Pep Guardiola says it’s going to kill his players. Louis Van Gaal famously called it evil. Football fans call it tradition. Who’s right and who’s wrong when it comes to the congested calendar?
The Christmas and New Year programme is the big divider, but we don’t need a winter break like nearly every other country across Europe. We just need to start thinking about the schedule.
The biggest question is undoubtedly why have the Premier League have squeezed so many fixtures into a six week period when there first round of midweek matches didn’t hit the fixture list until November 28?
Let’s face it, for most top flight players they can now put their feet up until the middle of the month. This weekend’s FA Cup programme will be swerved by most, but while the daggers will be out for devaluing the competition there’s no way there will be anything but a sprinkling of first team stardust over third round weekend.
Be prepared for third round day, a traditional calendar highlight, being seen as a bothersome inconvenience.
For that, you can’t blame the managers. The punishing Premier League programme, as it is in the Football League too, is unrelenting. It’s created the issue.
The predictable ‘ah diddums’ response has been quick to be drawn. Millionaire footballers being asked to play football is never going to provoke any form of sympathy. Especially when club throw their players on a plane to Dubai or the south of Spain for some warm weather training within days of the run ending. But ultimately it misses the point.
Managers don’t help the situation sometimes. Alan Pardew and West Brom’s attempts to get their game with West Ham yesterday postponed was ambitious to say the very least, but the bottom line is their complaint was more than valid. The Hammers hadn’t played for six days, while two days earlier the Baggies were going until the final whistle with Arsenal.
The result? A last-minute winner for West Ham to leave weary Pardew with a sinking feeling.
This is where you have to put away the pretend bottom lip. That’s not good enough, and with so much at stake you can’t ask even the most elite of athletes to perform in a fourth game in little over a week.
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We’re in the entertainment industry of course. We want goals, good matches and players at their peak. We don’t want to watch lethargic and leggy second choice sides trying to play football when they really don’t want to be.
We love a football explosion, especially when there’s so much time to fill this time of year.
But there’s got to be some middle ground. Four full programmes inside ten days is almost designed to rile. It’s a good watch for the armchair fan, but the those who attend all games have been pulled from pillar to post too.
It’s all so easily solved. Had the Premier League not decided to plan a round of games on Saturday December 30 then you complaints would have been few and far between.
What did it achieve? Well it renders this weekend’s FA Cup programme a sitting duck for critics. Fans may prefer to save their money, while players will save their legs. The Premier League has killed the third round, let’s just hope some upsets save it.
Despite an easy win over Watford on Tuesday night, City boss Guardiola was having none of it.
“We are going to kill them. I think the federation (the FA) has to reflect,” he said. “Here in England, we don’t protect the players and that is a big mistake.
“You have to look for the quality, not the quantity. You can play every three, four or five days but not play every two days. It is not basketball, it is not tennis. The players need recovery.
“But it doesn’t matter. The show must go on. I don’t think anything is going to happen because the tradition is the tradition but just think a little bit about the players, please. They are artists.”
Over-dramatic yes, but he makes his point.
Clogging the fixtures list for five weeks could have consequences for our clubs when the Champions League returns, and of course for England in the World Cup.