FA chief wants EPL cut to 18 teams

Proposal is said to ease top clubs' congested fixtures and to keep players fresh for England

LONDON • The Football Association (FA) is to ask the English Premier League to reduce the elite division from 20 clubs to 18. The FA argues that this would give leading clubs more breathing space as they contest European honours and would also help England.

The plan has been devised by FA chairman Greg Dyke, who has been seeking ways to revive the national team's fortunes. Dyke is to speak to Richard Scudamore, the executive chairman of the Premier League, about his idea of cutting two clubs from the top-flight.

Given the obvious impact on the Championship, the Football League would also need to be consulted.

Dyke's proposal is that after the move to 18 clubs, the Premier League would become two up, two down. He believes that the reduced jeopardy may encourage those Premier League clubs wary of relegation to embrace his plan.

The initial reaction from many clubs will be concern at the prospect of a cull. But Dyke believes that the Premier League could respond by increasing parachute payments.

The FA helped clubs break away from the Football League in 1992, receiving assistance from Dyke who was then at London Weekend Television; it began with 22 clubs but the intention was to reduce to 18 to assist the national team.

The last structural change came in 1995, when the Premier League had to reduce from 22 to 20 under pressure from Fifa, and four teams were relegated with two promoted.

The most immediate stumbling block for Dyke's plan is that broadcasting contracts have been agreed to show a 20-club league until 2019.

The Premier League has consistently argued that the crowded calendar should be addressed by looking at Cup competitions, and particularly replays in the FA Cup. This has been resisted by traditionalists within the FA.

Dyke's proposal may get short shrift from Scudamore but at least he will stir debate among clubs over freeing up time during demanding European periods.

This week's comments from Tottenham Hotspur manager Mauricio Pochettino about unhelpful fixture scheduling will resonate with Premier League managers and with Dyke.

Spurs face a tough Premier League fixture against Chelsea at noon today, 64 hours after finishing their Europa League game against Qarabag in Azerbaijan.

Slimming down the Premier League will reduce the workload on players such as Harry Kane, who has played 25 times this season and giving him a chance of being fresh for England in the summer.

Kane, 22, was exhausted by the time he reached the Czech Republic in June for the Uefa Under-21 Championships. There are fears that he will be tired again before the European Championship finals in France next summer.

Spain, France and Italy all have 20-club divisions while Germany's Bundesliga is 18. But all four leagues have winter breaks and lack intense Cup fixtures, unlike England.

The FA has been continually thwarted in its desire to introduce a winter break.

Most managers are in favour but the clubs and the Premier League are not, primarily because they know that playing on while other leading leagues hibernate is worth fortunes in broadcasting revenue.

THE TIMES, LONDON

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on November 29, 2015, with the headline 'FA CHIEF WANTS EPL CUT TO 18 TEAMS'. Print Edition | Subscribe