A hundred different managers would give you a hundred different views about how to handle a squad of footballers on or around Christmas Day.
Some take the attitude that training on December 25 is the same as training on any Friday morning: non-negotiable and absolutely necessary. Others think that by giving their team a break on Christmas Day, that same team will return the favour by playing out of their skin on Boxing Day.
In the end the decision is driven by results. A few managers are so superstitious that they can’t ever break from routine but if a coach gave us Christmas Day off one year, the motivation to win on Boxing Day was there for all to see. It sounds a bit stupid but we knew that a decent performance might mean Christmas Day at home again in 12 months’ time.
There isn’t a player in the country who’d choose to train while everyone else is getting stuck into their turkey and presents. It’s human nature to want to be part of the celebrations and to spend time with your family. I got used to being away from them from the age of 15 onwards and you never bothered complaining about it. That’s the job. But it’s quite a tough time, especially for guys with kids and those who are playing for clubs far away from home.
Leeds United’s squad will have been in a hotel last night prior to today’s game at Blackpool. I bet the hotel was dead. The odd thing about being at work on Christmas Day is that it feels like the world around you has stopped. And in many ways it has.
When I was at Manchester City, I got used to sitting in long traffic jams on the M62. It’s the sort of road you grow to despise. But when I drove to training on Christmas Day, I’d go for miles without seeing or passing another vehicle. The traffic was never better. You’d get to work and find a bit of a ghost-town – a skelton staff who are all as committed as ever but desperate to go home and chill out.
In a way they’re the ones you should feel sorry for. Kit-men, tea ladies, administrative staff; these people don’t get the sort of wages that footballers console themselves with when they’re bailing out the door as the kids are opening their stockings.
You might not think about it but players still need a meal after training. Kits and boots need to be washed. And at games you need stewards, police and the usual employees. I actually think clubs do themselves proud with their effort at this time of year. There’s far more to a Boxing Day match than a couple of hours on the training field the day before.
The question of whether it’s better to go in on Christmas Day or not is an interesting one. Leeds decided not to last season and were well-beaten at Nottingham Forest on the Boxing Day. But the bottom line is that managers are on a hiding to nothing. You can’t do right for doing wrong. It’s a bit like Christmas parties – another contentious issue which causes controversy for clubs every year.
Obviously some parties end with unsavoury headlines and pictures you’d rather not see published but the real problem is that they sometimes fall on a weekend when it seems inappropriate for players to be going out on the town.
Generally speaking, we used to arrange our annual night at some point during September or October to give everyone time to get ready for it. It’s amazing how often it just so happens that the Saturday night you head out for a drink out also happens to be the day when you get turned over by two or three goals.
The natural reaction of some managers is to ruin your fun by calling you all in to train the next day. I think that’s stupid. If it’s not the right thing to train after a routine win then it’s not the right thing to train after a poor result. Everyone needs a blast and a release and players don’t try to lose games. It’s hardly like any of you are saving yourselves during the game for a big drinking session later. In the same way, I don’t think that having Christmas Day off is necessarily unprofessional.
Some teams will have done a bit of work yesterday and some will have done nothing. I doubt it’ll have any bearing on the results today because winning on Boxing Day really matters. It should be obvious why. In this particular season, results are the main thing that footballers have to be jolly about.