Jim White

The longest summer

Jim White

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Coming back after two weeks holiday it appears that nothing has changed. Manchester United are still insisting Cristiano Ronaldo is going nowhere even as the player himself is preparing to pack his bags for the first available flight to Madrid.

Frank Lampard is still a Chelsea player, though nobody thinks that will last too long. And Gareth Barry is still heading to Anfield any day now. Seriously, any day now he will go. It is, according to Aston Villa's manager Martin O'Neill, finally a matter between the player, his agent, Liverpool and Aston Villa. Which makes you wonder, if that is a narrowing down of interested parties, who was involved before.

In short, the close season phoney war remains in full swing, the slings and arrows of pointless speculation continue to assail us at every turn, with nothing decided and nothing advanced.

Emmanuel Adabayour: is he going? Didier Droga: is he staying? Xabi Alonso: who wants him? Nothing has altered. Never mind a holiday mood, over the summer football seems to go into a condition of suspended animation. And the thing is: it appears to last for ever.

It led me to think this. That two week holiday I have just enjoyed, it is what most of the world relies on in order to refresh themselves for the task ahead. A fortnight is all we get, 14 days considered the norm to recharge the batteries and steady the nerve.
But not in the world of club football it isn't. There, 14 two weeks is but the start of negotiations.

Consider this: the Champions League final, the last competitive fixture in the European club calendar, took place on 21 May, while the Premier League season kicks off on 16 August. That's 87 days between competitive club fixtures. And for the majority of teams - everyone in fact who didn't reach either the Champions League or FA Cup finals - the break has been a fortnight longer. Which means footballers - or at least those not engaged in the European Championships - have been enjoying roughly 80 days of summer holiday more than the rest of us get.

Of course, some of that time is eaten up by pre-season training. And money-spinning one-off matches in Abuja. And a run-out for the reserves in a testimonial in Aberdeen timetabled to showcase the new away strip (available now from the club shop).

But the rest of it is a one long empty hole, to be filled by dousing yourself with olive oil and lying on a beach in the Maldives hoping a passing paparazzo might snap the magnificence of your tan.

People complain that the Premier League season goes on forever, but the fact is, it is the break from the football that is interminable. So here's a thought: cut it down a little. That way you could give a bit of breathing space to the business end of the season. By bringing the starting date forward to the first weekend in August, the Premier League could cheerfully help prevent the inevitability of April fixture congestion, and thus help keep Alex Ferguson's blood pressure at manageable levels.

Why not get a couple of matches in while the weather is warm, the pitches are green and you don't have to add to your carbon footprint by switching on the floodlights at half time. If nothing else, it would stop us fans being driven mad by the endless, interminable, speculation-filled wait.

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