Sunderland facing a fixture nightmare - and Poyet predicts it will have far-reaching effects

The Northern Echo: WINTER BREAK: Gus Poyet feels English football should take a two-week break after Boxing Day WINTER BREAK: Gus Poyet feels English football should take a two-week break after Boxing Day

WITH Sunderland facing a fixture headache in the next four weeks, Gus Poyet has accused the football authorities of damaging England's chances of success at next year's World Cup.

The dates for January's two-legged Capital One Cup semi-final with Manchester United were confirmed yesterday, and with the first game at the Stadium of Light scheduled for Tuesday, January 7, the Black Cats will have to play two crucial cup ties in the space of 48 hours.

With Newcastle and Sunderland unable to play home games on the same afternoon because of police concerns, the FA refused to agree to the Black Cats' request that their FA Cup third-round tie with Carlisle be scheduled for Saturday, January 4, despite the Magpies already being out of the League Cup.

The authorities ordered a coin toss to decide the fixture scheduling, and Newcastle were able to select Saturday for their third-round game with Cardiff, forcing Sunderland to host Carlisle 24 hours later on Sunday, January 5.

Those dates will not change, and while the fact that Manchester United are also in FA Cup action on the Sunday negates some of the unfairness, there is a high degree of unhappiness within the corridors of power at the Stadium of Light that the FA were not more receptive to Sunderland's worries.

The Capital One Cup scheduling is merely part of a wider concern, however. By the time Sunderland travel to Old Trafford for the second leg of the semi-final on Wednesday, January 22, they will have played nine matches in the space of 33 days.

Every Premier League team is playing five games in a fortnight over the Christmas and New Year period, a schedule that Poyet feels has far-reaching effects.

Come the end of the season, supporters up and down the land will turn their attention to England's prospects at the World Cup finals in Brazil.

At previous tournaments, mental and physical exhaustion have been cited as key factors in England's failure to live up to their billing, and with his native Uruguay due to face England in their second group game, Poyet is amazed at the Premier League's failure to act in its players' best interests.

“I cannot understand why we don't have a break,” said the Sunderland boss. “It's so simple, and so natural everywhere else. Okay, we're different here, but the only explanation I've ever had is that we always play on Boxing Day. That's fine – play on Boxing Day, but then stop.

“Do I think English football needs a winter break? Yes I do, and it's important we realise that at the end of this season, there is a World Cup. You need English players to be in the best physical condition, but it is even more important they are mentally fit, because so much of the game is mental now.

“For that to happen, we have to stop this craziness. For us, from now until the end of January is going to be a nightmare. On the coaching courses, you're supposed to play then analyse the game, but there is no time to do that. It is bang, bang, bang.”

As a player, Poyet found the intense Christmas schedule the hardest thing to get used to about the English game.

There has long been rumours of players faking injuries or picking up suspensions in order to ease their festive workload, and while he refused to name names, the Sunderland boss revealed that such questionable conduct has occurred.

“When I first came over, I was lucky because I got injured in my first year, but I know there are a few players who never played on Boxing Day,” he said.

“When I was in Spain, I would get a week to go back to Uruguay over Christmas. I remember coming back and finding out a few of the Argentinians hadn't returned – and didn't until four days later. They preferred to pay the fines rather than come back earlier.”

Poyet has offered to sit down with Premier League officials to outline his concerns, and would like to see the footballing schedule fall in line with the academic calendar.

“I would set up the Premier League to mirror the school calendar year, so that people working in football could have holidays with their kids,” he said. “Is that unfair? I would say we need to stop playing at the end of June and go on holiday in July, so you can go with your kids.

“During the summer it's too hot, so we start playing again in September. Then you stop in December, take two weeks off, and start again in January. It would be nice because we would be part of the real world.”

* Tickets for the Capital One Cup semi-final first leg on Tuesday, January 7 will be priced £20 for adults and £5 for under-16s and over-65s.

Season card holders have until 5pm on Monday, December 30 to secure their season-card seat. However, some supporters located in the North West Upper area will have to be relocated to another area because of the increased allocation of tickets for away supporters.

A general sale of tickets not reserved for season-card holders will start at 9am on Monday, December 23, but only supporters with a valid customer number and purchasing history will be able to buy tickets for the game. All seats not reserved for season-card holders will be released for sale on Tuesday, December 31.

Supporters wishing to purchase tickets can do so in person at the Stadium of Light ticket office, by calling 0871 911 1973 or visiting www.safc.com/tickets.

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