THE BLOG

Christmas Past, Present and Future?

02/01/2014 14:46 GMT | Updated 04/03/2014 10:59 GMT

As the festive period draws to a close, at a time when age old traditions and habits are both embraced and encouraged, it was once again business as usual at football clubs across the country.

Whilst the rest of the domestic leagues across Europe embark upon a well-earned winter hiatus, English clubs are in the midst of a frenzied, and potentially season-defining few weeks.

Top tier sides will play out an incredible seven fixtures in just four weeks over the festive period - and that has led to increasing clamour for the Premier League to restructure the English season.

The issue of whether to implement a winter break, like goal line technology before it, will not dissipate - and in my opinion, a change is long overdue.

Having worked closely with clubs across the continent for over two decades, I have seen firsthand the benefits that a mid-season hiatus can bring.

It is a time for clubs to recover from injuries, refocus tired minds and rejuvenate campaigns.

Elite sides all over Europe are reaping the benefits of a little breathing space.

And as their English counterparts enter the busiest period of the season, frankly, the Germans, Spanish, Italian and French leagues will be looking on in amusement.

Vastly experienced and intelligent men of the game such as Manuel Pellegrini, Gus Poyet and Arsene Wenger have all hit the headlines in recent weeks as they campaigned for time off.

But the idea of an English winter break is nothing new. Sir Alex Ferguson and Sven Goran Eriksson have also been championing the notion for years.

So far, all of those cries have fallen on deaf ears at Premier League HQ.

The English game is famous for its proud heritage and traditions - but, once again, it runs the risk of becoming a slave to outdated practices.

It is no coincidence that the two countries whose domestic and national sides are currently stamping their authority on world football both see the value of implementing winter breaks into their respective campaigns.

German clubs enjoy one of the longest rest periods of all the European leagues, and Wenger in particular has pointed to the European success of Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund last year as evidence that their 33 day winter break was to positive effect.

I also spend much of my time in Spain, and, whilst they implement a relatively short break in comparison to the Bundesliga, there is still a real importance placed upon that time off.

It has long been an unwritten rule that no formal football is played between 23rd December and 3rd January - and, let's face it, that break isn't dictated by the weather.

In fact, back in 2010, Spanish footballers even threatened strike action after the RFEF attempted to organise a round of fixtures for 2nd January, which underlines just how invaluable they see their time off.

It is hard to argue that the refusal of the Premier League to mirror the season structures of their European counterparts puts both domestic clubs and the national team at a huge disadvantage.

There are some valid and reasoned arguments against the idea of a winter break. Many of them centre on the fact that it would simply be wrong to change tradition.

However, I believe that modern football is such a transient and fast-paced game, that, ultimately, any change today, will be the norm in just a few years.

Another is that postponing festive football would have a negative effect on loyal supporters.

But in a time of economic struggle, I believe that it would actually give many fans some much-needed breathing space.

With most Premier League clubs charging upwards of £50 for a standard match day ticket, it is likely to be the wallet, as well as the waistband, feeling the strain this Christmas.

Of course, let us not forget that the late December fixtures are big business to both the bosses of the top tier, and TV companies.

An incredible 12 games were broadcast live between 21st December and New Year's Day - and that cash cow is one which they will be looking to milk for years to come.

I read with interest the comments of new Sunderland manager Gus Poyet, who spoke passionately and intelligently on the benefits of a mid-season hiatus.

He believes that it would be sensible to implement a short rest period after the Boxing Day fixtures, which would allow supporters to maintain their traditional habits, whilst giving those involved in football a much-needed break.

New FA Chairman Greg Dyke has only been in the job for three months, but has already questioned why English football is deliberately putting itself at a disadvantage to its rivals.

He has established a commission panel to look at improving the prospects of the both the England team, and the national game as a whole - and invited the Premier League, and its Chief Executive Richard Scudamore, to take part in that process.

They refused - a move that Dyke called 'disappointing'. Their absence from the panel speaks volumes about where their priorities lie.

With the domestic game at a low ebb, it is vital that those two bodies work together to bring the Premier League into line with the rest of the continent.

As we usher in a new year, English football is currently its own worst enemy.

It must move with the times - or be left behind.