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Last Updated: Tuesday, 23 January 2007, 09:17 GMT
Owen Hargreaves column
Owen Hargreaves
By Owen Hargreaves
England and Bayern Munich midfielder

If I was to ever play in the Premiership, there is one thing from Germany I would want to bring with me - the winter break.

For the last month German football has been on hold.

For the first two weeks the players are allowed to have a holiday, to spend time with their families and relax around the Christmas period.

Relaxing in the Dubai desert on tour with Bayern Munich
Life in the desert is more fun than back home at minus five degrees!

After that, we meet up in Dubai for a training camp to prepare for the second half of the season.

As I was injured this time, it was slightly different. Instead of spending the first two weeks chilling out, I was training hard every single day to make sure I regained my fitness.

Usually I love relaxing with my family at Christmas because it is great to be able to switch off from football.

But coming back from a pretty serious injury, it was crucial I worked as hard as I could every day to reach a good level for when we met up again.

I am not sure exactly why the winter break started but I'm sure it has something to do with the weather, as traditionally it gets pretty cold in the winter in Germany.

I can assure you it's not much fun playing football when it's minus five degrees outside - your muscles freeze for a start!

The players definitely appreciate the winter break. Not only physically but also mentally. It is important to know from the middle of November that you can invest all your energy and then you have got a break.

Whereas for players in the Premiership, it's the opposite. You can't go at it 100% for every game when you're playing every three days, mentally that must be very draining.

I'm sure having the winter break last season made it easier for me personally going into the World Cup, you benefit any time you get a rest.

I think it largely depends on what you're used to. I'm used to having a winter break - the other England players aren't.

We had a relatively long break before the 2006 World Cup where we could prepare for the tournament but it is coming at the end of a very long season.

Mentally you are always thinking about the next game in a World Cup so it is very difficult to relax.

I think it's easy to make pros and cons for a winter break. I think as international footballers we're used to things going on in the summer, we are used to having relatively short breaks.

Physically, football has become very draining. Whatever competition you are playing in, for club or country, it's impossible to play every game the same.

Sometimes players look tired and it is probably not a coincidence as it is asking a lot for players to play 60 games a year at a very high level.

It becomes very demanding on the players and that is probably why the questions come out. People cannot accept you can lose at a World Cup without there being lots of reasons why.

Owen Hargreaves with Bayern Munich team-mate Bastian Schweinsteiger
I hang out with Bastian Schweinsteiger, Roque Santa Cruz, Claudio Pizarro and Philipp Lahm. We have known each other for a long time

Has tiredness played a part in England going out at the quarter-final stage of the last three tournaments? That is so tough to say.

I do not think it is ever down to one specific reason. People look for reasons why it did not work out and a lack of a winter break is a thing they look at in England because there isn't one.

One thing is for sure - the best football is always played when the weather is good and the pitches are nice to play on, not when it's snowy and rainy and windy.

That goes for the Premiership just the same as it does for the Bundesliga.

I have been asked a lot to compare the two leagues and it is always a difficult thing to do.

Bayern Munich compares to the top teams in England, definitely, and the rest of the German league is very competitive, there are some very good teams.

In England there are maybe more international stars playing for smaller teams and the tempo is maybe a little more upbeat too.

I watched Liverpool play Chelsea and then Arsenal play Manchester United at the weekend, both fantastic games, but I like to watch the big games from any country in the world - any football fan would want to watch Barcelona and Real Madrid.

The Premiership is on satellite in Germany and it is obviously very popular and very high-profile, not just over here but around the world.

But when you look at the Bundesliga, it is a very healthy league. The stadiums are almost always full - I think I heard that our league has the most fans in the whole of Europe, which is impressive.

Financially, it is very sound and there is a lot of interest, it seems to be growing every year. The fans seems to be having a good time too and that's very important.

So far, German clubs haven't had the same sort of investment from rich backers that English clubs have had.

But I don't think it will be very long before someone thinks of doing that in Germany. I don't think anyone here would be against someone taking over a club and putting money into it.

The stadiums are always full and they are very beautiful after so much work was done on them for the World Cup.

Germany is a massive country and a healthy country and there is a lot of possibility here.

Like in England, there is no doubt that football is an extremely important part of German culture and I can only see its popularity increasing.

YOUR QUESTIONS ANSWERED

Hi Owen, I'm a big fan (which says a lot as I'm a Scot!). I was just wondering, what is the best atmosphere you've ever played in at club level and also at international level?
Paul McFadden, Glasgow, Scotland

No doubts - Celtic. When we played at Celtic Park for Bayern in the Champions League it was unbelievable and I think all our players said the same thing afterwards. The atmosphere was just totally unique - as I'm sure Paul knew when he asked the question! As for internationally, I would have to say the atmosphere at a World Cup is very special, a very one-off kind of thing if you know what I mean. The fans invest a certain amount of energy you couldn't ask them to in a normal league game.

A lot has been said about current wages for players compared to guys who played the game years ago. But, as a footballer, do you believe players of today are better than those of previous generations?
Loakjeet Singh, England

That's a tough question. I don't know if players are technically better, but the game has moved on and it's different these days. It's played at a much higher pace, just look at the Arsenal v Manchester United game on Sunday. You never saw that 10, 20 years ago - you watch those classic games and sometimes think that there is a lot of standing around going on and nobody really tackling each other. It is a very athletic game now, there are so many players, with so much pace and so many physical attributes, and you have to adapt with it.

If you had never become a professional footballer what career path do you think you would have taken?
Humz, England

That is hard to say. I grew up with sport, playing it because I loved it, and it is the thing I enjoyed most. I went to school but I was lucky enough to be offered a trial with Bayern at 16 and was successful. I never really thought of anything else but possibly that was a good thing. I was naive in a sense that I always thought I was going to make it.

Who do you hang out with at Bayern Munich?
Sara, United States of America

I hang out with Bastian Schweinsteiger, also with Roque Santa Cruz. We have all kind of been here together for a quite a long time. Also Claudio Pizarro and Philipp Lahm, we all spend a fair bit of time hanging out, but I get on well with everyone at the club. I don't want to start any rumours but I'm sure all those guys would be interested in playing in England. We all watched Arsenal play Manchester United, who would not want to be involved in those sorts of games?

Two tournaments, two shoot-outs, two heartbreaking exits - only one England player with a 100% success rate - you. And a great part of your footballing education has been German, it can't be a coincidence! Level with us, please. Is there a magic formula for penalty-taking proficiency?
Helen, England

I have taken penalties since I was a kid, I do not think it is anything to do with the fact I have played in Germany, not at all. It comes down to the individual. When you saw the Germans take them against Argentina, even the young ones, they looked so calm and cool and stuck them away but I personally feel a lot of it is just luck. You have to remember you are shooting against the best goalkeepers in the world and they know exactly what they are doing too. But with England, we practised penalties every day at the World Cup. Every time we practised I stuck mine in the same place because, for me, it is important to get into a routine.

  • Every week Owen will be answering a selection of your questions in his column. So, using the postform at the top of this column on the right, send us your questions and we will put some of them to the England international.



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