In other countries in Europe winter breaks are traditional, from Spain to Germany, though they differ from country to country in length.
The winter break has been championed for years by managers across the Premier League; most vociferously those at the top, such as Sir Alex Ferguson and Arsene Wenger. There is a body of logic which suggests that the break can have a serious benefit to a team’s chances of success. England have been said to be poor in international tournaments for years because of the increased workload of their players and the lack of a break. The fact that England’s performances in major championships have worsened in the last decade whilst their players seem to have improved would suggest there is some truth to it. As would the fact that Germany has the longest winter break (six weeks) and they traditionally excel at major tournaments.
In 1999, when Manchester United won the treble, Ferguson gave key players such as Peter Schmeichel a small break in the middle of the season. Though many factors influenced their success, the break undoubtedly helped. It is not so much the number of games played, but the lack of the break which can have the physiological impact. For the number of games played, the strain placed on player’s bodies in England has no time to be alleviated when games are played every three days for the duration of the season, something the top players frequently face.
One of the main stumbling blocks is the Christmas and New Year period, during which England traditionally has a bumper schedule of football. But there is a good argument to suggest football could still be played during this part of the season, with a winter break coming in January, as Wenger has suggested.
The break would be of enormous benefit to the players, and therefore, it would improve the quality of football. Chelsea’s chief physiotherapist Mike Banks has said that medically speaking a winter break would improve the fitness of players and thus the quality of play. The majority of players and teams in the Premiership are in favour of a break.
But then there are the financial implications of such a move; withdrawing as it would a potential stream of revenue during the weeks in which football is traditionally played. With the Premier League the marketing and businessman’s dream with the excess of cash swirling around, those at the helm would not be keen to see a break introduced.
But perhaps it is time that football was played to ensure the optimum quality of the play, rather than to maximise the money made from television rights. There is a reason that other countries have winter breaks, and a reason why England do not do so well during international tournaments. And the reason is due to fitness, and the strains placed on players in the Premier League.