On the one hand we have Premier League managers complaining, perhaps rightly so, about fixture congestion. On the other hand we have the same managers calling for a winter break. The words ‘having’, ‘cake’ and ‘eating’ spring to mind. I don’t think you’ll find many managers, players or fans who, at some point or other, have not felt aggrieved by the often unkind fixture list. It is not uncommon in England to play three games a week, particularly if you happen to play in European competitions as well as domestic ones. However just how a winter break, which would mean the same amount of seasonal games having to be played in a shorter amount of time, would help fixture congestion?
Whilst admitting that the hectic Christmas schedule is part of ‘the charm and craziness of English football’ the Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger complains on at least a bi-annual basis about the lack of breathing space in between games. I don’t begrudge him that. His complaints, along with those of Roberto Mancini and many other managers are perfectly valid. The situation is often farcical; however their demands for a winter break seem juxtaposed with said complaints. You could argue that a short two week break, like the one Wenger has called for, involving ‘a week to rest and a week to prepare’ would allow the players to better deal with the rigours of having to play quite so much football. However in taking those two weeks in January the players will have to make up for it at some other time of the year. Many managers seem to believe that in adding a winter break they would be adding weeks on to the year. To accuse the FA and the Premier League of failing to give a winter break, like they have in continental leagues, and also failing to provide an acceptable fixture list seems rather childish without the provision of a proposed solution to the problem of where to place these games.
There are two main problems that we have in England. Firstly we have two domestic cup competitions. A situation that is not common in Europe. There are some other countries that do this but not all do. Therefore immediately the idea of a two-week winter break seems impossible if we are to include those extra games. The second problem is that, like some but not all leagues, we have a squad limit of 25 players (not including those players who are under twenty-one years of age). This means that some clubs, like Arsenal, are in a position where they need to buy more players but they already have a full squad. Therefore despite being involved in more competitions they are not allowed more players. Proportionately to the lower clubs the top clubs therefore have a smaller player to games played ratio.
Clearly you cannot allow some clubs to have larger squads just because they are involved in more competitions, however changes to squad rules can be made. For example, in France the squad limit is ninety-nine players. Obviously not all of those squad spaces would be used, however the teams that were in other competitions, such as the Champions League, would be able to use the money they received from that competition to buy extra players to lighten the load on the rest of the squad.
I’m not against having a winter break, nor am I always happy with the fixture list, but it is important to recognise that these problems are not necessarily connected. It is important to recognise that there are external, and potentially unavoidable, factors that hinder English clubs. The other point to remember is that, on the whole, all English teams are in the same boat. Even those not involved in European cups still have cause for complaint when to comes demanding fixture lists. Perhaps clubs should also be looking in the mirror before complaining about such issues. After all clubs such as Barcelona manage to, season after season, go all the way in every single competition they enter whilst still achieving success. Yes, the physical demands of our league might be greater but it is still something worth considering before Premier League managers start to point the finger.