English Football Needs a Winter Break. Here’s How It Should Be Done.

Calls for the introduction of a Winter break within the English football calendar are nothing new. The Bundesliga enjoys around 30 days off, in France its 24 days, whilst Spain and Italy each have over 2 weeks. As the argument goes, the players from these leagues will perform better in the latter stages of European competition as well as national tournaments.

The latest Premier League proposal set for initiation during the 2019/20 season, is only a half-solution involving staggered two-week breaks from February onwards. It still has plenty of critics, not least because the change isn’t too drastic at all.

For example, Crystal Palace, Everton, Newcastle, Watford and West Ham each had breaks of at least 13 days between games last February anyway. Likewise, Premier League clubs and players would still have to prepare for a game in a fortnight. How much recovery time will this actually generate?

When calls for a winter break are made, no consideration is put onto the players in question. Who exactly is in need of a rest? Take Manchester United for example. Does Sergio Romero need one? Diego Dalot, Scott McTominay, Fred, Juan Mata or the out of favour Romelu Lukaku? How about youngsters such as Tahith Chong or Angel Gomes?

I argue here that we don’t need a winter break in England at all… just a break for the top players.

Proposal

Therefore, my proposal is to postpone all four English leagues throughout January and instead, play the entirety of the League Cup in its place. January’s usual league fixtures would be played when the early rounds of the EFL Cup normally take place.

This would give teams a chance to rest their top international players whilst still fulfilling a full quota of domestic fixtures. And there’s a whole host of other benefits too – especially if it was made compulsory for Premier League teams to field at least four outfield Under 23 players.

Format

The tricky part is how to filter all 92 teams down to one winner within a month. To make the numbers work, one qualifying round would be required between the bottom 56 teams based on the previous season’s rankings. (For 2018/19 this would be every team from Nottingham Forest down to Tranmere Rovers).

Once played (as early in the season as possible), this would leave 64 teams overall to be drawn into 16 groups of 4. Pot 1 would include the top 16 ranked teams from the previous season, Pot 2 would include the next 16, and so on. For example, two group stages for this season (2018/19) could look like:

Group A Group B
Manchester United Liverpool
Leeds United Aston Villa
Portsmouth Blackburn Rovers
MK Dons Crewe Alexandra

 

Teams would play each other once, with the group winners progressing to the ‘Round of 16’ stage. Extra-time and penalties would be the decider for each knockout game, with the Semi-Finals played at a neutral venue. In total, there would be seven games for the Finalists.

Benefits

With four U23 players guaranteed to start in each Premier League side, this would give valuable experience to a string of young talent who wouldn’t normally play, let alone be guaranteed a run of three games in a row.

The English game has found it tricky to capitalise on their successful International Youth sides due to having such a competitive league. This proposal will give these youngsters a shot at first-team action with the potential to advance to the latter stages of an important domestic competition.

Conversely, weakened EPL teams with a collection of youth players would also present lower league teams a greater chance to progress further in the competition. It’s a win-win in this sense.

One fear with a complete break is that Premier League sides will simply jet off to play lucrative friendlies. This proposal will prevent that from happening, ensuring the top players won’t be flown around the world on long-haul flights for meaningless show-games.

Although the 3rd and 4th Round of the FA Cup will also have to be rescheduled, this would hopefully put more emphasis on it as our premier cup competition. Clubs would have less excuse to rest players in that competition now. Other benefits could include:

  • Can still play the traditional Boxing Day and New Year’s Day fixtures. The top players will then have a long rest after this hectic schedule.
  • Would mean the end of two-legged semi-finals, not favoured by most Premier League clubs.
  • Our European representatives can still play a valuable domestic game before the Round of 16 Champions League tie on 12th
  • Teams losing players for the Asia Cup wouldn’t be as much of an issue.
  • Could eradicate the need for Premier League U23 sides to be included in the EFL Trophy.
  • Pot 4 teams would be guaranteed to play a Premier League side every season.
  • Can still field the top players who’re in need of games.
  • Would promote increased activity in the January transfer window. Teams wouldn’t have ‘important’ fixtures to play so are more likely to sell.
  • EFL Trophy games could still be played for clubs who’re knocked out during qualifying/group stage.

Issues

The 28 teams who’re knocked out during the initial qualifying stage would have no league fixtures to play in January. 48 teams will also be knocked out after group stage. Although some clubs and fans may baulk at this idea, a complete break may actually work out well considering how many lower league games are postponed throughout a freezing January.

An empty fixture in January list may not be as bad as it sounds for many fans and clubs across the UK

With an odd number of group stage games, one team in each group will play at home twice. This could simply be drawn at random or, at the risk of sounding elitist, awarded to the Pot 1 side to avoid postponements.

Another fear could be that weakened EPL sides vs lower league opposition will not draw in big crowds and TV viewers. However, the early League Cup rounds are not attracting fans in any case. Even so, this would be a perfect opportunity for all Premier League teams to reduce ticket prices significantly.

One other issue is that of F.A Cup replays having to be squeezed in earlier on in the season. As a compromise between EPL and lower league sides, the solution would be to scrap replays between teams in the same or within one league of each other – this would ensure smaller clubs still get their profitable replay vs bigger opposition.

Conclusion

As long as league games are rescheduled where the first five rounds of the League Cup usually take place, then the 3-4 week break from league football is manageable.

This new format will bring us in line with our continental competitors, ensuring our top players are better prepared for European and national tournaments by having a prolonged rest. It also allows our best young talent to receive guaranteed minutes in a meaningful competition and smaller sides a better chance to progress.

Could this idea work or what potential obstacles have been overlooked? Let us know what you think by posting via our social media links below or leaving a comment on the Mr Green Twitter sports page.

Feb 12, 2019