As the festive season draws ever closer, English football is bracing itself for a sudden increase in matches which could prove to be a season-defining period. Premier League clubs will play 5 matches within the space of 15 days over the festive period as television coverage reaches record heights.
At the most wonderful time of the year, players in English leagues are expected to perform at their peak physical ability on several occasions. Their bodies will be tested to the fullest with fans expecting the very best results. Although players will perform for possibly 450 minutes over the festive period, specialists say that players should be given 72 hours to recover from a match.
Liverpool, for example, will have to travel around 1,000 miles within the space of 5 days to face both AFC Bournemouth and Arsenal. Not only will this exert great deals of pressure on the players but it will also force their fans to pay lots of money to see their team play. With such emotional attachment to the club, fans will undoubtedly travel in great numbers – but, there is surely need for change to allow the festive period to be a time of relaxation, not financial stress.
Most alarmingly, the toll that travelling will take on players is likely to affect their performances for the rest of the season. It isn’t difficult to see that the lack of winter break in England is affecting English clubs’ performances on the Continent. No English team has won the Champions League since Chelsea’s 2011/12 win. Since then, only Spanish or German clubs have lifted to cup, two countries which take breaks during the festive period.
Indeed, English clubs have performed better in the Champions League this year. But, this is before other countries have taken time off over Christmas. While performances from English clubs aren’t currently showing any signs of faltering, the sheer volume of games over the coming weeks could influence performances later on in the Champions League.
Furthermore, the increase in matches over the festive period hinders the quality time players can spend with their families. True, players are paid a lot of money. But surely there should be a point where players are not treated as robots but as real people.
Having said that, it could be argued that the festive period in English football is the best time of year. This is true in the light that fans constantly have matches to watch. Whether it be at home on the TV or at the games themselves, football fans up and down the country have the opportunity to consume as much football as they want.
It is, though, worth remembering why so many games are broadcast over the festive period. In the eyes of Sky and BT Sport, it’s not for entertainment value, but for maximum profits. The festive period is a time when families are at home in front of the TV which allows Sky and BT Sport alike to maximise their consumer base.
At the beginning of the 2017/18 season, Sky yet again remained the biggest broadcaster of Premier League games despite a £629million jump in rights to broadcast the games. That, in a nutshell, shows just how lucrative the Premier League is to global media corporations like Sky.
However, the financial giants that more or less control the Premier League are turning it into a theatrical spectacle. Players are not physically capable to maintain such high standards of performance over the whole season with the festive period causing much strain on its own. Therefore, the powers that be, the FA and Premier League, must genuinely consider implementing a winter break that gives players time to recover.
As Andy Williams famously sang in 1963, ‘it’s
the most wonderful time of the year.’ However, not for footballers who have to
travel the country, enduring extraordinary levels of mental and physical
pressure in order to gratify the needs of the money-driven television companies
who reap the rewards.