Christmas. What’s one word that comes to mind when you think about Christmas? Family, correct? Christmas is all about togetherness and spending time with your loved ones to celebrate the tradition. Though for footballers in England’s top four divisions, family comes second-place during the festive period. The festive schedule works as a treat for fans of the English football team, providing action-packed entertainment on a mostly daily basis. With that said, is this intense schedule fair on the players?
You could make a case that the festive period in English football plays a pivotal role in the failure of the England national team at major tournaments. Prior to the 2018 World Cup in Russia, England’s record on the international stage was poor. Finishing bottom of their group at the 2014 World Cup and prior to that, being knocked out by Italy in the Quarter-Finals at Euro 2012. Whilst there has been significant improvement in England’s performances, runners-up at the delayed Euro 2020 and fourth place at the 2018 World Cup, the reality is that England still lacks the grit to go on and triumph on the big stages. The reason for their constant, consistent shortcomings may be more obvious than first thought.
The festive period in the top European leagues differs massively from the English Premier League. This season, the Spanish La Liga will take a planned hiatus from 19 December- 2 January. Meanwhile, Italian Serie A will take a break from 22 December and return on 6 January. In Germany, the Bundesliga will be on hiatus from 18 December until 8 January. In comparison, there will be no planned hiatus for footballers in the Premier League as matchday 14-21 has already been scheduled between 30 November-3 January. Footballers in England must not only endure a gruelling set of fixtures over the Christmas period but even more, there are no established breaks similar to that of the top European leagues at any point during the season.
The Christmas schedule for Premier League teams has been an utter shambles in recent years. Liverpool’s title-winning 2019/20 season was a victim of the festive period chaos as Jurgen Klopp’s Reds were forced to field two different teams for two fixtures which went ahead regardless of the fact that they clashed. With the Club World Cup taking place in Qatar, Liverpool’s 2019 festive period included an overseas trip to the 2022 World Cup hosts where they successfully won the triumph. Just days after their return from Qatar, they would then go on to face title rivals Leicester in a crucial showdown on Boxing Day. No remorse for the players, they were overworked by the scheduling nonsense which has been a constant in English football and needs addressing to protect the physical and mental health of the players.
Along with Jurgen Klopp, who labelled the Christmas schedule as being ‘criminal’ in December 2019, Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola ‘thanked’ the Premier League for their demanding Christmas fixture list in the 2019/20 season. The Spaniard wrote a letter to the Premier League which contained a strong sense of sarcasm as the Man City boss complained about the fact that his side had to play twice in the space of 48 hours. Complaining? Yes, but understandably so. To preserve the health of the players, it is unjust that they would have to play twice in two days. One may utilise the point of Premier League footballers being paid millions if they were attempting to argue that footballers can handle the Christmas period. Though when all is said and done, we must not forget that footballers are human and regardless of their salaries, their physical and mental health is still a priority
More chaos is guaranteed to be on the cards with the 2022 Qatar World Cup looming. The first ‘winter World Cup’ will see football’s biggest prize at stake between 21 November – 18 December. What this means for the festive period in the English Premier League remains unknown. Though what is clear is that the move to have the World Cup take place in the winter has jeopardised the flow of the Premier League’s festive schedule and could have severe implications for the structure of the league season from 2022 onwards. Yet again, it’s the players who must be focused on in this poetic mess of changes. It seems there is a pattern between the festive period and the 2022 Qatar World Cup, neither of the two takes the sanctity of the players into account. Football is nothing without the players. Overworking will inevitably lead to an increase in injuries which would cause more teams to suffer in the long term in relation to seasonal performances. Players matter, yet from the perspective of the system, the festive period and the 2022 Qatar World Cup would tell you otherwise.
This article is a representation of the current situation in the footballing world. The problems presented by the relevant leagues and FIFA have been analysed whilst highlighting the opinions of top Premier League managers. The views of the footballers themselves have purposely not been addressed. Why? Because this is symbolic of the realities faced by footballers. They are not considered at a sufficient level by footballing authorities. Their voices are seemingly ignored by the governing bodies. The neglectful attitude towards footballers and their physical and mental health must change otherwise a higher number of players could suffer in the future, especially if plans for the biennial World Cup go ahead. Christmas should be a time for family and togetherness. Not forced, money-driven hunger for the authorities.