Kevin Gage's Sheffield United Column, Part One: Why Blades' winter break to Dubai could come at an excellent time with European place in our sights

So the Premier League’s first ‘Winter Break’ is here, although to be honest, you’d be forgiven if you hadn’t actually realised there was one.

Monday, 17th February 2020, 6:00 pm
Kevin Gage Column

The league fixtures have seemingly just continued as normal, with scheduled games spread over two weeks instead of one. The thinking was, apparently, that every team would get a minimum of a 13 days ‘break’, and spreading the fixtures over two weeks would ensure that there would not be a ‘blank’ weekend with no Premier League fixtures.

Because obviously the football world couldn’t possibly cope with that unthinkable scenario!

For the Blades it’s actually come at a very good time indeed as we went into it on the back of two superb wins, up to fifth in the league and with our reputation as a football club rising all the time. It will also give the five new transfer window signings a bit more time to settle in, become accustomed to their teammates, and not only get used to our style of playing, but also adapt and get their head around the physical expectations of being a Sheffield United player under this regime.

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Phil Jagielka and John Fleck share a joke in Dubai (Pics: Eoin Doyle)

After all, it’s probably a big jump from what they’ve been accustomed to and as we’ve witnessed with Sander Berge to an extent, it’s a big ask to get up to speed so soon.

For the regulars in the first team, perhaps it’s also great to get a bit of a matchday ‘breather’ and they’ve no doubt relished the opportunity to maybe take their foot off the throttle for a few days in training and combine some rest and recuperation with some very light ‘ticking-over’ sessions. Chris Wilder and his superb backroom staff will have know just what the players needed to strike that balance and get them 100 per cent ready to face Brighton on Saturday.

So if you are having a mid-season break, it does actually make perfect sense to get the players away for a complete change of scenery and routine, and lots of clubs take the opportunity to get the sun on the players' backs at the same time. Sports complexes in Spain have been a favourite in the past, but the trend over the past few years has been to visit Dubai, and with the SUFC ownership connections it again made perfect sense to go to that part of the world. I’ve absolutely no doubt the players were allowed a fair bit of ‘down-time’ too and despite one or two photos getting posted on social media, it seems to have passed off without any major incidents!

So, I think the official Premier League mid-season break is here to stay, but to be honest, clubs have always looked for any space in the fixtures to whisk the players away for a few days, usually for just a change of scene combined with some good old-fashioned team ‘bonding’. Ah yes...’bonding’.

Sander Berge feels the heat in Dubai (Pics: Eoin Doyle)

This word covers so many different aspects of a group of men, but I think we all know what the actual meaning of the word is in this context. Bonding is usually done in a bar/pub/nightclub and involves various escapades and adventures in the most unlikely and ridiculous situations.

Bonding is also the all-encompassing description given to sharing memorable and sometimes quite unbelievable scenarios that pan out over the course of any trip away, anywhere, at any time! Bonding can be done on regular away trips for a mundane football match, but does seem to occur more frequently and more naturally when you are placed a strange or different environment for a few days.

Bonding is good. Bonding is great. Team bonding is actually vital.

In my playing days, bonding wasn’t achieved in places like Dubai though. Far from it... literally! With Dave Bassett at Wimbledon we got a regular week's pre-season in Scandanavia somewhere, and an end-of-season jolly to Magaluf, but mid-season breaks where usually taken courtesy of the British Army in various camps around the UK.

Prince Abdullah joined Chris Wilder and his team in Dubai (Eoin Doyle/SUFC)

Plymouth was a memorable one, for all the wrong reasons, as we stayed in huge communal dormitories in the most uncomfortable beds ever, and were allocated proper army kit for the week to train in.

Now when I say ‘train’ we didn’t actually even see a football, as the days involved various army assault courses including submerged water tunnels, rope climbs, ‘death slides’ off cliffs, ‘yomping’ over miles of fields, night-time navigational manoeuvers, etc. Fortunately, an escape committee was formed and we did some night-time manoeuvers of our own into town to get some proper ‘bonding’ done!

***SEE tomorrow’s Star for the second part of Kevin Gage’s winter break column

Kevin Gage owns The Manor House hotel/bar/café, Dronfield. Find him on Twitter: @gageykev

United's Irish duo Enda Stevens and John Egan in Dubai (Pics: Eoin Doyle)