POLL: Christmas shocked Leeds’s foreigners – in July

Leeds United's Marco Silvestri.
Leeds United's Marco Silvestri.
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LEEDS UNITED captain Stephen Warnock is confident that the club’s foreign contingent will cope with the intense physical 
demands that will accompany their first taste of a packed Christmas schedule.

The Elland Road club will round off 2014 with a Boxing Day clash at home to Wigan Athletic and a trip to promotion hopefuls Derby County on December 30.

With United then due at Premier League side Sunderland in the FA Cup third round just four days into the new year, it means a busy time for United and, in particular, those players experiencing an English festive period for the first time.

For the large influx of signings who arrived last summer from abroad, playing at Christmas will be a new experience with all the major leagues around Europe shutting down for a winter break over Christmas and New Year.

Spain, Italy, Holland, France, Portugal and Germany are among the continent’s major competitions which shut down for the entire holiday period.

In Italy, for instance, all clubs in both Serie A and Serie B played their final game of the year last weekend and will not resume playing duties until the week beginning January 5.

Many of United’s summer arrivals – including Marco Silvestri, Adryan, Mirco Antenucci, Souleymane Doukara and Giuseppe Bellusci – plied their trade in 
Italy during 2013-14 so are used to being able to re-charge their batteries for a fortnight at this time of year.

All of them could feature against Wigan at Elland Road on Boxing Day and then Derby four days later, but Warnock, a veteran of several hectic Christmas schedules in his career, is adamant his team-mates will have no problem adapting to the rigours of an English festive season.

The 33-year-old former England international told The Yorkshire Post: “You know the Christmas programme is part and parcel of the game.

“I think it is different for the Italian boys who have come in, as they are used to the winter breaks. I think it will hit them a little bit more differently than it does us. To us, it is probably a normal week in a football calendar. You just get a little bit less rest in between.

“In previous years, the foreign lads would have played at the weekend and then been on their break now for a couple of weeks. To be honest, though, they haven’t really mentioned it.

“I think it was more at the beginning of the season, when the fixtures came out, and they were like, ‘Oh right, you play at Christmas ...’

“It is something new. But, to be honest, they have embraced everything else about the club and the league and the way that we do things. I think they are enjoying it.”

United’s festive programme is, if anything, a little lighter than usual. Last season, for instance, the West Yorkshire club played five times in 15 days.

This time around, the Football League opting not to play any fixtures on New Year’s Day has given a bit more breathing space to the calendar and is why United’s trip to Derby has been able to be pushed back two days to Tuesday so the game can be shown live on Sky Sports. Even allowing for the absence of a match on January 1, however, Leeds’s squad will have little time off.

Neil Redfearn’s players will train on Christmas Day morning before being allowed to return home for a couple of hours to spend quality time with their families.

Then, though, the United squad will follow their usual routine before home games of meeting up in a city centre hotel and staying the night.

With warm-downs after games also having to be factored in, the Leeds players will have little time at home with family and friends.

Warnock, in the last year of his contract at Elland Road, added: “You have to look after yourself that little bit better, which isn’t easy when you are seeing all the family drinking and eating what they want.

“But you have to be professional and understand it. I think once you get older you understand it even more, so you learn to deal with it.

“You enjoy the kids when you can when you are at home, but then it is getting yourself ready and rested for the games.”

Meanwhile, the Football League have decided to put 
Massimo Cellino’s suspension on hold until after his appeal is heard on January 15.

The Italian had been banned until March 18 under the League’s owners and directors’ test after an Italian court found him guilty of non-payment of import duties on a boat.

Under the terms of the original decision, Cellino was required to resign as a United director by December 29 and cut all ties with the club.

Now, though, the League has agreed to defer the deadline until two days after the final decision by the professional Conduct Committee, which will be chaired by Tim Kerr QC.

A League spokesman added: “If Mr Cellino is unsuccessful in his appeal, any disqualification period will be extended by an amount equivalent to the length of time between December 29 and the deferred deadline.”