January 3 – English football may at last have adopted a partial winter break but that hasn’t stopped the traditional festive fixture pile-up from resulting in an unprecedented spate of injuries.
Altogether the 20 top-flight clubs collectively suffered no fewer than 53 injuries over the Christmas and New Year period and the players’ union has now called on the authorities to address the issue.
Having long resisted a winter break, February will now see Premier League games staggered – 10 matches played across two weekends – but no changes were made to the end-of-year fixture congestion that critics say has already made the brief February respite redundant.
Most clubs played four matches across 12 days over Christmas and the New Year but in some cases the gap has been as little as two days.
Newcastle United were the hardest hit with four injuries in the space of 20 minutes against Leicester on New Year’s Day. Tottenham Hotspur have lost England captain Harry Kane for several weeks, Arsenal’s Calum Chambers and Aston Villa’s record signing Wesley Moraes are likely to miss the rest of the season with knee ligament injuries while Bournemouth manager Eddie Howe said that he was forced to play already injured players in the 4-0 defeat by West Ham United.
Bobby Barnes, FIFpro’s Europe president and deputy chief executive of England’s Professional Footballers’ Association, said it was time something was done about the congestion.
“Football’s governing bodies, as well as the clubs and leagues, need to get together on a global basis to try to ease this pressure,” Barnes told the Daily Telegraph newspaper.
“We are in a slightly different position – we have this tradition of playing at Christmas, and it is part of our culture – but it feels as if it is not a joined up system.
“We can’t look at it just from a domestic point of view. The time has come to have a holistic view. We need a joined up and grown up discussion. You don’t play the game without the players. Their interests have to be better protected.”
Barnes said that the February break was “a very good idea and very much needed” but Newcastle manager Steve Bruce says it is too little, too late.
“I said it a month ago, that to ask players to play four games in 10 days is ludicrous. This is the consequence,” said Bruce.
Liverpool played nine matches in December – including the Club World Cup in Qatar – and manager Jurgen Klopp also believes that the schedule is unfair.
“None of the managers have a problem with matches on Boxing Day, but playing the 26th and 28th is a crime,” said the German.
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