Managers not the only ones hit by festive run of games

The travelling Norwich fans at Burton. Picture: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd

The travelling Norwich fans at Burton. Picture: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd - Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd

With a bit of luck some normality will begin to return to football this weekend - although Chelsea coming to Carrow Road does seem to be out of the ordinary, but that’s by the by.

Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola - frustrated by the festive schedule. Picture: PA

Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola - frustrated by the festive schedule. Picture: PA - Credit: PA

The festive period and the ridiculous number of games teams are required to play is behind us. Casper Schmeichel looked flabbergasted at a TV reporter’s question about the busy schedule and whether players could cope, physically and mentally.

Of course not, we love it, was the gist of his reply.

Casper the friendly Leicester keeper might well love it, but managers are unhappy and fans are in danger of being seriously short-changed at a time of year when most can ill afford to be ripped off again.

Take West Brom, who went to West Ham on Tuesday having played on December 23, Boxing Day and New Year’s Eve. West Ham hadn’t played since Boxing Day.

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That’s simply unfair, no two ways about it. Why the discrepancy when there is so much at stake? West Brom fans who travelled to the London Stadium would have gone in hope more than expectation – that the Baggies lost 2-1 was no great surprise.

Tottenham didn’t play on New Year’s Eve but they did play on Tuesday night – and then had another game two days later. They have a day off today (get out the bunting) but play their FA Cup tie against AFC Wimbledon tomorrow. Ludicrous.

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It’s often difficult to have sympathy with moaning managers, but you can see their point.

Pep Guardiola hasn’t got too many worries, but the Manchester City boss was another who was upset by the schedule.

“We’re going to kill the players,” he said after the Watford game on Tuesday. “They play 11 months in a row. They have to protect them and play with quality and not quality. We have to think about the artists.”

Trying to balance the workload is what has got Mark Hughes in schtuck at Stoke, and what would have had Daniel Farke in much the same line of fire had Norwich not beaten Millwall on New Year’s day, two days after he made big changes at Burton, a game that City drew 0-0.

Farke abandoned the cliched one game at a time and was thinking one game ahead. Like I say, it panned out okay, but it could easily have gone wrong. It was also unfair on the fans who went to Burton and came back less than enamoured with what they had seen.

Why not play a stronger team at Burton and rest the most tired players on the Monday at home to Millwall? Two tricky games, but surely away from home at Burton, who simply try to stop opponents from getting any sort of footballing rhythm going, was the most difficult.

Thing is, City went to Burton on the back of a much-needed confidence boosting win at Birmingham. Surely the same team would have gone into the Burton game in a better frame of mind and quite possibly have won, therefore leaving a changed team, still with the wind in its sails, to face Millwall at home – a game that should have been considered winnable.

In my book, it was two points lost (don’t forget, Burton had lost eight in a row at home).

It’s a problem across the board, but perhaps best reflected when you look at what the big teams and the big players have to face.

The Premier League season ends on May 13; the Champions League final is on May 28; England are likely to have friendlies on May 30, June 5 and June 8 with their opening World Cup match on June 18.

You will be pleased to now that May 21-27 is a designated rest period for those players named in England’s preliminary squad, as requested by Fifa, except for those competing in the Champions League final.

How generous.

Time for change

It does surprise me in a sport in which the top players command seven-figure salaries – a month – and millions watch every move they make on the telly box, that we don’t take more care of our referees.

Instead of them being regarded as elite officials, hugely important parts of the game of football, people who are to be respected and obeyed, we treat them like dirt.

Rugby referees rule with a iron fist – Nigel Owens regularly tells those who break the rules “this is not soccer”. That’s how far this has gone – other sports are taking the micky.

Rugby has it right: the players understand and don’t get involved with refs over petty incidents for fear of looking like childish idiots, aka footballers.

Footballers argue the toss at every turn, thoroughly undermining referees at the same time. And whilst they have no shame about looking like childish idiots, it is an action that has the support of their wailing fans. The ref is on his lonesome against sometimes a wall of abuse. I still can’t work out how a player gets away with giving a ref a mouthful right in front of his face.

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger says refs don’t officiate enough games and it is causing a drop in standards. I think the truth is that the pressure on them is enormous: questionable decisions are scrutinised more than more questionable play. If a ref makes one mistake he’s castigated for a week. If a player makes one, it’s forgotten in minutes.

The starting point is to ban managers talking about referees. Don’t allow managers to humiliate them. Make managers and players and fans learn and understand that mistakes will be made: a handball missed, a shot scuffed, a keeper dropping the ball. Everyone on the pitch makes errors, but the ref gets it in the neck.

I hold my hands up, I’ve done it myself, but it is tiring. Players appeal for the most outrageous decisions in their favour. It is pathetic. And they have the temerity to swear at the ref. Time managers and players grew up.

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