In February and March 2004, England’s top-flight clubs voted 19 to 1 in favour of the principle of a winter break in late January. Research by Professor of Sports Medicine, Jan Ekstrand of Football Research Group at Linkoping University in Stockholm showed the benefits of such a rest.
With UEFA’s backing, he compiled a report comparing injury levels in those countries with a winter break, like France, Holland, Italy and Spain, to those without, namely the Premier League. The project found that during the last three months of the season the injury risk was four times higher in teams without a winter break. And that’s just the physical side.
Sven Goran-Eriksson proposed a 13 day break in January, missing only one weekend, with seven days complete break followed by six days of training. It was approved by the Professional Game Board. Ken Bates’s Challenge Cup Committee weren’t opposed, but weren’t prepared to scrap cup replays.
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Nearly everyone but Richard Scudamore, the Chief Executive of the Premier League, wanted one. Effectively, he was opposed to it purely for the purpose of television as the English league is the only one that shows in the Far East at that time while countries are off.
With an England football team having been knocked out of a major competition yet again in the form of the European Under-21 Championship, talk has ultimately come to the issue once again. There will be those who say that other countries like Germany and Spain have players plying their trade in England, so there is no excuse for us looking flat and failing on the big stage, which is a silly argument considering that only a handful of their personnel play in England whereas it is usually the case that every one of our squad do.
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Other major nations may play a similar amount of games, but they get a chance to re-charge their batteries. You've heard the phrase ''it's a marathon not a sprint.'' Well, you can apply the opposite to the Premier League and the way it goes about things.
One could say that the Under 21s were unlucky to lose three very important players to injury in John Stones, Saido Berahinho and Alex Pritchard, but could it have been the lack of rest during the season that played its part in their misfortune. Stones suffered a head injury, which could have happened anywhere, but did the pressures of a non-stop campaign finally take its toll on Berahinho's knee and Pritchard's ankle?
Who knows, but it could not have helped. It is not just because a lack of a winter break that England fail at the majors, but implementing one for ten years, say, would be an interesting and potentially worthwhile idea. Let's try it, so we can stop the moaning at least.