Whilst most people around Britain will be winding down for the impending Christmas holidays, and a chance to relax whilst absorbing copious amounts of delicious food and drink, one industry in particular famously refuses to rest over this time of year. Contrary to most the top football leagues across Europe, the Premier League, often to the chagrin of newcomers, doesn’t take a rest over festive period, and actually gets busier. Teams in the world’s most popular league will all play three games in the space of ten days, meaning quality time spent with family will be in short supply on Christmas Day given the impending Boxing Day fixture list. Manchester United have the luxury of hosting both Sunderland and Middlesbrough at Old Trafford for their games prior to the New Year, but that doesn’t mean that Jose Mourinho’s players will be putting their feet up.
This festive period and the luxuries they often bring will mean that most players will almost certainly think twice before accepting a second helping of Christmas pudding. Footballers might be paid exorbitant amounts of money on a weekly basis, but that comes with certain expectations; they must maintain peak physical condition for most months of the year, which means strict diet control almost all year round. A recent study into the superhumans of sport looked at the level that athletes has to train and eat. As you can see from the piece, Ronaldo the only football mentioned, trains a ridiculous amount and has a super strict diet. Given the increased focus on clubs to have a productive pre-season, turning up to pre-season in a less-than ideal state can have severe ramifications for players and their standing with the managers, as Luke Shaw discovered in the summer of 2014. The former Southampton defender returned from holiday and was publicly admonished by United’s then-manager Louis van Gaal for being out of shape, with Shaw used subsequently used sparingly during the entire season.
Manchester United’s older players will be especially aware of the need to maintain their fitness, with Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Michael Carrick, Wayne Rooney and Antonio Valencia, all of whom are key members of Mourinho’s team and all over 30 needing to take extra precautions to make sure their bodies are in top shape. For his part, United’s Portuguese manager may be keen to give his players the day off on Christmas itself prior to Sunderland’s visit, but he will surely expect his players not to overindulge at the beginning of a hugely important period in United’s season. His team have won their last three league games, and given the need for the club to capitalise on this current run of form, any players struggling under the weight of a gigantic Christmas dinner may find themselves on the end of a severe telling-off should they let his side down in the upcoming games.
Of course, life as United player has its perks, beyond financial security, but the scrutiny placed on fitness and the high-intensity of Premier League football requires every member of the squad to stay fit, healthy and be responsible with what they eat during this busy period. Mourinho will surely be keeping a keen eye on his charges in that regard.