English football needs a winter break
There is something almost ironic about writing such a post when the season is well over and the summer sun is out (well, most of the time). You can thank Fabio Capello for bringing the subject up again…
It’s a debate that is slowly becoming a one-way argument. Sir Alex Ferguson wants it. So does Fabio Capello. But their cries for a winter break in the Premier League may never be answered – yet observation and statistics suggest they have a point. After England’s 2-2 draw with Switzerland on Saturday, Capello was quick to use fatigue as an excuse for his side’s under-performing and, in the process, dismissing the notion that his side simply aren’t good enough; “It is not the quality. We have got quality. The problem is the energy, not other things. We are not so fresh. It was difficult.”
Back in 2004, the then FA chief executive Mark Palios told the BBC that a league winter break is indeed “the target”, but that is hardly the case in present. Palios’ comments were in response to Sven-Goran Eriksson’s plea of introducing it in time for the 2006 World Cup, and seven years on the lack of it is blamed for England’s poor campaign in South Africa. It’s a case of all talk, but no doing.
With the European Championships just a year away, there is threat of another English failure (and, as you’ll find out later, it does have an effect on club football, too). Of course, fatigue might just be an excuse, however it certainly appears expose a footballer’s limitations. “[The winter break] is not just to give the players a rest, it is to get rid of all the little injuries they carry,” says Sir Alex. “It would also freshen everyone up mentally.” Yet, Ferguson is dismissive concluding that “TV has too much power” in scheduling and so it’ll never come into force.
There are many ways a lack of break could affect a football side; the Premier League is very intense, thought to be far played at a quicker tempo and perhaps more physically draining because of it. Even if it wasn’t, the argument that a winter break is required still remains the same.
How much difference does a winter break make?
In recent years, Sir Alex has been rather vocal about the situation, citing the detriments of playing in the gruelling festive period. He has recognised England’s failure in major tournaments is not all down to a question of ability, but more deep-rooted: “The English season is exhausting. Most Decembers we play between eight and nine games at the worst time of the year,” says the United manager. “The pitches are heavier, the weather is worse and then in the second half of the season you’ll find a lot of players at all clubs carrying strains, pulls, but because of the importance of the games they keep on playing. And then when they get to the end of the season and have a major tournament like a World Cup or European Championship they are not 100% fit, they can’t be.”
In 2001, a study by Uefa on the importance of the winter break around Europe found that injury rates for ‘teams without a winter break had a significantly higher injury risk during the second part of the season’ compared to those who did have it (‘14.8 injuries versus 7.8’). “There was no difference in injury rates between teams with and without a winter break during the pre-break season,” says the study, going on to conclude; “during the last three months of the league season, the injury risk was four times higher.”
And so Capello’s fatigue “excuse” is understandable. The Swiss national side are certainly beatable; in fact, England did so in one of their earlier qualifiers in Basle beating them 3-1. In September. You would have to, then, concede Capello has a point. If the Wembley game was contested in the earlier months, England may well have emerged victorious. Barry Glendenning posted an intriguing statistic on Twitter, saying: “England’s starting 11 averaged 46.54 matches each over season compared to Switzerland’s 28.90.” Indeed, this point does not have much to do with winter break – but instead ties in well with the fatigue argument. A winter break would, however, surely allow them to go on for longer.
For England, it is not a change behind-the-scenes that will be of benefit; an overhaul of training methods is all good, but it won’t fully address the problem. What’s needed is the winter break. The blunt truth is that itwill be met with great resistance, and might never be enforced. Certainly, not for next season which again handicaps England somewhat ahead of Euro 2012. And the rest of the Premier League with it.
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Imscouting.com published some interesting findings of their own. Last year, they investigated the effects of the winter break – that teams whose league have it in place tend to score more goals. At first, it sounds rather bizarre – goalscoring patters are never quite conclusive. However, this investigation had some convincing elements; for example, it noted that ‘Barcelona scored 26 more goals during the second half of the season than they did in the first half of the campaign’ and ‘Real Madrid added an additional 22 goals.’ It continued to discuss how other European sides – be it Italy, France or Germany – saw an increase in goals. The conclusion was most remarkable, however: “Five teams scored less goals in the second half of the season in comparison to the first – remarkably, three of the five teams are English, Manchester United, Arsenal and Liverpool. Liverpool and Arsenal showed a huge reduction in goals scored, 13 and 19 respectively.” Granted, goals scored is hardly an appropriate measure of fatigue and the effects of a winter break.