A tale of two leagues that are worlds apart

2010-12-23 14:11

Nine English Barclays Premier League matches will be played in the bitter cold today while the South African Premier Soccer League (PSL) enjoys a break.

The biggie in England will be between second-placed Arsenal and Chelsea, who are fourth, when they clash at the Emirates ­Stadium tomorrow night.

Mzansi soccer fans will have to wait until January 7 to get a shot of their favourite sport after Wednesday night’s games that ended the year.

In other sports as well, such as cricket, players spend Christmas away from home as is the case with India, which are on a South ­African tour, and England, which are in Australia for the Ashes.

However, the two worlds of South African professional soccer and their English rivals are ­different.

While the PSL was formed along the lines of its English counterpart in 1996 – a fact stressed even by the striking similarities of the two organisation’s logos – founding CEO Trevor Philips tried in vain to change the SA mentality of ­taking a festive season break.

While the break is welcome to the players, coaches bemoan the hiatus, which they claim negatively affects players’ fitness and mental strength.

Two South African ­players who have plied their trade in England, agree.

Former Bafana Bafana and Leeds United skipper Lucas Radebe said: “I think it’s better to play right through the festive season as players lose momentum.”

The Chief – as he was known during his long reign as captain of Leeds in the English Premiership – said it was quite tough ­when he first went to England in 1994.

“I didn’t expect to be training on Christmas day and later go to camp to prepare for the crucial Boxing Day match,” he said.

According to him, it was even tougher when they had to play away matches.

“You would arrive at the hotel and find that there is a Christmas party going on and you have to head straight to your room and try to rest amid the noise so that you are fresh the following day.”

Radebe argued that the break not only affects the players’ physical fitness but their mental sharpness too.

Former Bafana Bafana and Charlton Athletic striker Shaun Bartlett said: “I don’t think we need the break.

In December we have the summer in South Africa while in England they have their most bitter winter, but they play through.

They are even forced to postpone some of the matches ­because of the snow.”

Bidvest Wits mentor Roger de Sa said the PSL should continue to fixture matches, but “they should be played in the evening as the heat sometimes gets unbearable in the afternoon”.

He said incidents of ­ill-discipline among players had dropped.

“You still get an odd player who would risk injury by taking part in informal township festive season tournaments.

But overall, the ­situation has changed as ­players have become more professional,” said De Sa.

He added that clubs now had more modern ways of ­monitoring players as they could gauge not only their weight but also the amount of fat on their muscles.

Four-time league championship-winning coach Gordon Igesund said: “I’ve never given my players a break. As things stand at ­Swallows, we will be training right through.”

Igesund said he would only give his players a break on the days around Christmas and New Year’s.

“They will have time off from December 23 to 26, back at training on December 27 to 31, a two-day break and then back on January 3,” said the tough taskmaster.

Igesund, who has coached no less than seven PSL sides, said he had never had a problem in the past, except a few occasions when some players would binge over the festive period and “put on an ­extra kilo or so”.

Bartlett said playing through the festive season would help the PSL avoid the situation that usually ­ensued in the second half of the league, where clubs have to play up to six matches in a space of two weeks, which he said was not good for players and spectators as it ­affected the quality of the game.

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