English winter break with a twist

Manchester United fans in good cheer outside Old Trafford before the game against Burnley on Boxing Day last year. Having a winter break in February will be a compromise between clubs' demands for a rest in mid-season and fans who insist on having th
Manchester United fans in good cheer outside Old Trafford before the game against Burnley on Boxing Day last year. Having a winter break in February will be a compromise between clubs' demands for a rest in mid-season and fans who insist on having their festive football fix.PHOTO: REUTERS

Two-week rest in Feb means Xmas games stay but FA Cup fifth round moved to midweek

LONDON • The Football Association looks set to introduce a winter break that would leave the traditional Christmas fixtures intact - a move that would please English clubs while appeasing the purists.

According to a report in the Times, the FA is prepared to make the historic decision to play an entire round of the FA Cup in midweek in order to secure a winter break in the 2019-20 season.

The FA, English Premier League and the Football League (EFL) are understood to have reached an agreement in principle for an annual two-week break in early February before the resumption of the Champions League and Europa League games. Under the plan, the fifth round of the FA Cup would be played entirely in the middle of the week and without replays.

The break would be staggered, with five Premier League matches taking place on one weekend and five on another.

The idea is that all Premier League clubs will have at least 13 days without playing and that England will benefit from players who have had a mid-season rest before Euro 2020 and future World Cups.

The 2020 European Championship will be held at the end of the first season with a winter break and England (provided they qualify) should also enjoy the greatest benefit of home advantage among the participating countries, with Wembley hosting seven matches including the semi-finals and final.

  • 22

    Days the German Bundesliga took a break this season - the longest among the top European leagues.

England will have at least two group games at home and possibly all three and if they get to the final, it could be six out of seven games.

Moving the FA Cup fifth round to midweek may mean that the FA has to pay a penalty to overseas broadcasters but this is not thought to be significant and the English top flight would be asked to make up any shortfall in lost broadcast revenue.

The deal would see the Premier League gain a weekend on which its matches are played, even if there are only half the number of games. This would suit broadcasters, which prefer weekend fixtures.

The EFL has also been taking part in the negotiations but the winter break will not apply in the lower divisions - the Championship, League One and League Two.

The EFL is also insistent that it keeps the semi-finals of the League Cup, its flagship competition, as two-legged affairs.

Greg Dyke, the former FA chairman, first called for a winter break in 2013 and Martin Glenn, the chief executive, has pushed forward with the negotiations.

News of an impending winter break is likely to please Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola, fresh from lifting the League Cup on Sunday - his first trophy with the Premier League leaders.

The Spaniard has been an ardent critic of the busy festive schedule, calling the fixture congestion a "disaster" for players.

"If you tell me that technically, physically it's good for the players: no, it's a disaster," he said.

Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho has also called for the continental model to be implemented, though not at the expense of the festive calendar.

"It shouldn't be at Christmas because tradition demands not and tradition plays a role," he said.

"The commercial point of view is also important, but I would say play the crazy Christmas period but after it has finished, give us a break."

This season, footballers plying their trade in the German Bundesliga, the French Ligue 1, the Italian Serie A and Spain's LaLiga have enjoyed winter breaks of 22, 16, 14 and 11 days respectively.

THE TIMES, LONDON

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 28, 2018, with the headline 'English winter break with a twist'. Print Edition | Subscribe