MANCHESTER, England (AP) — With their six-figure weekly salaries, flashy cars, plush houses and supermodel wives and girlfriends, sympathy is usually in short supply when it comes to footballers in the lucrative English Premier League.
Except, maybe, over the Christmas and New Year period.
When you are sitting down to a big dinner, drinking wine and spending time with the family over the festive period, spare a thought for the likes of Wayne Rooney, Steven Gerrard and Sergio Aguero.
They'll most likely be on a training field in the freezing cold. Or maybe on a bus travelling the length and breadth of England (and Wales for that matter). Or stuck in a hotel room with only a TV for company.
While the top leagues across Europe shut down for two weeks or more at the end of each year, there's no winter break for the hardy souls of the Premier League.
British football persists with that proud, unique — some call it downright weird — tradition of piling up the matches over the festive period. Players at Arsenal and Chelsea, for example, will play four games in 10 days from Dec. 23-Jan 1.
"It's a period where I think only the brave can survive, because it's hard," Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho says. "At Christmas, the accumulation of matches is so high. You must do it with a special group with a special mentality, enjoying the situation and forgetting you don't have a Christmas like the Spanish players, the Italian players, the German players."
Mourinho says he missed being part of England's hectic festive schedule when he left Chelsea in 2007 to manage first in Italy with Inter Milan and then in Spain with Real Madrid. But it certainly isn't to every foreigner's liking.
Take Marcel Desailly, for example. He arrived at Chelsea from AC Milan in 1998, the year he won the World Cup with France, and soon discovered Christmas would no longer be the same.
"I thought it wasn't fair," Desailly said in an interview with The Associated Press. "Christmas Day should not be a day for football. When you believe in something, you shouldn't have to do it, even for the good of the football and the business of football.
"I was coming from a Latin country where with Christmas, all the (religious) beliefs at that moment were particularly strong. There was no reason to play on that day, even if it was the culture."