Why the proposal to introduce a winter break in the Premier League makes sense
Written by: Debajit Sarma
The powers of the English game are contemplating a two-week recess in the most hectic part of the season and be examined the pros and cons of the move.
The most widely followed football league in the world, the Premier League is exploring the possibility of accommodating a two-week-long winter break within the season which will put them in line with the other top leagues in Europe viz. the Bundesliga, La Liga, Ligue 1 and the Serie A all of whom have an annual winter break system in place.
The Premier League has recently revealed that it is open to the idea of a winter break and that they have been ”looking at the challenges of an increasingly congested English football calendar and ways to ease fixture congestion while also providing the players with a mid-season break” which is referenced in the tender documents to the broadcasters vying for the next Premier League TV rights deal, covering 2019-22 and the first fortnight of February 2020 being mooted as a favourable time-frame.
The proposed interlude would see the FA Cup 5th round being shifted to the midweek and replays for this round would be done away with. It is understood the break would be staggered, with five Premier League games played on one weekend and the other five the following weekend that would ensure each side gets at least a fortnight off while also making sure the fans don’t have to endure two long weeks sans football action.
The Premier League is getting increasingly competitive every year, with the ‘Top six’ going into every season with genuine title aspirations and unlike the other leagues in Europe, the mid-table and even the bottom of the table dwellers hold the capability of upsetting the applecart of the fabled Top six. So, in such a scenario playing 15-20 games in the months of December and January without a break in between or after is no joke. Hence such a scope for downtime in the football calendar would be very welcome for the players and the coaches alike.
After playing around 10 games in the Christmas and the New Year period, Manchester City boss, Pep Guardiola complained that the busy festive schedule was “killing” for the players. Having the provision of a break would massively help the players in the ‘red zone’ to recover and recuperate in time for the second half of the season. The managers would also have lesser things to worry about when having a fit and sufficiently rested squad in their hands.
In the group stages of the Champions League this season, the Premier League teams were making the right noises as all the five participating teams breezed into the knockout rounds with relative ease. There were even widespread claims that this marked the resurgence of English dominance on the European stage after a barren spell dating back to Chelsea’s win in the 2012 edition. However it is a distinctly different story in mid-march as only two of the Premier League sides have progressed into the quarters with Tottenham Hotspur, Chelsea and Manchester United all knocked out in the Round of 16 stage.
In November Manchester United’s erratic manager Jose Mourinho was spot on in his assessment of the Premier League teams’ chances in the competition. When asked if this was going to be a year for the English contingent, he said, “'I don't think so because I always say the Champions League only starts in February, and in February, the English teams are after December and January where we can play 20 matches over two months and the Germans, the French, the Spanish, the Italians, they all come from a winter break.” The Portuguese tactician makes a valid point here and the English sides may benefit from some additional rest to make more vigorous attempts at the Champions League and also in the Europa League.
The Premier League bosses have floated the idea of a winter break with also an eye on the England National Team and Euro 2020. The Three Lions have been miserably underachieving for years now in the big stage and it has been observed that the England team has looked jaded at major tournaments, several previous England managers also agree on this and have cited the hectic scheduling of the domestic football season as having a detrimental effect on the national team. The potential accommodation of the winter break in February 2020 would ensure England’s stars do not go into the tournament fatigued due to the lack of a winter break and with the competition’s semi-finals and finals due to be held at the Wembley stadium, the Three Lions have added motivation to do well.
The winter break would provide a natural window for the league strugglers to iron out their tactical flaws and think of strategies to save their season.
With the additional rest time for all the teams, the intensity and quality of matches in the second half of the season should also improve.
The winter break would go a long way in ensuring player performances and well-being and inevitably bears many positives for English football as a whole. Despite all that is good about the interlude there are still a few questions that it doesn’t answer
The festive schedule is a tradition in English football and is a major reason for the Premier League’s popularity globally. The games come at a time when people are at home and families gather in front of the allowing TV broadcasters rake in massive moolah over the festive period and hence they are dead against the rescheduling of these fixtures. With five games played in a span of two weeks and all the travelling involved in between, the players are tested to their limits physically. So, the scheduling of the break in February actually would serve little purpose.
Also, the idea of floating the winter break keeping in mind the fortunes of the England National Team, in the long run, seems to be unconvincing. The Premier League’s status as one of the top leagues in the world has been a favourable destination for foreign players since many years and now top players from the top footballing nations are plying their trade in the league more than ever. So the absence of a winter break would affect them much as it would affect England’s perennially underachieving stars.
The powers that be in English football can deal with the increasing fixture congestion by making a few tweaks in the domestic football structure that would not really require them to resort to a winter break.
With the interest in the League Cup dwindling every year and even mid-table seeing the competition as an opportunity to rest their regular starters and field second-string sides, the Cup can be scrapped altogether. Moreover, as the players also hate it, the FA Cup should do away with the replay format and instead play extra time after regulation time and penalties thereafter to settle ties. All these changes would open up an adequate number of free slots for Gameweeks to be shifted in rather than make teams play five games over 15 days.
The beauty of the FA Cup is that it sometimes pits teams from sleepy little towns of England that are way down in the English football pyramid against the big boys of the Premier League. It provides the players of those clubs the dream of an opportunity to strut their stuff in the Old Traffords and the Wembleys. Those clubs operating at a very small fraction of the budgets of the Premier League big boys look at these clashes to add some much needed financial muscle.
Newport County earned a lucrative 4th round replay at the Wembley stadium after holding the much fancied Tottenham Hotspur 1-1 at home. Though the Exiles lost the replay 2-0, they went home richer by £ 900,000 thanks to TV revenues of their cup run and gate receipts, which is nearly half of the club’s annual turnover. Hence, if the replays in the FA Cup are scrapped it would be harsh on these small clubs and would make their job in sustaining as a football club even harder. The English FA should make some provisions that if a small club like Newport draws a Premier League biggie at home, the club with the lower seeding reserves the right to propose for the tie to be held at the other team’s stadium. This would save the Premier League side from the tiring travel involved and also from potential injuries resulting from playing on a likely sub-par quality pitch while also at the same time preserving the ‘magic’ of the FA Cup.
Published: Thu Mar 29, 2018 06:02 PM IST