Get more Mail & Guardian
Subscribe or Login

The nightmare of Christmas

Wayne Rooney once joked in an interview that he had to restrict his Christmas pudding intake thanks to having a game early the next day. It’s amusing to believe that his personal struggle was more dire than he led on.

Football acknowledges no war or holiday. Those who play the modern game will have learned early in their careers that family is overshadowed by tradition.

South Africa, Australia and New Zealand play Test cricket on Boxing Day; the English play football. Year after year, no matter what day of the week, a ball will be kicked. (At least it beats NBA players taking to the basketball court on the 25th itself.) This unwavering following of tradition has played a not insignificant part in jam-packing the December-January period with an inordinate amount of sport.

It’s the same movie every time we turn this calendar page: the games hastily blaze past our screens, players fall victim to fatigue and managers moan until we can no longer bear it. Trying their hand at cow tipping would have as much utility.

Here are some numbers: Premier League teams in the League Cup quarterfinal, such as Tottenham Hotspur and leaders Manchester City, would have played six matches across three competitions between this week and the first Saturday of January. That’s an 18-day period. If we count from last Tuesday. On average that’s a game every three days. Madness — no other way to put it.

December is football’s equivalent of a relay baton change. The race could be going as comfortably as a Sunday stroll, but at some point you’ll have to tag in your teammates; teammates that may not be as esteemed or might be a little slow off the pace. Even City could have a Nesta Carter lurking in their ranks.

But it’s their cross-town rivals that will probably monopolise the bitching and whining. After the sacking of José Mourinho this week, more obligations to watch Romelu Lukaku do whatever he does on the field is the last thing the Manchester United fans ordered for Christmas.

The pre-festive traffic jam could hardly have gone worse for the Red Devils and the injury casualties have already begun to roll in. Alexis Sanchez is out until the New Year and will be forced to think about his recent life choices, and new star Anthony Martial had some niggles to contend with. Last weekend’s embarrassing loss was an advert for how not to defend, brought about by the absences of Chris Smalling, Marcos Rojo and Luke Shaw.

Paul Pogba, despite not being afflicted with a medically recognised condition, keeps them company on the sidelines.

It’s hard to see Rooney’s alma mater enjoying any pudding at all with such a stretched and demotivated squad.

A far more intriguing question to answer is how Liverpool will respond to the rush. England’s only unbeaten team have been on a nonstop high this season — one that has left Jürgen Klopp visibly intoxicated on the sidelines. But what happens when Divock Origi is asked to play a little more football? When Daniel Sturridge has to put his frail legs to the test? Brilliant they may be but Klopp has certainly been fortunate in his fitness luck — most notably, he’s almost always been able to call on the Sadio Mané, Mohamed Salah, and Roberto Firmino triumvirate. Take just one out and all of a sudden the bite softens.

The German manager was universally praised for bringing on match-winner Xherdan Shaqiri last weekend, but in truth he didn’t have any other players on the bench that might be relied upon for such a high occasion.

Subscribe for R500/year

Thanks for enjoying the Mail & Guardian, we’re proud of our 36 year history, throughout which we have delivered to readers the most important, unbiased stories in South Africa. Good journalism costs, though, and right from our very first edition we’ve relied on reader subscriptions to protect our independence.

Digital subscribers get access to all of our award-winning journalism, including premium features, as well as exclusive events, newsletters, webinars and the cryptic crossword. Click here to find out how to join them and get a 57% discount in your first year.

Luke Feltham
Luke Feltham is a features writer at the Mail & Guardian

Related stories

WELCOME TO YOUR M&G

If you’re reading this, you clearly have great taste

If you haven’t already, you can subscribe to the Mail & Guardian for less than the cost of a cup of coffee a week, and get more great reads.

Already a subscriber? Sign in here

Advertising

Subscribers only

Fears of violence persist a year after the murder of...

The court battle to stop coal mining in rural KwaZulu-Natal has heightened the sense of danger among environmental activists

Data shows EFF has lower negative sentiment online among voters...

The EFF has a stronger online presence than the ANC and Democratic Alliance

More top stories

Eastern Cape premier Mabuyane lives large amid province’s poverty

Oscar Mabuyane and MEC Babalo Madikizela allegedly used a portion of state funds for struggle icon Winnie Madikizela-Mandela’s commemoration for their own benefit

Constitutional court confirms warrantless searches in cordoned off areas unconstitutional

The law was challenged in response to raids in inner Johannesburg seemingly targeting illegal immigrants and the highest court has pronounced itself 10 days before an election in which then mayor Herman Mashaba has campaigned on an anti-foreigner ticket

A blunt Mantashe makes no promises during election campaigning

ANC chairperson Gwede Mantashe told people in Daveyton to stop expecting handouts from the government

Mbeki: Social compact the answer to promises made in ANC...

Former president Thabo Mbeki urged business and government and society to work together to tackle issues such as poverty, unemployment and poor services and infrastructure
Advertising

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…
×