Has the intensity of the Premier League taken its toll on individuals?

I love the Premier League. In spite of the constant bickering between managers, the weekly supplement of controversy and the infuriating cases of ‘gamesmanship’, it still remains an infinitely superior spectacle over its European counterparts. Every fixture boasts a gruelling physical intensity that epitomises the ‘English bulldog’ spirit, which we as fans seem to thrive on.

However, with the end of the season in sight I would argue that the demanding nature of the English game is taking its toll. The excitement of the title race appears to have fizzled out, with United limping over the line as City continue to collapse in an expensive heap. Spurs are no longer the free-flowing attacking threat they once were whilst all of the relegation candidates appear to take two steps back with every step they take forward.

Alongside Gareth Bale, Manchester City’s pint-sized magician David Silva is perhaps enduring the most-publicised slump in form. His manager Roberto Mancini has expressed his concern over the player’s recent performances, in amongst reports that he has been nursing a series of niggling injuries.

“I don’t know how many games David has played for us in the Premier League, Champions League, Europa League, Carling Cup, FA Cup plus internationals. David always plays here [indicates high level with hand] and now maybe he is here [drops hand lower to chest]. This is normal, but I hope he can recover.” (Sky Sports)

As the Premier League’s elite emerges from another congested fixture pile-up, the resulting damage is evident. Uninspiring performances have meant dropped points and with lengthy queues outside treatment rooms, a growing number of managers are calling for a winter break. Former England manager Fabio Capello frequently implied the disastrous World Cup campaign was down to his players’ increased levels of fatigue, a fair point when you look at the success of both Germany and Spain who enjoy considerable respite during their league campaigns.

Sunderland manager Martin O’Neill has also previously highlighted his desire for such an initiative to be implemented in the football league.

“I would love to see it happen, even for a week or two because psychologically, I believe when you start off the season, it’s pretty long and it gives you something to think about during that time.” (Eurosport)

A winter break would certainly allow for a necessary regeneration period after the customary hectic festive calendar. It could even help contribute to a resurgence in the popularity of the FA Cup, with teams heading straight into third round ties after a fortnight of anticipation.

The main obstacle to overcome surrounds the harsh reality that the current fixture schedule cannot accommodate such a lengthy vacation. The Premier League would almost certainly have to start earlier in the summer, which wouldn’t go down well and definitely wouldn’t be feasible with events like the Olympic Games this summer. The FA has also highlighted concerns that clubs would take advantage of this opportunity to arrange prestigious friendlies but that seems beside the point, given that none of the first-team would feature in any such game. In addition to this, with the English weather being notoriously unpredictable, imagine the nightmare situation that would arise should teams surface from a winter break only to have further matches postponed.

This season saw another heavy burden placed on players in the form of the African Cup of Nations, which Manchester City’s leading football administrator Brian Marwood identified as a reason for individuals suffering burnout.

“I think we need to think very carefully about the calendar, in terms of how we’re scheduling games. For instance, you had the African Cup of Nations, which is a bizarre situation in which you lose players midway through the season for up to five to six weeks. That’s wrong, that’s completely wrong.” (BBC)

Statistics would seem to support the detrimental effect of such international competitions, especially when you consider that since Papiss Cisse netted his first Newcastle goal, Demba Ba has gone 707 minutes without scoring. Did Pardew foresee this apparent demise and sign his compatriot as a replacement rather than a partner?

Whenever the prospect of a reduced fixture schedule has been suggested in the past, supporters have been eager to lament the already ‘pampered lifestyle’ of the modern day footballer. However considering the recent health problems that are affecting a growing number of stars, perhaps the general public and mass media will be more forgiving, and start to realise that they’re only human after all.

Come find me on Twitter @theunusedsub where I’m deliberating whether it’s acceptable to feel happy for Andy Carroll after his match winner last night.