Christmas is one of football fans favourite times of the year. With what feels like wall-to-wall fixtures in the English Premier League, Boxing Day football on the television is a staple in most households. But what is the festive period really like for the players, coaches and staff who make it happen?
To find out, we spoke to The Secret Coach. TSC is a professional football coach in English football… who will remain anonymous. The Secret Coach has worked with some of the biggest names in the game, been through the coaching badges and is currently part of the coaching team at an English league side… and that’s all we’re telling you. As ever, this week, The Secret Coach pulls no punches!
“If Christmas goes well, it’s great mentally and you forget the physical impact, but if not it’s a difficult start to the New Year.”
This week, we’re looking at the festive fixture pile-up, and we started by asking TSC about what a coach’s first concern is about their players at Christmas time.
“Christmas football in the United Kingdom is great for fans as games come thick and fast, but as coaches it’s always a stressful time,” says TSC. “Due to the number of fixtures, a lot can change in the 12 days of Christmas with the number of points to play for, the low preparation time and the high risk of fatigue and injury. That said, it’s so exciting. When you come out the other side, if Christmas goes well it’s great mentally and you forget the physical impact, but if not it’s a difficult start to the New Year.”
“Clubs get more from players if they show willing to accommodate Christmas rather than training on Christmas Day.”
I wondered what the best thing is about Christmas for professional football players. It turns out that it’s the same thing most of us cherish around this time of year.
“Christmas is still and will always be about family,” says TSC. “All the clubs I’ve been with have tried to ensure that despite the schedule, players get time with family. It might not involve huge food mountains and falling asleep on the sofa, but it’s a time when families are together. I feel clubs get more from players if they show willing to accommodate Christmas rather than the rumours of training on Christmas day that circulate. If players see that you value family support, most will reciprocate with effort on the pitch.”
Is the attitude of Christmas Day training a terrible one, though? It must be hard for some to motivate themselves knowing that their families are at home pouring gravy over their turkey.
“Actually, a lot more planning goes into this period. With the games so frequent, we will sit down as a coaching team and look at who we have that will potentially be best for each game and where we might keep someone fresher by starting them as a sub. A lot is down to availability and picking the right team as match preparation time is limited as is the ability to push intensity to ensure optimum fitness. During this period, the S&C (Strength and Conditioning) team really come into play with all the data they hold on a players condition.”
“A few hours can mean all the difference with travelling back to the UK and getting time with the squad.”
Christmas and New Year in the Premier League can, of course, go a long way to sorting out the top and bottom of the table for the second half of the season – just how vital is it to cope with the injuries that will naturally come along by rotating squads?
“With TV revenue so huge now, it’s not as simple as playing all games at 3pm. Look at how Jurgen Klopp has recently pointed out that Sky or BT play a huge part when they select live games. When more than one match is on during the day, staggered start times are a given, but it all depends on how the fixtures are thrown up. For example, Manchester United played away in Europe on Wednesday but fixtures have them home to Manchester City in a huge match on Saturday. It’s a big game so it’s on TV, but a 12.30pm kick-off might have hampered preparation time. It sounds silly as it’s only a few hours but that can mean all the difference with travelling back to the UK and getting time with the squad for rest, analysis and light training.”
Times were that Boxing Day saw some incredible games kick off at 3pm, including this record-breaking year. In the last few years, there have been some spectacular Premier League games on this day, such as the five below.
Where does The Secret Coach stand on some of Boxing Day’s potential classics taking place at 3.00pm? Well, as it turns out, they would rather see a mixture of fixture times.
“It’s a good thing [to mix it up] as clubs rely on the finance. It can be a bad thing really depending on where you are and how you’re performing at the time. There’s no doubt that fixture changes affect your club; if you’re winning and playing well it’s a case of ‘Bring on the next game’, but if not, there could be more looking for excuses to gain extra time.”
Finally, we wondered what The Secret Coach would buy a professional footballer, given that for them money is often not so important, and budgeting for presents isn’t quite the same at the top of the Premier League.
“That’s a good one!” TSC laughs. “Most earn good money, so I think my present would have to be small and personal showing thought has gone into buying it. Without giving names away, maybe a watch for that player who is late a fair bit!”
There’ll be no delaying Sant Claus this Christmas and New Year. With the big man limbering up in the North Pole, a sackful of Premier League games are coming our way… as long as we’re good right up to the big day!
The Secret Coach will return next week, when their half-term report on the Premier League teams at the top and the bottom of the league will be due. Red pens at the ready… exclusively here at Calvin Ayre.