Craig Clark - Nay To A Winter Break!
Christmas and New Year is a treat of wall to wall football for supporters. Whether its watching Sunderland at the Stadium of Light, or indeed away from home, or another English game, there is always something to sit down and enjoy. It's fantastic. While the rest of Europe has a break, we are given an additional gift to go alongside the seasonal revelry.
Boxing Day is probably my favourite day of the year. After bloating up on masses of Turkey, what better way to finish the festivities off than a day out with family, friends or both, drinking and watching the football? It's a day to get drunk and wind down after the stressful build up to the Christmas Day. It's a tradition I'd personally be extremely disappointed to see come to an end.
Ignoring the personal enjoyment, from a selfish, football point of view, the festive period has been particularly kind to Sunderland in recent seasons. Perhaps that's why I associate it with good times rather than bad.
We tend to pick up vitals wins around Christmas. If it wasn't for a Boxing Day victory over Manchester City this season and a narrow win over Southampton not long before that, we'd find ourselves in the relegation zone. Last season, we won 3 out of 4 between 21st December and 3rd January, drawing the other game, with our now annual 1-0 defeat of Manchester City coming on New Year's Day. The season before that, an unbeaten run in January spanning 4 games, with 3 of them victories, was crucial to our Premier League survival. Season upon season of mediocrity is broken up by a glimmer of excitement and fun over the winter. Let's not take that away.
Of course, the main argument for a Winter Break is to help benefit the national team. Perennial failure on the World and European stage is inevitably met with a litany of excuses, with blame often cast on the tiredness of players. While the rest of Europe puts their feet up, the Premier League puts its teams through an arduous, gruelling schedule.
It's just an excuse though. A poor one at that. If we're completely honest, England lack quality. They get what they deserve at major tournaments.
What also seems to be ignored is that the Premier League is full of players from around the world. They go onto play for other national sides that outperform England. Are they not as tired as everyone else? What about the players who go through a long season for a side playing in the Champions League or Europa League?
Anyway, these are highly paid professionals with the sort of lifestyle their adoring public could only dream of. They are athletes. They train, they play football then they want an additional break? I wish someone would give me a couple of weeks off from supporting them sometimes. Plus, half of them won't even be called up for their national side and will have plenty of time to rest over the summer.
Not all traditions are worth keeping and it often feels like the sport we all love is left to play catch up with the ever changing world around it. Football in winter though, is something worth sticking with.
Luke Bowley- Yay To A Winter Break!
The Premier League is the only major league in Europe without a winter break. Indeed, in keeping with the English top division's habit of appearing to float around in a bubble, unaware of the world outside it's own money-spinning hype-fest, it chooses to use the festive period as an excuse to increase the number of matches. While the stars of the Bundesliga, Serie A and La Liga can re-charge their batteries over Christmas ahead of the second half of the season, their peers in England are forced to play through a grueling festive period which usually has 4 games in 10 or 11 days.
Many leading figures in English football, including Sunderland's own Martin O'Neill, alongside the likes of Sam Allardyce and Sir Alex Ferguson, believe a winter break is needed to keep players fit and healthy. Despite this, neither the FA or the Premier League have seriously considered implementing a break in England, despite the mounting evidence that it is necessary.
The main reason for the lack of a serious discussion is down largely to the tradition of winter football in this country. Fans flock to the Boxing Day and New Year games full of Christmas cheer, looking to watch their team on their days off from work and school over the holidays. It is therefore understandable that supporters would be reluctant to see these matches come to an end.
However, while fans are fundamental to the game, football must first look after its own players, and protect them from serious burnout and injuries. We might be tempted to say that professional athletes should be able to take care of themselves sufficiently to manage a few extra games over winter. However, it's easy to make these claims sitting from our sofas, watching Sky Sports and picking the Doritos crumbs out of our bellybutton. The truth is that football is a physically demanding game, and players in England struggle to cope with the influx of games.
A UEFA study in 2007 showed that there are four times as many injuries in the Premier League between April and May as there are in the major leagues that have winter breaks. Many top physios, including Rob Swire of Manchester United, and Dave Hancock of Leeds, have claimed that players suffer from severe burnout later in the season because of Christmas period. Wigan defender Paul Scharner recently said he found it hard to recover for the rest of the season during his previous spell in England. Arsenal's Santi Carzola has made similar comments about the benefits of a mid-season rest.
You could even look at Sunderland's current struggles and argue that the lack of a winter break has had a severe impact in the club poor form. With one of the smallest squads in the league, and therefore without the option of major squad rotation, the team are more likely to feel the effects of tiredness. The side that lost 3-0 to Liverpool at the end of the festive period was one that had been left exhausted from the amount of games played.
Martin O'Neill claimed that having a winter break in Scotland while he was manager of Celtic benefited his side both 'psychologically and physically' ahead of the rest of the season, giving them a chance to take stock of where they were and where they needed to go next. Perhaps if the Northern Irishman had had the same opportunity to do this at Sunderland, without the distraction of near-constant games, the team would not be in the mess it currently is.
There are plenty of other arguments for a winter break, for example that it would help the English national team in major tournaments (Sven, Capello and Hodgson have all stated their desire for a winter break), or that it would stop fixture pile-up later in the season due to postponements around the Christmas period, but the need to keep players fit is the key argument. If the Premier League is to continue to stay on a par with the German and Spanish leagues, it must implement a winter break of at least three weeks in order to keep its prized assets (its footballers) at the top of their games, and to keep the league as competitive as it can possibly be.