Top Physios Advocate Winter Break

As Christmas approaches the Champion’s League is put on hold until February and most European leagues take a Winter break. Not so in England though, where tradition has it that Premiership games take place on Boxing Day (December 26th) and New Year’s Day. Indeed the demands of television mean that some top flight teams will also play on December 23rd and 29th, making a total of four games in eight days. This is great for the armchair fan, who would prefer the Premiership to a James Bond movie on television during the festive season. However, many have questioned the wisdom of such a tight domestic schedule and would prefer a Winter break. PhysioRoom.com canvassed the opinion of the Premiership’s top physios on the subject and most were in favour of the idea.

As you switch on the TV after another big holiday feast spare a thought for the players, who on average cover 10 to 12 kilometres during a game, travel hundreds of miles to get to venues and spend the night before games (even home games) in different hotels. The cumulative effects of four games in eight days means they haven’t got sufficient time to recover, physically or mentally, and inevitably the physical performance deteriorates. To the football purist this represents a substandard exhibition as the technical quality is diminished. On the other hand, tired legs and a loss of concentration mean defensive mistakes – producing more goals for the armchair fan. The bigger clubs with large squads will attempt to address this by rotating the squad, but this is frustrating for fans who pay to see the top players, not their understudy’s.

Bearing in mind our top players will have no real summer break with the World Cup on the horizon, it may be an idea to think about a winter break. Manchester United have been in regular european action over the past ten years and their chief physiotherapist Rob Swire said, “With many international players it would be of benefit to have less Premiership games. It would help our clubs perform better in Europe with less league games. If performing well in Europe is a priority this should lead to all clubs accepting less games. A Winter break would be a definite advantage for all clubs.” With Arsenal FC, another Champion's League regular, it is perhaps not surprising that ‘The Gunners’ chief physiotherapist, Gary Lewin has a similar view, saying, “The league needs to be reduced and I think a Winter break is vital, particularly for international players”.

David Fevre, of Blackburn Rovers was chief physio at Manchester United when the club achieved the historic treble in 1999. He takes a pragmatic approach to the issue of a Winter break, saying, “Will this ever be possible due to the financial implications of less matches? Yes to the question in the ideal world”. Asked whether the winter break was a good idea, Chelsea’s chief physiotherapist Mike Banks commented, “From a medical point of view yes, but this is unlikely to happen because of the commercial interests of the smaller clubs who are not playing European football”. This highlights the fact that that clubs often put short term financial gain in front of a quality product.

Leeds United’s chief physio, Dave Hancock, has an interesting perspective on the proposed Winter break, “ A Winter break of 3 weeks is a must. The Academy set up do it and it refreshes both the body and the mind. I think the next big issue will be 'burnout' amongst physios, similar to the NFL”. This refers to the physical and mental exhaustion suffered by Athletic Trainers (north American equivalent to sports physios) due to the workload, pressures and travel involved in American Football. NFL teams have attempted to resolve this problem by expanding the medical team, in order to spread the workload.

The consensus of medical staff appears to be that a Winter break would be beneficial, but the idea is unlikely to come to fruition because of commercial considerations. With talk of a possible restructuring of the domestic leagues, and FIFA attempting to schedule a world football calendar, the Winter break may become a reality. However, one problem in England is that the unpredictable climate makes it difficult to know when the best time to schedule such a break would be.