This week, the UK is experiencing a once-in-every few-years snowfall. It’s not a great deal of snow; but in a country unaccustomed to getting any, even a little snow is enough to screw up the roads, railways, airports and general infrastructure. The snow has also had a devastating effect on British football with many games being called off due to snow-covered pitches.
By coincidence, the past few days also seems to be the time when the Premier League has moved a step closer to introducing a winter break after the Premier League and Football League agreed a deal that would see a 13-day break introduced in the first two weeks of February from 2020 onwards and will see the 5th round of the FA Cup being played midweek, and with no replays for that round.
The break will be staggered so that 10 teams will have one weekend free, then play the next and vice-versa so that each team gets an equal break but football doesn’t entirely come to a halt.
This isn’t a done deal, as the FA have to approve it. Despite the Football League being involved in the negotiations, the break will only apply to the Premier League as the Football League’s 46-game season leaves no room for manoeuvre.
For most people this is good news, as they’ve been calling for a break in English football for years. The belief behind this is they think England have suffered in international tournaments because the schedule at the moment is too punishing on players’ bodies, which leaves them injured and burned-out by the end of the season, which in turn has a knock-on effect on their performances at tournaments.
Most people see the logic in this, but the argument has always been that a winter break would mean messing with the games traditionally played over the Christmas period, which are a pain for managers but popular with broadcasters. This new plan sidesteps that altogether as the Christmas period would be unaffected.
But to me, this plan doesn’t make much sense.
I’m not convinced this will keep players any fresher or injury free. I think that a break in February is too late to be effective. A break in February would mean it would come when teams have played roughly 26 games of a 38-game league season. I can see how having a break halfway through the season would be beneficial, but is having one after teams have played 2/3rds of their league campaign going to be as effective?
The website physioroom.com did an analysis of injuries sustained in the Premier League and found that there’s a spike in injuries in November, December and January, i.e. when there’s a lot of games and players need a rest.
The Christmas period in particular can be brutal on players. This season Manchester United played 4 games in only 9 days. It’s after periods like that players need a rest. I’m not sure getting a rest a month later will be much help.
So why are they having it in February? Most leagues that have a winter break have it either over the Christmas period, or in early January with the league resuming in mid-January. My guess would be that the Premier League probably realised that the FA and EFL wouldn’t go for a break in January, so this is a compromise.
Early January is when the Premier League and Championship teams enter the 3rd round of the FA Cup, with the 4th round being played later in January and the FA wouldn’t want to change that; and it may also be a hard sell to the Football League as that’s the time they can make a lot of money with a televised FA Cup tie against a Premier League team.
As it is the Premier League may have a tough time convincing the FA to allow them to mess with the traditions of the oldest football competition in the world by moving games from their traditional weekend spot to midweek. Also, there are some murmurings of discontent from the lower league clubs who fear that FA Cup replays, which can provide a huge source of revenue to them, will be scrapped altogether just to accommodate the Premier League.
The other thing that those who’ve been pushing for a winter break presume is that a break will mean a break. In the past few weeks most Premier League teams have gone off to the Middle East or Spain for some warm weather training.
There’s nothing wrong with that, but give those teams a bit longer away, and there’s a good chance they’ll just go and play a money-spinning friendly further afield, which will make a mockery of using that break to rest the players.
This all smacks to me of a Premier League power grab. This break will have most benefit to the English teams in the knockout stages of the Champions League and Europa League, which usually start in mid-February. The further a team goes in those competitions; the more money they make.
This is a move that benefits a few Premier League clubs only. I don’t think it will help the England team, as I’m unconvinced that it will help the players be any fresher or injury-free for the summer.
The original idea behind having a winter break would be to reduce fixture congestion and give the players time to recover from a hectic period of games. That’s sensible. Shoehorning a break into a relatively quiet time of the season is not going to have the same benefit.