FA says winter break will help national team & clubs

LONDON • A winter break will come into force in the English Premier League (EPL) for the first time in the 2019-20 season.

The Football Association (FA) believes that the move, which was announced yesterday, will help England to succeed at future World Cups and European Championships, and enable English clubs to progress further in the Champions League.

The country's governing body for the sport agreed to move the FA Cup fifth round to midweek and scrap replays, while one round of the EPL will now be straddled over two weekends, with five games being held on the first weekend and the other five on the second.

Fifth-round Cup games that end in a draw will instead go to extra time and penalties instead of replays.

The changes will accommodate a 10-day break in February and bring the EPL in line with other leading divisions around Europe.

The FA has long fought for a mid-season break in the belief that it will rejuvenate players, although the hectic Christmas and New Year fixture period, which is particularly attractive to broadcasters, will remain untouched.

"It has been talked about for years and there has not been the climate of collaboration there is now," said the FA's chief executive Martin Glenn.

He also promised that FA Cup third-round replays, which contribute hugely to the finances of lower-league clubs through gate receipts, would be safeguarded.

"We feel really strongly about never changing the third and fourth rounds," he said.

"A core essence of the Cup is the giant-killing. Interestingly, it's what seems to be one of the reasons it is popular abroad. That won't change.

"There are always traditionalists who say you mustn't change, but the FA Cup has changed lots over its life. It used to have a two-legged final, it used to have finals that went to replays, there has been lots of evolution and you have to move with the times. This seems to be a reasonable trade-off."

There is evidence to suggest that a winter break - already in existence in Germany, Italy, France and Spain - would benefit players physically and mentally.

A 2013 study by Uefa, European football's governing body, indicated that a player is four times more likely to be injured in the final three months of the EPL season than over the same period in other European leagues.

It will also remove fatigue as mitigation for the England national team underperforming at major tournaments.

"If you were to look at other countries that do it, their technical people say, it's as much the mental break as the physical one," Glenn said.

"There is nothing as intense as an EPL season, with 38 games that all count for something. The hope is that players will be more mentally rested, which makes them fresher."

The first break will be in 2020 and will be trialled for the three years covering the new broadcasting rights deal. It will allow English players to have 10 days' rest a few months before the European Championship that summer, when Wembley will host seven matches, including the semi-finals and final.

Glenn added: "Today's announcement proves that football can come together for the good of the game.

"We are sure that this mid-season break will prove to be a valuable addition for our players."

THE GUARDIAN

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 09, 2018, with the headline 'FA says winter break will help national team & clubs'. Print Edition | Subscribe