The Premier League have today announced that a two week period in Feburary will be allocated as a winter break from the 2019-2020 Premier League season, with ten teams sitting out each weekend. As part of the deal, 5th Round FA Cup matches will move to midweek, with replays being scrapped.
This decision is absolutely pointless in my view. Thankfully, the EFL have managed to avoid clamering to the peer pressure and have confirmed that the three other divisions will remain untouched, with full programmes of fixtures taking place on all of these allocated weekends.
The FA Chief Executive Martin Glenn was quick to crow about the achievements and the insipid soundbites smack of cliches often trotted out to excuse failures. "It's no secret that we have a very congested fixture calendar and over recent years we have been working with the whole game to find a solution." Meanwhile, the official brand statement called it"a significant moment", one that "will greatly benefit club and country" in the long term.
To coin Mark Hammill- this is not going to go the way you think. Already the weekend in question clashes with UEFA Champions League and Europa League action, so I doubt the top teams are going to welcome a disrupted and congested midweek schedule. The timing of the break isn't exactly the winter either- thankfully the FA haven't tried to tarnish the classic Christmas schedule as so many fans feared, but instead have gone much later.
In doing so, however, they've tampered with the oldest club competition in the world. Considering the pedigree and history of the FA Cup, especially with replays and fifth round ties which traditionally separate the wheat from the chaff, it seems baffling to move these matches around. Do the FA expect that top teams juggling Premier League and European competitions to put out top teams in mid-week FA Cup rounds? Or alternatively, February marks the beginning of the home-strait for the EFL sides, and you'd imagine those chasing promotion or trying to stave off relegation are going to want to sustain a midweek cup run. With so much being said by FA bigwigs to try and save the FA Cup, it seems bizarre that they'd be willing to remove one of the most integral moments to satisfy the top teams in England.
And despite other countries around Europe having a winter break, which is so often earmarked as the reason that the likes of Germany and Spain excel on the international side, very few sides use it for resting. Indeed, a break period simply means an opportunity for a money-spinning lucrative commerical tour of Asia, the Middle East or America, taking in several tour games and ultimately tiring the squad out even more. Football should be a sport, not a branding exercise and decisions like this one today mean it is harder and harder to separate these two issues.
Numerous managers from many clubs have expressed support for a winter break and the likes of Portuguese Jose Mourinho and Spaniard Pep Guardiola have been particularly damning against the English schedule, which has previously never included a gap like this. But even then, managers like Antonio Conte and Arsene Wenger have both played down the importance of it - the Frenchman said he would cry if one was introduced. This is coming from a manager whose team played six games in nineteen days during a similarly hectic period this year.
If it was a genuine break for two weeks, so players could recharge their batteries and prepare for the final couple of months of the season, I would be more sympathetic to the cause. But in order for this to happen, you'd need to see sanctions imposed on teams if they chose to digress from this rule and fly all over the world for sponsorship and money-making exercises; a points deduction would be a fair but harsh response. But this will never happen and thus the winter break, as well as Amazon TV deal announced yesterday is just further fuel to the corporate fire which is threatening to burn away fanbases from English football and transform it totally into a cold commercial enterprise, that is assuming it isn't like that already.
Image rights- Flickr