Hearts coach Ian Cathro questions wisdom of winter break

Ian Cathro has questioned the logic of the upcoming winter break, insisting the league would be better served by ensuring players are afforded a longer hiatus during the close season.

Hearts head coach Ian Cathro would like to see the summer break extended. Picture: Ian Georgeson

Hearts host Aberdeen at Tynecastle tomorrow in a pivotal encounter in the race for second place in the Premiership, before the top flight shuts down for three weeks.

However, Tynecastle head coach Cathro is at pains to emphasise that it will be a “time for work” for his players.

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Cathro concedes the period will be useful for trying to convey ideas and philosophies to his squad but he would rather see a long summer break.

The close season is getting shorter and shorter, with those involved in European football potentially returning to action on 29 June, while the 2017-18 Betfred Cup kicks off in the middle of July.

As Scottish football attempts to strike the perfect balance, Cathro would rather see a suitable period of rest in the summer to allow players to recover, rather than two painfully short breaks.

“The bit that I don’t quite understand is: whether you qualify for Europe or are in the League Cup in the summer, then you get a little bit of a winter break and a little bit of a summer break,” said Cathro.

“It loses the sense of having a true break and, instead, it dresses up two short periods without games as that. If that is the only way we can have this winter break, then I don’t see a massive value in that.

“With the stress on players in the summer, you do need an actual break. In this [winter] period, it will be a period for work. There is a chance for a little bit of rest, for the guys to go home and see their families, but it is not a break.

“The only break comes in the summer and, if by having this winter break, we shorten the time in the summer, then I don’t see the value there.”

This is a particularly pertinent point for Hearts, who had just two weeks to prepare for their first Europa League qualifier against FC Infonet of Estonia this season on 30 June.

Although they progressed from that tie, their performance was underwhelming and they crashed out to Maltese minnows Birkirkara in the next round. Director of football Craig Levein, speaking at the recent Hearts agm, admitted that preparation had been less than ideal.

Cathro has emphasised the importance of allowing players time to decompress after a gruelling campaign and recharge their batteries.

“The hard decision is when to bring the players back [in the summer]. If you decide you want your normal routine building up to your first competitive, then you are sacrificing the guys having a reasonable rest,” explained Cathro.

“The biggest thing come the end of the season is you’ve got to get football out of your head for a little bit. You really do. You need to be with your family or friends and remove it for a bit.

“Nobody goes and ruins their body and needs a long time to fix it. Everybody is fairly well balanced these days.

“But the freshness in your head is what drives your hunger to work. You can’t just keep going. Everybody needs a break. Mentally, you have to come down in order to go up. It’s more that than the actual shape of their bodies.”