Schmeichel looks for winter rest

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The Independent Online
Peter Schmeichel trudged wearily from the Wembley pitch after the first game of the season on Sunday and immediately pleaded for a Christmas break in the season.

The Manchester United goalkeeper helped the champions claim yet another piece of silverware in the Charity Shield penalty shoot-out against the FA Cup holders, Chelsea.

The traditional curtain- raiser is just the opening fixture of a season that could last 11 months for those players involved in the World Cup finals in France in 1998 and Schmeichel yesterday predicted that the Football Association would have to sanction a mid-season rest for exhausted players.

The Danish international goalkeeper said: "If England qualify [for the World Cup], what's the point in stretching the season another week? If you play in this league you need a lot of rest, not just between games but you also need a lot of rest between seasons. I think eventually we will have to have a break at Christmas.

"They will find that if the players can look forward to a little break they will come back more fresh and ready and everyone will benefit from that."

As one of the most successful clubs, United are particularly badly hit by a packed fixture list which has already led to their manager, Alex Ferguson, deciding to rest David Beckham.

Schmeichel is also concerned about the demands placed upon the young internationals. "The England players played into June [in Le Tournoi de France]. They might have come back the same time as I did, they may have had pre-season tours and they end up not getting in the right form and get injuries during the season and they might not play in the World Cup. I can't really see the point in that.

"Gary Neville has gone on for two years now with no break and he needed the time he got this summer to be able to continue to produce for Manchester United and England."

Schmeichel has at least already benefited from one rule change this season which allows goalkeepers to move on their line before a penalty is taken.

He saved Frank Sinclair's first penalty at Wembley after United learned from experience the advantage the new rule gives the goalkeeper. "We missed two penalties in Milan last week because the goalkeeper was dancing about on the line. Jordi [Cruyff] was taking one and he didn't know what to do," Schmeichel said.

"It's never been allowed before and it's going to create a lot of confusion for the goalkeeper as well as the penalty taker. The Internazionale keeper saved two penalties by moving about on the line so I thought I'd try it.

"You come up against players like Gianfranco Zola who are so confident they can wait until the very last second, so you have to try these things."