Henry Winter: if you think the snow is bad weather for football, wait for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar

Now that our national sport has become gritting, and it seems we’re not especially world class at that either, calls grow for a winter break to bring the Premier League into line with the more sensible La Liga, Serie A and Bundesliga.

Henry Winter: If you think the snow is bad weather for football wait for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar
Snow-topped: the Bill Shankly statue outside Anfield where Liverpool's game with Fulham was called off

The combination of blizzards here, forcing postponements, and Fifa’s realisation that snoods are not required in Qatar in summer — “It ain’t half hot, Sepp” — means the footballing calendar has never come under such scrutiny. A winter break, even bringing the World Cup forward, would be anathema to many clubs but good for England’s chances of reaching the latter stages of a major event.
After doing extensive research into the proliferation of injuries in the Premier League compared to other leagues, Uefa’s medical committee vice-chairman Jan Ekstrand observed: “The amazing thing was that the risk was about double in January, February and March but in April and May it was four times higher compared to teams that have a winter break.”
Spain, Italy and Germany all have winter breaks. The English just have metatarsal breaks.
If hibernation were considered then it should be for the Premier League only; the absence of elite clubs should allow the Football League a deserved spell in the spotlight.
But the problem for advocates of a winter break is the timing. The Football Association has suggested January but there would have been an outcry from supporters this season, for example, with disruption before Christmas followed by an enforced break in the New Year.

Unfortunately, a Catch 22 situation paralyses planning for a winter break. The logical move to introduce some rest and recuperation, allowing players a breather, giving them a chance of being fresh for any summer World Cup or European Championship, could lead to clubs exploiting the gap. It would be all off to Dubai for lucrative exhibitions.
Manchester United were taught the benefit of midseason breaks courtesy of the FA. During the doomed (aren’t they all?) bid for the 2006 World Cup, the FA urged United to attend Fifa’s 2000 World Club Championships in Rio and what a splendid, sun-drenched largely pointless trip it was.
Embarrassed on the pitch, United still put in some useful warm-weather training and returned primed for the run-in.
Sir Alex Ferguson, a long-standing supporter of the winter break, has occasionally granted players midseason furloughs; Wayne Rooney appears to have benefited from his time in Oregon while Cristiano Ronaldo was permitted a flying visit to his native Madeira during his time at Old Trafford.
One idea could bring some sanity back to the international calendar: playing qualifying ties in four-game fortnight blocks twice a season (with any friendlies to be played in that period).
Such mini-tournaments would surely be appreciated by international managers, who would have players for an agreed period. Club managers would not keep having their season interrupted.
The Premier League usually stresses it “agrees in principle” with the idea of a winter break yet privately knows that TV viewers around the world love that the mad-dog Englishmen go out in the bleak midwinter.
Never of the sanest health, football’s going ever so slightly doolally. Barring pitch invasions by abominable snowmen or plagues of locusts, Wednesday’s fixture list currently reads: “Clydesdale Bank Premier League: Hamilton versus Hibernian. International matches: People’s Republic of China versus the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and Qatar versus Estonia”. All very jeux sans frontières but the calendar, at home and abroad, needs work.
And so to Fifa. Trusting Sepp Blatter’s organisation at the moment is like hoping for a fair hearing from the Borgias but the mess in football’s calendar needs addressing, not least because Qatar 2022 will be boiling.
Blatter and the suits who put the rich into Zurich remain the governing body of world football and offer the natural debating chamber.
Blatter must understand moving the World Cup to the winter is not as simple as making a note on the Fifa 2022 wall chart of “Feb 1: WORLD CUP BEGINS”.
This is not a mere five-week hiatus under consideration; if Qatar 2022 were brought forward, two months would be needed. Minimum.
Coaches of competing nations usually demand between three and four weeks’ preparation time, working on tactics, playing warm-up matches and settling in.
After the tournament, players would disperse to their clubs, the English players returning quicker than the Spanish or German, to prepare for the relaunch of club combat.
Managers of Premier League sides would want a week at least to get the team ready again. By pushing for a midseason World Cup, Fifa is not just lobbing a pebble into the club waters, but a huge chunk of granite hewn from the Matterhorn. European clubs would surely be against Blatter’s proposal.
The broadcasters who pour billions into the game might have an HD hissy-fit — unless they can persuade Fifa to allow them to bid more freely for rights, though the way football is going Qatar 2022 could be on satellite anyway.
The sad, inevitable reality is that football is paying the price for Fifa’s ludicrous decision to hand the World Cup to such an unsuitable territory. The IOC wouldn’t give the Winter Olympics to Holland. The World Cup does what it says on the tin – it belongs to the world – but some places like sweltering Qatar are patently wrong.
Fifa just about got away with USA 94, which was so hot that Carlo Ancelotti almost came out in sweat-beads at the memory when reminded last Friday.
Such were the temperatures that this observer will never forget the sight of 3,000 Switzerland fans, usually a fairly decorous breed, removing sweat-stained shirts in the Pontiac Silverdome in Detroit. The Tannoy announcer ordered them to cover up as they were violating health and safety codes.
Qatar would be up another level, even if the stadiums are air-conditioned. Only now is Fifa coming to appreciate the scale of its mistake in awarding 2022 to Qatar. As England shivers in Cold Comfort Farm, the heat is on Fifa.