Chelsea head coach Antonio Conte hopes to enjoy his first experience of festive football — after avoiding going shopping for Christmas presents.
But long-time rivals Jose Mourinho and Arsene Wenger have for once found common ground by querying the Premier League’s Christmas schedule.
The Blues enter the Christmas and New Year programme with a six-point lead and are on an 11-match Premier League winning streak.
Conte’s side are at home to Bournemouth on St Stephen’s Day, away at Stoke on New Year’s Eve, and at Tottenham on January 4.
The former Juventus midfielder and boss and Italy head coach is looking forward to a time many managers, both native and foreign, have lamented.
“This is the first experience for me and my family, to work, to play football [at this time of year],” said Conte.
“It can be, and I hope it will be, a fantastic experience.”
Asked whether English football should have a winter break, Conte said: “It’s very difficult for me to say if it’s positive or negative to play during the Christmas period.
“But for me, it’s my first experience and I’m very happy to have this experience.
“I lived always this experience when I stayed in Italy. I have this situation in England, and I heard a lot of coaches are disappointed, saying you should stop and have a winter break.
“Above all with the national team. (Former England boss Fabio) Capello always said the lack of a winter break penalised the national team.
“The atmosphere we find in this period is very difficult to find in another period. It’s fantastic.”
Conte will be joined for Christmas by his wife and daughter for a family get-together, but he will carry on working, rather than go on holiday to Lecce, Dubai, or stay at home in Turin, and leave gift shopping to his wife.
“It’s very strange for us,” he added. “In this period, we’re used to going on holiday for a week. But it’s important for me, at Christmas, to stay with my family.
“You have to celebrate Christmas with the family. It’s not important where you stay, but it’s important to stay together with your family. I don’t like to buy gifts. I don’t like this. My wife does this. She is a fantastic person. I don’t like going to the shops. My wife spends the right money, not a lot of money.”
If that sounded a bit Scrooge, Mourinho and Wenger have a full-blown dose of bah humbug. Each Premier League team will play three games between December 26 and January 4, yet the breaks between fixtures vary from club to club. Manchester United have a cumulative five days off between their first and third matches, while Chelsea have seven.
“The busy period is for some clubs, not for everyone,” said Mourinho. “If you analyse the fixtures there are clubs where there is no congestion for them. It looks like the fixtures are chosen to give rest for some and to create problems to others.
Mourinho was, for once, joined in his sense of injustice by arch-enemy Wenger as Arsenal have games on January 1 and 3.
“It’s a bit surprising this year because I don’t completely understand the organisation of the fixtures this season,” said the Frenchman.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved