The case for winter breaks and proper recovery for footballers

Ross Gibson
Jurgen Klopp Liverpool

While winter breaks have been commonplace in football across Europe for many years, this has not been the case in the Premier League.

Many respected people within the game have been strong advocates of taking a winter break to bring the league into line with its European counterparts.

The Premier League finally jumped on the bandwagon and implemented a winter break for the 2019/20 season, although they staggered it to ensure that broadcasters’ demands were met.

The implementation of what was effectively a two-week break came after years of people involved in football saying that the English game places too many physical demands on its players.

Read on as we assess the case for winter breaks and the reasons why proper recovery matters for footballers in the modern era.

Liverpool chief concerned about workload

All of Europe’s other recognised top leagues have a winter break, with Germany’s Bundesliga enjoying the longest from a week before Christmas until the middle of January.

Ligue 1 (24 days), La Liga (18) and Serie A (16) also take significant breaks in France, Spain and Italy respectively.

Some pundits have argued that the staggered two-week break in the Premier League is half-baked, with the need to please broadcasters being placed ahead of player welfare.

The workload of some of the top players is eye-watering, with numerous players already playing well over 3,000 minutes this season.

Liverpool defenders Virgil van Dijk and Andrew Robertson are amongst that list, a statistic that is of great concern to club chairman Tom Werner.

“We all have to look at the calendar,” he said. “We are all concerned at the amount of stress we are putting on our players. It is a bigger issue and I am not competent to know what the solution is.

“It’s an evolving situation but the one thing we are concerned about, I would say, is you want to have some thoughts about the calendar and protecting the health of players so that leads to all sorts of issues.”

Fitness expert says rest and recovery matters

Respected physical therapy expert, John Gallucci Jr, believes that rest and recovery should be an integral part of every player’s training regime.

Gallucci is the Medical Coordinator for more than 600 professional players in Major League Soccer, having previously worked in a coaching capacity with New York Red Bulls.

The winter break gave Premier League stars time to recuperate from their usual hectic schedule, something Gallucci believes will help their long-term fitness.

“While we sleep our bodies use this time to repair, regenerate and re-energise,” he said. “After a long practice or game, when an athlete has fatigued their body and mind, sleep becomes crucial.

“Muscle fatigue and breakdown, which occurs after strenuous activity, and needs adequate time to heal for the muscles to repair and regenerate before the next activity in order to refrain from injury.

“A lack of sleep can also increase stress. Elevated levels of cortisol, a stress hormone, has also been shown to interfere negatively with tissue repair and growth.”

Football legend a strong believer in winter breaks

Former Manchester United manager, Sir Alex Ferguson, repeatedly extolled the virtues of a winter break during his career.

He fully understood the benefits of rest of recovery and famously utilised the services of sleep coach, Nick Littlehales, during his time in charge at Old Trafford.

Ferguson often called for the Premier League to introduce a winter break, insisting that it would also be of huge benefit to England’s national team.

“The English season is exhausting,” he said. “Most Decembers we play between eight and nine games at the worst time of the year.

“The pitches are heavier, the weather is worse and then in the second half of the season you’ll find a lot of players at all clubs carrying strains, pulls, but because of the importance of the games they keep on playing.

“And then when they get to the end of the season and have a major tournament like a World Cup or European Championship, they are not 100% fit – they can’t be.

“They need that rest factor which brings the energy back into the system. Germany always take that month-long break in January and they always seem to do better in World Cups than anyone ever expects.”

Winter breaks – the final word

It has taken a long while for the Premier League to catch up with the rest of Europe, but a winter break should prove to be beneficial to the players.

Hopefully the break will also serve to boost England’s hopes of success on the international stage, improving their chances of winning silverware.

Hopefully the break will also serve to boost England’s hopes of success on the international stage, improving their chances of winning silverware. Hopefully the break will also serve to boost England’s hopes of success on the international stage, improving their chances of winning silverware.