Fans might not like it, but I agree wholeheartedly with the concept of the winter break. For me, it is unbelievably beneficial to go away and to give your mind and your body a rest by shutting down for a couple of weeks. You have lovely grass pitches, the sun on your back, there’s so many benefits to it.
The warm-weather training is a big part of it, but there is also the fact that you get a chance for some team bonding. I’ve had one or two trips away in the winter and they’ve almost turned into stag-dos, so it can go the other way, but as long as it doesn’t get out of hand, that down time is so important.
And no one needed it more than Celtic, with Brendan Rodgers admitting that he and his players were 100 per cent ready for the shutdown. Celtic played 38 games before the break, and there were undoubtedly signs from mid-October that the team weren’t quite firing on all cylinders, but that’s understandable, given the amount of games that they have played.
For the players to be able to chill out with their families will have been a real boost, before getting back in to do some hard work.
A lot of managers that I’ve had on winter breaks have almost used it as a mini pre-season, topping everyone up ready to go again. If you are giving the guys a lot of running, then it is far easier to do that and not have people mumping and moaning about when you can go into the pool to recover.
Mentally, that down time is crucial as well. I saw Scott Brown posting pictures as he was going to play on some spectacular golf course, and it looked amazing. Not that I’m jealous. It is important that the players will be working hard, and Brendan will be trying to get that sharpness into them, but they will also be getting time to switch off, because their schedule has been harder than any other team.
I fancy, too, that Rangers will come back flying after the break. They recalled Andy Halliday and Michael O’Halloran, and brought Jimmy Nicholl in before they headed away for a spell together in Florida.
That could be huge for them. All of a sudden, a squad that looked poor a month ago might be in pretty good shape. They might have Lee Wallace back soon, Graham Dorrans and Kenny Miller too. Add O’Halloran, Halliday, Jamie Murphy and Sean Goss into that mix, and suddenly Rangers are looking really strong.
I was chatting to Derek McInnes a couple of weeks ago too, and he was saying that the benefit Aberdeen gained from their winter break in Dubai last season was immeasurable. They won seven of their eight games after returning from last year’s winter break, and the only one they lost was a narrow 1-0 defeat to Celtic at Parkhead.
If you have new players joining during the January window, then the break is a really great way to integrate them into the group.
When I joined Rangers, we went to Dubai just a few days after I had signed. It was a great way for me to get to know the rest of the players and integrate myself into the squad.
When you are a player and you are training through November, December and January, it is tediously cold. You are out there every morning, the training ground is soaked or you have to train on astroturf because the pitch is frozen. It might be minus one or two and you can’t feel your toes when you kick the ball, and you can actually find yourself going through the motions a wee bit.
I look at Tommy Wright’s situation, where he was having a pop at his chairman for not putting up the money to send St Johnstone away, and I can totally sympathise with him. How many days in the last two weeks would they have actually been able to train properly on the grass?
It’s a vital time to get work done, because the league is so open. If you can get a really good bit of work done in these two or three weeks, then it could really have a major impact on the course of your season. I know that there might be financial constraints, and you have to understand that, but I think that the benefits far outweigh the negatives.
Look at Motherwell going to Tenerife. They have obviously brought in two new strikers in Nadir Ciftci and Curtis Main, and they have to get them integrated as quickly as possible. It’s far easier to do that when you have that warm-weather training, and doing it somewhere where there are no distractions. If they were back home training at Ravenscraig on the astroturf and it’s freezing, it’s just not as easy to get the work done.
You also get that real togetherness that only comes from spending 10 days in each other’s pockets. This is a team that have absolutely folded in the last few weeks, and it will be great for Stephen Robinson to get them away, reset, and try to recapture that early season form.
That might just make the difference.