La Liga teams have traditionally had a fortnight off so players could recharge their batteries, enjoying their Christmas dinner at home with their loved ones (and party quite a bit too).
However, the 2015/16 season began with a fixture row involving the La Liga authorities, the Spanish FA, national team coach Vicente Del Bosque and the players union.
It was eventually decided to play official games between Christmas and new year for the first time since 1990.
This has meant, in practice, everyone accelerating their yule schedules. Immediately after scoring four times in Madrid’s 10-2 win at home to Rayo Vallecano on December 20, Gareth Bale flew home to Wales on his private jet. Fellow galactico Cristiano Ronaldo crossed the Atlantic to take in Miami Heat’s 92-93 NBA defeat to the Detroit Pistons two evenings later.
Barca talisman Lionel Messi has been even busier this week. After returning to Europe following his goalscoring performance in the Club World Cup triumph on the Sunday before Christmas, he picked up his wife Antonella and children Thiago and Mateo, and flew straight to Argentina to spend Christmas with his extended family.
Messi was also due at last night’s Globe Soccer Awards in Dubai, while he’s due at training with his Barca colleagues this morning to prepare for the home game against Real Betis on Wednesday evening.
It looks pretty unlikely that Messi, who passed a kidney stone while in Japan, will start against Betis. But a repeat of the blazing row with blaugrana coach Luis Enrique 12 months ago, after the sensitive superstar was benched on his return from South America, looks unlikely given the current happy mood around the Camp Nou.
Some kind of bust-up at Madrid appears much more possible. Madrid’s players were due back at training yesterday morning — meaning that South Americans including Colombia’s James Rodriguez and Brazilian Marcelo would have had to travel Christmas Day to be sure of arriving on time.
Blancos coach Rafa Benitez has held onto his job long enough to take charge of this session, ahead of Wednesday’s return to the restless Estadio Santiago Bernabeu against Real Sociedad.
Before the break, the under-fire Benitez was photographed alongside club president Florentino Perez and first team captain Sergio Ramos giving their annual toast to Los Blancos fans. But the scowls on each face betrayed the significant tensions around the club.
A year ago, the situation was so different. Madrid went into the Christmas break as world champions, on a record 22-game winning streak. They then made a commercially-driven trip to Dubai, and immediately lost their first game back, 1-2 at Valencia. Coach Carlo Ancelotti never really recovered from a shocking January — leading to Benitez arriving last summer.
Madrid are also at Valencia next Sunday evening, in what will be Los Che coach Gary Neville’s biggest test to date. Neville has had a trying time so far in his first managerial job, exiting the Champions League and drawing both his La Liga games.
“At this moment the best thing is to just stand clear, have a break, let the players rest and then feel better when they come back,” Neville said after drawing 2-2 at home to Getafe on December 19.
Time for reflection would be particularly useful at the Bernabeu, where well-placed rumours last week had club chief Florentino seriously considering replacing Benitez with either Jose Mourinho or Zinedine Zidane in the coming days.
For all of those involved in La Liga this Christmas the fun has never really stopped.