Sunday, 15 January 2012

The Great Break Debate

If you've met me, you'll know I have strong opinions on certain footballers and footballers in general. I don't believe in the archaic and, for me, naive idea that "they get paid too much money for kicking a ball about", because only certain players can kick a ball about that well. 

OK, the ridiculous amount of money Man City are paying their players is probably going too far, but still. Even a League 2 footballer is a lot better than the average man of his age, and deserves to be paid accordingly.

That doesn't change the fact that footballers are lucky to have the necessary talent to get that far (though hard work is also involved), that many of them seem pampered, that many might be out of touch with the fans they play in front of every week. I understand all that, it's valid, and I agree with some of it.

But it would appear some people are almost taking that idea too far, not actually giving footballers enough credit. Indeed, in the arguments for or against a winter break in English football some act as though the amount of money footballers earn forfeits their right to feel burnout or natural human fatigue. Commentating over the Christmas period, Ray Wilkins acted as though the plethora of injuries clubs are picking up - and always do pick up at this time of year - is made somehow OK by the fact that "it's the same for everyone". This after the usually objective Martin Tyler had spoken with disdain at people always "banging on" about a break.

This is ridiculous. In a shocking revelation that might surprise many, the modern footballer is, actually, you know, a person. They are not slabs of meat that a manager assembles to take on 11 other slabs of meat. This isn't some corny "but they have feelings too!" defence - they can look after themselves - this is just simple, cold logic. And the simple, cold logic is that Premiership players look exhausted at season-ending International tournaments (and not just the English ones; what did Torres, for example, contribute at the last World Cup? Or any other Premier League player?), and that squad depth is more important now than it ever has been.
Injuries like this one to Anderson are brought
about because of the busy Christmas schedule.

I don't want to rob the footballing world of English Football's famous Christmas schedule. Even if I did, the TV companies wouldn't go for it anyway. Far too much money made when there is at least one Premiership game per day for an entire week - in the past I've discussed football's pecking order, but the clubs are just pieces on a board compared to the TV companies.  I accept, too, that our footballing schedule is different to ones you find on the continent. We have an additional cup competition, for one thing, which makes a winter break logistically much harder to include.

Personally, I think the Carling Cup is a good thing to win, in the same way I appreciate winning the Europa League. I've never been one for what I think is an over-the-top level of pragmatism in football, where trophies are cast aside in favour of - wait for it - finishing 17th. Or even 4th. And this is from a Spurs fan who treated 4th as the holy grail for the longest time, but ultimately, it's 4th. You didn't win anything. You didn't even win a hypothetical Bronze Medal. So don't think I take the competition lightly or anything like that.

But the schedule should be drastically truncated. There's no reason for the early rounds to be completed as quickly as hey are, only for the semi-finals and final to drag on over two months. The semi-finals are in progress right now but I can barely even remember the Quarters.  Why can the Carling Cup Final not be completed before the 3rd Round of the FA Cup, for example? Why not hold the final as the last game before a winter break, and make 3rd Round weekend the first thing back? That way the heavy Christmas schedule is "rewarded" with a break, almost.

I'm not saying it's logistically easy to do, but I certainly think with the way athletes are trained right now and the very real potential for burnout, it has to be taken into serious consideration. Instead it seems to be shunned and cast aside by this overly "no-nonsense" old guard, people like Wilkins. Like I said, there seems to be an underlying belief among certain fans, pundits and commentators that because footballers make so much money they have forfeited their "right" to tiredness.

This is an attitude that needs to change. If I was going deep with this, I could even say this kind of old-school attitude is what keeps English football in the relative dark ages on the international stage. This "shut up and get on with it" attitude - like I said, the overly "no-nonsense" crowd. The media is dominated by ex-players who have a perspective that is skewed by their own playing days. "Why should they get a winter break? We didn't." seems to be the prevailing idea, but the difference is these people, like Wilkins, like Mark Lawrenson (ugh) played before things like strict dieting and modern fitness conditioning techniques were introduced.

Ray Wilkins' attitude towards
a break seems out-of-touch and naive

Footballers are actually treated like athletes now, as they should be to ensure optimal conditioning of players. This was not the case in the 80s. Alex Ferguson's rejection of an alcoholic Paul McGrath when he first took over at Manchester United was one of the first steps English football took towards this, though the introduction of managers like Arsene Wenger took it even further.

So basically, I get the arguments for and against the winter break. I don't want to kill the traditional Christmas period, though I feel it could perhaps be lightened slightly. Personally, yes, I believe we should have a winter break - but I also appreciate that the Carling Cup among other things makes it more logistically difficult here than in other countries.

However, the discussion always seems to be roadblocked by the same archaic attitudes. The attitude Wilkins had the other day, "it's the same for everybody", was shockingly out of touch, especially for somebody who was very recently an assistant manager. It's sad that he is far from an outlier on this issue. The arguments I have presented here - like the pitfalls of rearranging the Christmas schedule, whether the Carling Cup is necessary, and whether or not the lack of a break really is the reason Premiership players are underperforming at international tournaments -  are the ones that actually, logically matter when deciding whether or not we should adopt the break.

But they always seem to be something of an afterthought. The main focus seems to be that players don't deserve it because they get paid too much money. That's what it comes down to - they get paid so much money that they don't deserve to stop. Ever. Until eventually they will become broken, sad shells of what they once were. Then everyone will wonder what happened, and I will just shake my head and say "I told you so."

...OK, maybe it won't quite be that grim, but that's not so far from the truth. I get the disdain towards how much footballers get paid, especially with the economy as it is. But people's perspectives are being skewed by the numbers. It's the right time of year for cold logic, so let's use some. 


  1. Just to be a pain in the arse, Torres got the assist for Iniesta's goal that won them the World Cup ;)

  2. ^ No he didn't, it was Fabregas

  3. To be fair Fabregas played in the Premiership that year as well, so the point is undamaged. But Fabregas wasn't particularly good at that tournament apart from that assist, so.