Every week, coaches spend hours making tactical adjustments and giving practical advice to their players in order to prepare them for each match. Whether it's the development of innovative set piece strategies, the strengthening of defensive shapes, or the improvement of chance conversion, there are a number of different things players will be drilled on.
However, once the weekend's fixture kicks off, there's only so much a manager can do. They can shout from the sidelines and try to impact the game as much as possible, but ultimately there's only one real chance they'll get to speak to their group during the course of the match: the halftime break.
Halftime plays an important role in any soccer game, whether you're operating in the Premier League or simply playing youth soccer in your local area.
In this article, we'll explain how long halftime in soccer is and why it's so important. We'll discuss what happens during a typical halftime break, both on and off the pitch, and flesh out your general understanding of this crucial part of the game.
A standard soccer match is 90 minutes long, with additional time tacked on depending on what stoppages and interruptions occur during those 90 minutes. Elite-level players are extremely fit and regularly capable of running over 10 kilometres during a match; however, even with this level of fitness and stamina, to play for 90 minutes without a break would be an extremely difficult task.
Half-time offers players a crucial break from play, allowing them to catch their breath, relax, take on fluids, and prepare themselves for the second period of play.
Without this break, teams would struggle to keep up to the required standard throughout an entire match, and implementing the coach's gameplan would also become more difficult.
Halftime was not strictly mentioned in the original Laws of the Game, which were first formalised in 1863 by the English Football Association, and its exact roots are a little tricky to pin down. However, it's thought by many that the original reason for halftime being introduced into association football was that in the early days of the sport, different English public schools played with different rules, and halftime allowed both teams to play half of the match using their own familiar set of rules, switching ends at the half time break.
The standardisation of the rules in 1863 meant this wasn't strictly necessary anymore, but the concept of changing ends stuck around, largely because of the impact of potential variables in match conditions such as weather and the state of the pitch.
Halftime is important for a number of reasons. First of all, it allows players to recover from the physical exertions of the first half, catching their breath, taking a crucial rest and drinking plenty of water to hydrate.
Players will also regularly consume energy drinks and gels at this point, ensuring they're refuelled for the second half. If any players need treatment for an injury or strain, the medical staff can attend to them at halftime too.
The break is also a crucial opportunity for the head coach and their assistants to offer tactical instructions to the players, make tweaks and changes to the formation and shape, and inform the players of any substitutions they intend to make.
It's a chance to recap on what was done well in the first half, and what needs to improve in the second half. Here, players, particularly the captain and other senior players, can often also speak up with their reflections on how things are going.
Plenty of things also happen off the pitch at halftime. In the stadium, fans have an opportunity to stretch their legs, buy a drink or some food, chat to their friends and typically take in some halftime entertainment on the pitch. For US sports fans, this entertainment will often be more elaborate, while in Europe it's more likely to be a short football-base challenge or fan competition of some kind.
Halftime also allows big corporations to advertise their products to TV viewers at home through lucrative commercial breaks. These spots are some of the most sought-after in television; during the 2022 World Cup, it was reported that a 30-second ad break during half-time in the group stage match between England and the USA cost a whopping $600,000.
The halftime break always occurs at the same time — on the 45-minute mark, exactly halfway through the 90-minute game. That being said, additional time is added at the end of both the first half and the second half, to account for any stoppages in play. For example, if there's a lengthy injury to a player, it's common to see several minutes added at the end of the half in which that injury occured. Similarly, if a team wastes time excessively when the ball is not in play (eg. on goal kicks or throw ins), you'll probably see a fair amount of stoppage time added at the end of the 45.
Since the beginning of the 2023/24 Premier League season, officials have begun calculating stoppage time with much more accuracy, introducing lengthy periods of additional time in order to clamp down on time wasting and increase the amount of time the ball spends in play. The initial effect has been some extremely long stoppage time periods, but as players and coaches become more and more used to this change, it's likely that these periods will reduce, much like they did at the 2022 FIFA World Cup.
According to Law 7 in the FA's official Laws of the Game, "players are entitled to an interval at half-time, not exceeding 15 minutes... Competition rules must state the duration of the half-time interval and it may be altered only with the referee’s permission."
Teams don't have to take this full break if they don't want to, and sometimes you'll see an XI come back out onto the pitch with a few minutes to spare, particularly if they're losing and the head coach wants a big reaction in the second half (sometimes managers even take extreme measures such as conducting the half-time team talk on the soccer field rather than in the changing room, most famously with Hull City's Phil Brown).
However, generally speaking, the full allotted 15-minute break will be taken.
Halftime doesn't always have to be the exact same length of time. It ultimately depends on how long each team takes to recover and return to the field of play, and when the referee and officials judge that the match is ready to be resumed.
Typically, though, there's very little room for deviance here — a half-time break in association football (aka soccer) will pretty much always be around 15 minutes long, give or take a minute or so.
In fact, if the gap between the two periods of play is any longer than this, it starts to create potential problems, with the risk of players seizing up, getting cramp, or sustaining an injury increasing.
It's important to note that half-time will always be 15 minutes long, regardless of how much stoppage time is added at the end of the first half of the game. Additional time doesn't cut into the players' break, as this opportunity to recover and refuel is absolutely essential and shouldn't be reduced.
As stated earlier, in league competitions all matches will be 90 minutes long; however, when it comes to the knockout rounds of competitions such as the World Cup, the Champions League and the FA Cup, the answer to the question "how long is a soccer game?" is complicated by the inclusion of extra time.
In soccer, extra time occurs during certain knockout competitions when two teams are level at the end of 90 minutes. In this event, an extra 30 minutes of play is added to try and determine a winner, with this 30-minute extra time split into two 15-minute periods.
In the middle of these two halves in extra time, players are allowed a further break, although it's not as substantial as the 15 minutes awarded between the first and second half.
According to the Laws of the Game, "a short drinks break (which should not exceed one minute) is permitted at the interval of half-time in extra time."
Given that by this point the match will have been going on for over two hours, this extra chance to have a break and take fluids on board is super important.
The pivotal role that halftime plays in football is underlined by widespread cultural references, cliches and phrases such as "a game of two halves", which focuses on how a football match — whether it's in a youth soccer game or a top professional soccer league such as La Liga or the Premier League — can completely turn on its head following the half-time break, with one side using the interval to motivate themselves, change tactics and come back stronger.
There have been plenty of notable occasions where this has happened at the top level. Barcelona's Champions League knockout charge against PSG in 2017 sticks in the memory; 4-0 down after the first leg, a remarkable 6-1 victory sparked by three goals in the final seven minutes sent Barca through to the quarter finals against the odds.
In the Premier League, Newcastle United made headlines with their shock 2011 comeback to draw 4-4 with Arsenal having been 4-0 down at half time.
But surely the most famous second half comeback in football history came in 2005, in the Champions League final. Trailing 3-0 to AC Milan in Istanbul, Rafe Benitez's Liverpool, led by captain Steven Gerrard, mounted an extraordinary comeback to level the game to 3-3 in the second half before triumping on penalties in the so-called 'Miracle of Istanbul'.
To gain a little insight into how Liverpool were able to accomplish this incredible feat, why not check out our guide to the club's training ground, the AXA Training Centre?