It is a very
important phase in the league because you play so many games in a short space
of time, a lot of points up for grabs with lots of decisions to be made in a
few days whatever your objective. When I was the Liverpool manager, you were
not supposed to complain about the fixtures because 'at a top side it will
always be the same'. It was even more difficult for us because we were also
playing in the Champions League.
With years of experience and our knowledge of
working in different countries, we have learned to cope with the situation but
I have to say that you can never have an ideal situation. You must adapt and
look for the best possible solution for the team. That's exactly what we did at
Valencia, Liverpool and Inter. If you want to win things you have to make
sacrifices. It is easy to keep everyone happy by giving them lots of days off
but at the end of the season you won't win anything if you don't do what you
know is right at the right time.
Depending on the league and the circumstances we
were playing in, this is what you must consider:
1- The fixture list. Evaluate the upcoming matches
because it is not the same in Spain or Italy, where there is a break for two
weeks, as it is in England, where you play the Carling Cup or the FA Cup before
Christmas and after the New Year.
2- The available players according to the
different competitions. Some might not be registered to play in the Champions
League for example.
3- Also you
have to look at the rules on local players (4) or native country players (4) in
the 25 on the Champions League list, because you may not be able to include
some players who are eligible for domestic competitions.
4- The short and long term injury list. It's a
time when injuries occur in those teams playing in the most demanding
5- The religious beliefs of some players and their
days of celebration. For Christians, Christmas Day is obviously the most
important and, if you are playing in England, you will have to consider the
timing of the training sessions.
6- The players' country of origin. In Spain or
Italy, Scheduling the Christmas holidays can be complicated because giving a
week off to a European player won't be the same as giving the same time to a
South American player who will lose three days travelling, especially if he
comes from an area in the centre of Brazil for example. The travelling involved
is not the same.
7- Fatigue and
the powers of recovery for each player, especially with regard to the position
they play. It will not be the same for every player with a good capacity to
recover, as it will depend on whether he is old or young, or plays centre-back
and runs less or plays on the wing where you run more and with more intensity.
8- Consider the weather and the training
conditions. This is another aspect to take in to account because we have had
experience of not being able to train in December before a Champions League
match because we didn't have undersoil heating. Or because we couldn't get to
the training ground due to snow and the condition of the roads.
9- Also in the same vein, in Spain and Italy what
can happen is that the players that have travelled some distance may have
problems getting back due to adverse weather and you have to foresee this
because, if you change the holidays too much, some players may not have enough
time to train sufficiently before a crucial match.
10- The travel arrangements to matches.
It's not the same playing at home as it is away - the distance and weather
conditions in relation to the travel arrangements have to be planned for.
11- The squad and rotations. Depending on the size
of the squad and the quality of the players that you have, you will be able to
manage better or worse the changes you can make for different matches.
12- The intensity
of each match. You can have an easier or more difficult match than you expected
and you must consider this when choosing the line-up in the next game - to
maximise player and team performance and to prevent injuries.
Recently a coach was talking to me about the
difficulties that he would have this season adapting to two top level
competitions at the same time, playing two matches a week and travelling a lot.
They didn't have the experience in planning this level of demand, they didn't
know if it would be better to change players for each game or play the same
team if they were winning and risk injury.
This is the
difference between some clubs and others, the capacity to adapt during the
season at the highest level of competition or, even better, like us, reaching
the end of the season and still being in contention for a few trophies.
For this reason, the staff you work with are also
important as the planning for this time of year is crucial so that you have all options available to you at the
end of the campaign.