Winter break set to be reinstated in Scotland

Picture: Phil Wilkinson
Picture: Phil Wilkinson
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SCOTTISH football chiefs are exploring the possibility of reinstating a winter break, with insiders suggesting that it could be pushed through in time for the 2016-17 Premiership season.

The move comes as the season becomes more and more elongated and follows a summer in which many players have managed only a couple of weeks off due to club and international commitments.

Aberdeen manager Derek McInnes has raised concerns about the impact it is having, claiming the elite players at the top teams are effectively already playing summer football. His side begin their competitive campaign on Thursday when they play KF Shkendija in a European tie in Macedonia.

“The season ends, then there are international games, then the Europa League gets going, so seasons more-or-less run into each other,” McInnes said. “It’s unfair on the players. Physically, that’s two seasons in a row we’ve had like that.

“I know for the national team it was really important – in Gordon Strachan’s eyes – that we gave ourselves a chance of getting a result in the Republic by extending the league and playing as late as we did. But if we want to help the national team and our teams in Europe, there has to be some sort of give somewhere. I know the Euros are next year but already look at the congestion of this season’s calendar. There is no let-up. We could play seven games in August depending on Europe.

“I don’t know when the league will start next year because of the European Championships or when they plan to play Europa League. But for international players and those playing in European competition, there isn’t really any respite for them.

“I don’t know what the answers are but I do feel that we are taking liberties with the players. Maybe even supporters too. There has to be some kind of respite and I think January would be best for loads of reasons. I don’t think there is a place to rest down at the moment.”

But with a greater number of international dates being earmarked for June and clubs who are involved in European competitions returning for pre-season earlier than ever, it is understood that the SFA is already looking at ways to ease the strain.

“We’re looking at the fixture issues to try and find ways in which we can make the best use of dates that are available,” conceded SPFL secretary Iain Blair. “We cannot lose sight of the key European dates and international dates we have to avoid, so that may lead us towards playing more games in the early summer than late summer, whether that’s the League Cup in July or starting the League in July, and in order to ensure there is a decent break then we have to look at the possibility of a winter break.

“It is a debate which is underway at all levels in the game but there are no specific solutions at this point.”

The preferred option within the game would appear to be a two or three-week break in January. While it is understood that members of the working party would like to see changes rubber-stamped for the Premiership in time for the 2016-17 season, it is still unclear whether the Championship, League One and League Two, as well as the Highland and Lowland Leagues will feel the need to follow suit.