When you weigh up all the pros and cons of introducing a winter break in the Premier League, and having experienced it myself when playing for Marseille, I don’t see how you could conclude that it would be anything other than positive – as long as it is implemented correctly.
It would be great for players. To be afforded a complete rest, not just from playing but also from training, would make such a difference to their freshness and likelihood of staying fit. Footballers despise injury; it’s the worst thing that can happen. It takes you out of your routine, you can’t perform and it puts your place in the team in danger. Anything that lessens the risk of that has to be good.
The benefits wouldn’t just be physical, though. Players are under more scrutiny and pressure than ever before, and that takes a mental toll. Plus, while they accept that they don’t get to see their loved ones much over the Christmas period, it is a sacrifice and is neither easy nor enjoyable. Time off in January instead, as has been discussed, would be welcome.
A break also makes sense for clubs. They need their best players available in order to be competitive and, as thoughts turn to pushing for trophies in the second half of the season, that becomes even more important. The Champions League is a key element. English teams are currently at a disadvantage in the knockout rounds when they play European opponents who are fresher and fitter because of a winter break.
Then you have the England team. Every two years we have a debate about our lack of winter break, as players join up with the national squad for a further six weeks at the end of a long, hard season. It becomes an 11-month slog, and, if nothing else, having a January break would prevent it from being used as an excuse for England’s major tournament failures.
During my time in France we’d stop around 20 December and our next game would not be until 10 January, so we would have Christmas and new year off and resume training on 2 January. I wasn’t off long enough to lose fitness, and I’d go for a couple of runs to keep myself ticking over, but I really enjoyed it and it was the only Christmas I had off in 20 years.
Rather than a 10 or 11-month ordeal, the season becomes divided into two more manageable halves. You look forward to that chance to regroup and go again, just like teams do with half-time.
There might be some objections to a winter break, but I think even they could be turned into positives with the right marketing.
So while doing away with FA Cup replays might be accused of devaluing the competition, it could also make it more exciting if all ties were decided on the day – and besides, the damage has already been done on the devaluing front. Similarly, although some fans might resent an interruption to the constant flow of top-flight football, it would give them a chance to watch a lower league or non-league team instead.
I’d like to see a winter break start after the first games of the new year. Players could be given 10 days off and then return to training to resume matches around 20 January. This innovation is being discussed for 2019-2022 and that period should be long enough to assess the data and see whether it has had a positive impact.
There is one important caveat, though. A break must mean a break, so players should be guaranteed 8-10 days off. Clubs should not be allowed to take them around the world on money-spinning tours. It would defeat the object of the winter break and, with the relative wealth of English clubs, there can be no justifiable commercial reason.