Winter breaks in football have become the norm over the last two decades. Across Germany, Spain and other leading European nations, a rest period after the festive season is common.
Given the popularity and potential benefits of these breaks, the English Football Association (FA) has announced that it will fall in line with its European counterparts.
Under the terms agreed, the winter break will come into effect during the 2019/2020 football season and take place between January and February.
To ensure the flow of football action doesn’t completely dry up as one month transitions into another, there will be two breaks spread over a two-week period. During the first break, ten teams will sit out from competitive competitions.
During the second break, the remaining ten teams will have a rest. In commenting on the new policy, the FA called it a “significant moment that will greatly benefit club and country”.
However, are breaks in football a good thing? Despite being common practice in Europe, there are arguments for and against pressing the pause button midway through a season.
Are Players Playing TOO Many Games?
According to a Fifpro survey, 90% of players in Europe are in favour of a mid-season break.
Taking into account the views of 543 players from the leading clubs in Spain, Germany, Italy, England and elsewhere in Europe, Fifpro found that almost 50% believe there are “too many” games.
The Premier League is an obvious example of this. If you look through the match list inside our football betting hub and the diary is jam-packed.
Naturally, this creates thousands of weekly betting opportunities. However, for those doing the work, it’s bound to be taxing on the mind and body.
Of course, there will be some that will argue that footballers are athletes that are compensated more than fairly for their time but there’s no doubt the accumulation of games can have an impact on performances.
Indeed, when you look at the effect of winter breaks in European football, there is evidence to suggest that players benefit from having even just a week away from competitive matches.
For example, if you look at Bayern Munich’s results for the 2017/2018, you’ll see that the team enjoyed its best winning streak in the weeks following Germany’s winter break.
Bundesliga Break Pays Dividends
As per the Bundesliga’s rules, teams are rested between December 20 and January 12. Tracking the results for Bayern, the club went on a six-game winning run from January 12, 2018, scoring 18 goals before being held to a 0-0 draw by Hertha Berlin on February 24.
Taking this analysis a step further, Bayern went into their round of 16 first leg against Besiktas and cruised to a 5-0 victory. Although a skill discrepancy was certainly a factor in the result, the 25-day break almost certainly gave the German side an extra advantage.
Indeed, when you contrast this with how English teams performed in the same round, it was more of a mixed bag.
Although Manchester City and Liverpool were impressive, Manchester United and Tottenham could only muster draws against Sevilla and Juventus respectively.
Could a certain amount of fatigue have been the reason two of England’s top teams weren’t able to beat what could be considered lesser opposition?
Obviously, there are many more factors at play here. However, there’s an argument that Premier League players are simply more tired than their European counterparts. In fact, Champions League statistics would seem to back up this assumption.
English Clubs Falter Against Well-Rested Europeans
Jose Mourinho said that the lack of a break was hurting English clubs in the prestigious tournament and the stats seem to support his opinion
If you look at the 2018/2019 Champions League odds, four of the top five teams are European.
Yes, Manchester City were among the betting favourites at the end of October. However, with Barcelona, Juventus and Bayern all getting a break over the festive period, staying top of the rankings is never a guarantee.
Beyond the betting lines, English clubs have only won the Champions League trophy 12 times since 1955. What’s more, in the last ten years, there have only been two English winners.
For comparison, Real Madrid have won the trophy 13 times on their own (as of the 2017/2018 season). In fact, when you search back through previous opinions on the competition, it's often Real Madrid that get the vote of confidence from tipsters.
Given the weight of evidence, it would seem that a break is not only essential for the health of players but the performances of the top teams. However, there are some that believe more matches isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
Writing for The Mirror back in 2016, former pro Robbie Savage said that a lack of discipline was the reason for many players' failure to perform under pressure.
Answering fan tweets, the Welshman said that he was “ashamed” of players that didn’t have the “desire to stay properly fit”.
When challenged by a reader who suggested scientists have shown too much stress can have an adverse effect on performance, Savage said “science never hit a shot in the top corner or won the Champions League”.
Breaks Can Take Players Out Of Their Zone
While his second point was somewhat facetious, the does have a point. A player that’s truly hungry for success would rather have the elation of scoring the winner than a week on the sidelines.
During a Ted Talk, psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi described an idea that’s long been prominent in sport: being in the zone. Describing it as a “flow” state, Csikszentmihalyi said that people in the zone experience heightened focus and blissful immersion.
To put it another way, athletes in the zone are in a groove. Through a combination of endless repetitions and focus, athletes can make moves almost automatically. Footballers are no different, which is why a break could be a problem for some.
Even though it’s only a short period of time, any time out of the zone can have a negative impact.
Think about the performance of a player when they return from their post-season break. As well as fitness being an issue, their timing and awareness can also be off.
Although the post-season break is a lot longer, any time away will have some sort of effect. Therefore, for the ultra-competitive players, a week off isn’t desirable. In fact, it’s during high-pressure moments that the very best shine.
As everyone else is starting to tire and fall apart, the top players find an extra level. With that being the case, the game’s elite may argue that a break would hurt their chances of success as it would give lesser clubs time to regroup and recover.
Of course, the proof will be in the pudding when English clubs have their first winter break during the 2019/2020 season.
*Odds subject to change - correct at time of writing*