Why Premier League were right to take a break despite Chris Wilder objections

If a job is worth doing, it is worth doing properly. By that logic, English football should not have bothered with its first winter break.

Victim: Harry Kane. Picture: Michael Regan/Getty Images

Despite Sheffield United manager Chris Wilder’s insistence that he would rather have done without it, a mid-season break is in the best interests of not only Premier League footballers, but the people who pay to watch them.

We have all heard the stories about the number of games the country’s top players used to play on pitches that were little more than bogs for much of the winter, of how few footballers it took to win a First Division title, with its destination often decided by a manic series of matches as the fixture list played catch-up after the worst ravages of the weather.

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But football is different now. The bowling-green surfaces, combined with far more time in the gym and far less in the bar, have turned it into a much faster, more intense game.

England physio Gary Lewin. Picture: Mike Egerton/PA

You only need look at the performances of the majority of most Premier League players in summer tournaments to see that more often than not, most of them have little left in the tank.

The Football League, with its 24-team divisions, remains one of the game’s great endurance tests but the self-styled “best league in the world” should be about less quantity, more quality.

Too many games at the fag-end of the festive period look like one too many. Injuries to England’s Harry Kane and Marcus Rashford during the busiest stretch of the season were utterly predictable.

Over the years, some of the best managers have tried to manufacture short sunshine breaks either for individuals or the group when they are “lucky” enough to have been knocked out of the FA Cup early.

Manchester United's Marcus Rashford. Picture: Martin Rickett/PA

Whatever you think of how certain people spend their time off, mentally and physically, the Premier League players ought to be better and sharper in the run-in.

As usual when it comes to the Premier League – a competition supposedly set up on the now-laughable premise of helping the England team – best intentions have not lasted very long.

The top division decided its players needed a break, but refused to give anything to make it happen – unless you count the fifth-round replays they pressurised the Football Association to drop from their cup competition.

So, in return for a short period of rest, teams have just had their workloads added to elsewhere.

Former England and Arsenal physiotherapist Gary Lewin argued that a three-week break was needed, not the 13 days most teams got – 10 days off, and 10 days training.

It is not even as if it has been a proper break. Splitting it over two separate weekends conveniently meant that the broadcasters were able to show all 20 teams during the “rest”, there was no need to have a week without Match of the Day. It gave a hint as to just how altruistic this decision was.

Even one weekend with no Premier League teams playing at all would have been a great opportunity to give the Football League a welcome showcase, and encourage supporters in need of a fix into unfamiliar grounds. But this is a competition first set up as a money-grab, not a charity.

When it came down to it, Southampton, Tottenham Hotspur, Manchester City, West Ham United and Liverpool (sort of) did not even get their full break.

Southampton, Spurs and Liverpool had FA Cup replays organised in their supposed down-time, and although the league leaders were right to keep their first team away, it was another blow to a wounded competition.

When Manchester City’s game at West Ham was postponed because of Storm Ciara, it was rearranged for the back end of their break.

The number of days without a game looks like a holiday, but both teams had trained fully for the original game, and will have to do so for the new one.

In every way, it has been a half-hearted token effort.

The disruption of a winter World Cup in 2022 offers an opportunity for a proper rethink, and the Premier League must take it.

Something has to give, and it will be painful. Spain and Germany have proper winter breaks, and two fewer teams in their top division, but the clubs are never going to vote to reduce their chances of playing in the lucrative and prestigious top-flight.

The cup competitions will come under scrutiny, as will when it is best to ask players to put their feet up.

The real issue for English clubs is that the European club competitions are bloated. A Europa League packed with matches hardly anyone is interested in just seems excessive, as does spreading the first knockout round of the Champions League over a month just to give the broadcasters more prime-time matches.

Unfortunately, it seems as if the number of games is going to change, it will be up, not down. Too often, greed trumps logic in football.

This winter break has been a welcome first step in the right direction, but mindsets will have to change with it if it is to actually have any real value.