For decades now, every time the continual failure of the English national team has come up for debate, we’ve heard one repeated excuse: every other major European league has a winter break, and we don’t, therefore our players are too tired come the end of the season and the international tournaments.
It’s an argument that looks convincing on paper: the relentless schedule of English football means that players could well be fried, come the Euros or World Cup. And yet; plenty of foreign players that play in it manage to perform perfectly well at those tournaments.
Perhaps we’re just… not that good?
But whichever side of the argument you come down on, we’re going to find out for real soon, as a joint statement released by the FA, Premier League and EFL has revealed that a winter break is headed to English football, beginning with the 2019-20 season.
Richard Scudamore, Premier League Executive Chairman, said: “We have been discussing the football calendar with The FA and EFL for several months, including ways we can work together to ease fixture congestion, keep the Premier League action going right through the season and provide a Mid-Season Player Break.
“We are very pleased to have an outcome that will include an exciting first for fans – a full fixture programme split over two weekends with all matches broadcast live in the UK.”
The break will happen in February, according to the statement, and will last two weeks - but will only occur in the Premier League.
Meanwhile, confusingly, each weekend during the break will feature five Premier League games on the first weekend, and five on the following one. Meaning that the ‘break’ will be fairly hard to spot, since clubs will get two weeks off, but one week at a time.
In order to make the ‘break’ work, the FA has sanctioned FA Cup fifth round matches to be played midweek, while fifth round ties will now go straight to extra time and penalties instead of having replays.
FA Chief Executive Martin Glenn, said: “This is a significant moment for English football and one that we believe will greatly benefit both club and country. 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.
“Today’s announcement proves that football can come together for the good of the game. We have also found a way to give the players a much needed Mid-Season Break, whilst keeping the much-loved Christmas schedule in place. As we head into summer international tournaments in the future we are sure that this mid-season break will prove to be a valuable addition for our players.”
Meanwhile, Shaun Harvey, EFL Chief Executive, explained why a winter break will not be incorporated into the Football League.
He said: “It has been useful to have these positive discussions over the last few months and, as part of the conversations, we have been able to ensure that our requirements could be incorporated within any changes. We very much understand, and support, the requirement and wishes of our colleagues across the game to introduce a Mid-Season Player Break. We hope it will provide the appropriate recovery time for players and have the positive impact on player and team performance that it is designed to deliver.
“At the same time we must acknowledge that fixture congestion remains a challenge and with a 46-game season to complete, plus the play-offs inside a 10-month period, it is currently impractical even if it was desirable for the EFL to introduce a similar break in our competitions. We will look to showcase the Sky Bet EFL during the two week period.”
It remains to be seen what clubs will do with this new-found time off in February. Time to cram in a couple more trips to the US and Asia? We wouldn’t be surprised.