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I have always found that a nice break over the winter period can often lead to an upturn in productivity throughout the New Year, a recharge of the batteries halfway through a coaching season can do wonders for keeping things fresh and energy levels high.
The players too, seem to respond well, having come back from a period of vacation and spending time with their families and friends.
Of course, nobody wants to work continuously for any long periods of time, that’s why we love the weekend so much and particularly if it is a period of time which is celebrated you could easily be forgiven for wanting it off regardless.
In the Premier League, however, no such breaks are given, much to the dismay of just about every manager interviewed in the last 2 weeks. “Fixture congestion” appears to be the number one enemy at a time when VAR is giving offsides against strikers who have not properly groomed their armpits. For some reason the English Football Association and Premier League chiefs have been unable to come up with a solution to a problem that just about every other major league has already solved.
It’s funny how blind you can be to a problem when it’s making you more money than you could dream of. What effect does it have on the quality of the competition and are there further problems with playing so many games in such a short space of time?
Most teams played 4 games in a 13-day period between December 21 and January 2 and data analysts following injuries in the Premier League showed a huge 74 injuries occurred over the festive period. This equates to nearly five per cent of all eligible players from the start of the season.
Whilst some of the injuries are short term and injuries occur during all times of the year, the sheer frequency of them is inflated massively. In fact it isn’t just the period itself which causes injuries, the pushing of fatigue makes players susceptible to injuries further down the line.
A Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) study published in 2013 indicated that a player is four times more likely to be injured in the final three months of the Premier League season than over the same period in other European leagues.
For the FA cup game against Everton last Sunday, Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp said that he only had 13 available outfield players that were fit to play. He was accused of not taking the cup competitions as seriously. A pretty dire record in the FA Cup would seem to support that but he insisted this was not the case.
“The boys ran 13km to win a Premier League game, I can’t ask them to run 11 just to save energy for the next game. It’s about quality, not quantity. I think somebody has to speak for the players.” He continued, “My first job is to respect the players.”
This isn’t a new opposition either, just about every England national team manager in the last 20 years has pointed to players’ excess fatigue as a reason why they are unable to compete as well with other big footballing nations for international honours.
There has been some movement at least on the absurdity of the packed schedule.
Last year the Premier League announced there would be a 10-day mid-season player break in February for physical and mental recuperation, it will involve alternating a game weeks fixtures over two weekends. As in, five games will be played one weekend and the other five will be played the weekend after. We’ve been told, however, that the festive period will not be touched as it’s too lucrative for broadcasters. Great.
Personally I think the whole thing is both greedy and detrimental to the overall quality of the Premier League as a product. I would rather spend New Year’s Day conversing with people and spending time with family members you only see once a year for a reason rather than being in the knowledge that my day’s football entertainment lessens the quality of a huge number of other games throughout the season. I think broadcasters will cope.