The English are viewed as curious creatures in continental Europe, and never more so than at Christmas. As most of the continent’s top pros put their feet up, Europe’s television schedules customarily become stuffed with NBA – and English football.
Central Europe’s broadcasters are grateful for round-the-clock live content, and the viewing public delights in the eccentricity of the English cramming in as much football as they can to the holiday season. Yet every time England fails to match 2008 and 2009’s achievement of getting three of its teams into the Champions League semi-finals, it leads us to ask how much this holiday bonanza is happening at the Premier League’s expense.
Some physical and mental recuperation time seems like a sensible measure at this time of year, though the players’ break itself actually tends to be fairly short. Top-flight players in Spain and France this year, for example, started holidays on the 23rd or 24th, and will largely be back training on New Year’s Eve at the latest, before matches resume on the first weekend of January.
The biggest question must be how England’s players would spend their winter holidays if they had them. This is not the English football landscape of the Premier League’s advent; it’s a multinational league for a multinational audience. When players start jetting home to destinations outside Europe, the problem of getting everyone back in time arises.
When at Lyon, Brazilian striker Fred once came back ten days late for training, wearing a white stetson for his return to the training ground. Without doubt, there would be a few stragglers, with ‘delayed’ flights and ‘missed’ connections. Faced with this sort of hoopla, Premier League managers might begin to yearn for a time when a largely home-based squad could be trusted to drink themselves into a stupor at home, clutching a bottle of Malibu by the fireside. There’s also the prospect of players mentally clocking off before time.
Just ten days ago, Paris Saint-Germain’s Nenê seemed to take being out of Carlo Ancelotti’s squad as an excuse to begin the holidays early, and tweeted a picture of himself ice-skating in the rink at the Grand Palais – despite missing training that week with a calf injury. Then, we have to wonder whether the clubs themselves could be trusted.
Given half the chance, it’s hard to imagine the cream of the Premier League not booking lucrative mini-tours of Qatar, Hong Kong or somewhere similarly far-flung. The predilection towards omnipresence is in the Premier League’s DNA.
Striking a balance that means rested doesn’t turn into rustiness is hard too. Germany’s Bundesliga shortened its six-week winter break from last season onwards, following a growing feeling that its length was doing sporting - and commercial - damage.
There is no suggestion that the Premier League would entertain this length of holiday, but similar effects might occur in an environment unused to inertia. Many may feel that the English game cares little about tradition – or about fans in general – these days, but the reality is that the aura of tradition is a major aspect of what sells the Premier League to the world. To change that would chip away at much of England’s charm.
So the Premier League players might need to continue putting up with a busy Christmas, so the rest of the world can enjoy theirs in front of the telly.