Sunderland played the third of five games in a thirteen day period on Tuesday when they lost 2-0 to at home Blackpool. It wasn’t the result or the performance that bothered their manager Steve Bruce, it was the strain put on his players.
He couldn’t have asked for much more from his team in the game where they had a remarkable thirty-two attempts on goal to their opponents nine but somehow conceived to lose the game.
What upset Bruce was that he lost three players to muscle injuries. Nedum Onuoha, Danny Welbeck and Asamoah Gyan were all injured in the game which came just two days after their defeat at Old Trafford.
“A footballer can play every day of the week if you want him to, but to ask him to go and play at Manchester United and then play forty-eight hours later, this is the result. Welbeck has got a strain, Gyan came off with a hamstring, Onuoha came off with a hamstring, and those are the consequences of playing two games in forty-eight hours at this level. We have got five games in thirteen days starting from last week. It’s ludicrous considering that was our twentieth game today. It’s nonsense, it really is nonsense. I just really can’t get to grips with why.”
Bruce is keen to put further pressure on the Premier League to introduce a winter break in England to fall in line with many other European countries.
“Every country in Europe does it. We should be taking a break too, there should be a break here.”
Bruce is certainly not alone in his views and West Ham boss Avram Grant joined in the debate. His side drew 1-1 at home to Everton just two days after playing another game. Everton, on the other hand, had not played for eight days due to cancellations because of the wintry weather.
“It’s not easy to play two games in forty-eight hours; this is the only country that plays two games in forty-eight hours. It’s okay if both teams have equal chances but if one team needs to play and the other comes fresh, it’s a big disadvantage.”
Most teams in England face up to four fixtures during the ten day festive period and whilst the manager’s complain, it is a long held tradition in the country and a period that is loved by the fans who find it exciting. It is one of the reasons that the Premier League is so popular. The negative side, of course, is that it is demanding on the players and may well contribute to tiredness and disappointing performances at international level.
Whilst the top players in Italy, France and Spain are enjoying a well earned rest, the players in England are working harder than ever. It is a question that has been raised and debated several times, do England want an exciting league or a successful national team? It may not be entirely possible to have both.
Many other managers have spoken about their desire for a winter break, including Manchester United boss Sir Alex Ferguson, Manchester City manager Robert Mancini and West Bromwich Albion head coach Roberto di Matteo. On the other hand, traditional English managers such as Wolves boss Mick McCarthy have gone on record as saying they like things the way they are.
The success of the festive period in terms of fan enjoyment is made clear by Sunderland’s game on Tuesday. The visitors were Blackpool, hardly the biggest draw in the league, yet the crowd of 42,892 was their biggest attendance of the season. That just goes to show that the fans love it.
I totally understand where Steve Bruce is coming from but the festive period football has been a great part of my life for as long as I can remember and I would be really disappointed if that changed. I think the managers and players have just got to suck it up and get on with it. After all, the fans are the most important people in the game, aren’t we?
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