It now seems likely the Premier League will introduce a winter break from the 2019/20 season. This is expected to be scheduled for February 2020. The intention is for each club to have a break of at least thirteen days.
This has long been debated by players, managers and pundits alike. A winter break is already a feature in countries like Germany, Italy, Spain and Scotland. Much of the intention is to help the national side as so often England have turned up at major tournaments with players tired, injured or both. Tiredness is not just physical either as mental fatigue can be a huge problem. Players joining up with the national team can often find being free from their clubs and familiar dressing rooms, has the effect of them relaxing slightly so they’re not quite as sharp as they had been in the months leading up to the end of the season.
How it Will Work
The suggested structure will be for a staggered break so there will not be a weekend without any Premier League football, with five games on the first weekend and then five on the following. The Football League is not involved in this proposal as the feeling is they need a full season to fit in forty six matches.
But one change which will be required is for the FA Cup Fifth Round to be moved to midweek with no replays. This move particularly is likely to add fuel to the fire of those who believe the competition has being marginalised. It may also change the dynamic for Football League clubs in the competition who may be at a disadvantage as their players will not have had a break, when up against players who have.
An irony to this is one man who would be pleased is Arsene Wenger. He has long been a critic of replays and the absence of a winter break. Yet by 2020 he is unlikely to still be at Arsenal to see the benefit. He has also been critical of losing some players to the African Cup of Nations and as that tournament is usually wrapped up by the first week in February at least his African players would be getting a break once they return to the Premier League.
Who Needs to Accept it?
Apparently, the Premier League and Football League have accepted the proposal and claim they’re happy with it. It is now in the hands of The Football Association to ratify things and give the say-so for the go ahead. As the inference is this should help the national team then it seems sensible the governing body should not oppose it.
How Does This Compare With Other Countries?
As I said earlier there are other European countries who already have a winter break and England’s proposal of thirteen days compares with Germany, which has virtually a month off, France has twenty-four days, Spain eighteen, Italy sixteen and Scotland has a nineteen day break.
Will it Help England?
This idea has been mooted for a while and back in 2006 when England struggled in the World Cup in Germany, the one player who seemed freshest in the squad was Owen Hargreaves. At the time he was playing his football in Germany for Bayern Munich and was a great advocate of the break.
Fans of the idea point to the benefit this can give a play mentally as well as physically. Just having a break to re-charge the batteries, switch off and then on again can allow a player to see it through to the end of the season and still have something to offer in the summer.
Is it All Good?
Not necessarily. As has been mentioned, thirteen days is not as long a break as other countries operate. Plus, the fixture schedule has allowed some clubs to have a break of this length in a normal season. During this past month several clubs, including Crystal Palace, Everton, Newcastle, Watford and West Ham, had breaks of at least thirteen days. February can often be the month where clubs who have been knocked out of the first couple of rounds of the FA Cup, do not then arrange Premier League fixtures to fill in the gaps in their schedules as there may not be so many other Premier League clubs with the same gaps.
Clubs are more than likely going to take their players away, such as West Brom did when they had their ill-fated trip to Barcelona, taxis and all. So many supporters could argue the players are not getting much of a break if they still need to train and get on flights around the world. The club’s sponsors could well see this as an added bit of marketing time, usually only available post-season.
England manager Gareth Southgate is not a huge convert to the idea. He favours completing the season earlier and then giving the players some time off before meeting up with the national team for the summer.
One thing which is never mentioned about England at major tournaments is managers have often used the excuse the players are burnt out before the competition gets underway, yet they can often be beaten by teams including players who have had the same season in England.
A break can work both ways. Without one can be used as an excuse for tiredness in a performance, yet having one can allow the excuse a team has lost its edge through time off.
What Happens Next?
It is not “a done deal” as The Football Association has to rubber stamp the idea. Whether they, or the England manager Gareth Southgate, will oppose it remains to be seen. But it would seem unlikely as refusal to sign it off could leave the governing body in an awkward position come June if the England team look jaded and off the pace in Russia. As so many believe this is one tool to aid the national team then it could appear counter-productive if the Football Association says no and the evidence points to the players needing it.
It does appear, at first glance, to be a bit half-hearted and smacks of the Premier League, and Sky in particular, being concerned at the loss of revenue should there be too many weekends in the season without football. Whether it does in fact help the players or not we will need to wait and see, but it certainly puts more pressure on them as supporters will expect to see an immediate improvement.