, they have up to 10/11 months of football straight. Add to this the amount of training sessions the players have each week and burnout is to be expected.
It is a total contrast in Europe. In Germany, teams take a break from league competition from the 21st of December to the 20th of January. In Italy, teams take a break from league competition from 18th of December to the 6th of January, sharing a similar schedule to Spain.
The amount of football that players face in England without the prospect of a few weeks break is staggering. While a lot of players in the top tier are on a lot of money, they are still human and fatigue will set in.
A break would allow for re-energising of player, managers, and clubs in general. It will, therefore, allow for a more entertaining game in general as the players come back more refreshed for the second half of the season.
It also allows for teams to go on training camps such as those used by teams in Europe which would help with morale. Of course that would come down to teams that can actually afford it.
A winter break for Premier League teams is an absolute necessity and is long overdue, but would face a few obstacles before implementation.
A big problem which may prevent the installation of a winter break in English football is the EFL Cup. The former Capital One, Carling, and Worthington Cup runs from August until the spring and is the first available piece of silverware in the domestic calendar (not counting the Community Shield). For the eventual winners, it will take a total of 7 wins to win the competition.
The reason that the competition would cause problems for the prospect of a winter break is its contribution towards fixture congestion. While FA Cup games could be played during the winter break, as is the case with the Copa Del Rey in Spain, the EFL Cup and Premier League games will pile up.
The solution? Scrap the EFL Cup. Not only is the competition not all that prestigious, but the prize money for winning the competition is £100,000 for the final. Now that may be useful for lower-league clubs who may need the cash but a better option would be scrapping that competition, taking that money, and increasing the prize money of the FA Cup per round.
Alternatively, if there is too much of an objection to the possibility of scrapping the EFL Cup, why not limit eligibility for it? For instance, teams from the Premier League that are competing in Europe can be exempt or Premier League teams in general.
Of course the biggest problem facing any possible winter break in England is the sheer amount of money which is made off the Premier League by TV rights. The Premier League is such a commercial juggernaut that even a break similar to France (20th of December to the 8th of January) would be implausible due to the financial benefit that the Premier League represents. After all, the latest TV deal is worth a mind-boggling £5bn. With that amount of money involved, a break in the winter doesn’t seem very likely.
However, if those empty slots were given to games in the Championship or lower divisions, for example, that would increase the amount of TV money going into the Championship and lower divisions. Unfortunately, that would require the winter break to come into being at the conclusion of the current TV deal.
As well as that, from a marketing perspective, the video packages that Sky could produce to hype the return of the Premier League after the winter break would be something to behold.
Compared to continental European domestic leagues, the Premier League is a completely different animal in terms of the strain it puts on the players. The amount of games, coupled with training sessions, means that fatigue is a near certainty. There is also the small matter of English teams’ flailing impact in European competitions.
A winter break for the Premier League is a necessity. Not just for the sake of teams’ success in Europe, but for the physical health, and morale of the players.