Towards the end of a busy season, the words “winter break” seem to be on every Premier League manager’s lips. This season, the trend has been no different. Managers complain that fixtures are too congested, and their players never get time off. At this stage of the campaign, squads are often heavily depleted – take Manchester United, for instance, at the moment. Come June, Jose Mourinho’s men will have played over 60 games this season.
The Winter Break: Is There a Solution?
A fortnight’s break over the Christmas period would supposedly make all the difference – not only for the fitness of players, but also to the state of the national team, as some would argue. They say that the club regime is far too demanding. This argument is easy to back up when one realises that the likes of Germany, France, Spain and Italy all have time off from their respective leagues over Christmas. In recent years, these national sides have outplayed and outperformed England at major tournaments.
So, is there a way for the FA to grant the wishes of Premier League managers and some devout England fans, and create a winter break? It seems there are two options.
Abandon the EFL Cup
English football is in a sense unique in that it has two domestic trophies. Removing the FA Cup is out of the question. Founded in 1871, this trophy epitomises the spirit of English football. However, the League Cup, or as it is called now, the English Football League Cup, seems more liable to removal. It was only founded in 1960, and holds less tradition and far less hype around football fans. Furthermore, every team that competes in the EFL Cup also competes in the FA Cup, so if it were removed the opportunity for silverware still exists.
This season’s competition consisted of seven rounds, all taking place in mid-week matches, besides the final. Those in favour of the winter break suggest that following the removal of this cup, there would be the opportunity to play Premier Leagues games in its place. Thus, this would allow for two or even three weekends to be freed up over Christmas.
However, this may not be as easy as some might say. Ask any Southampton fan what it meant to play in the final at Wembley, and they will tell you that their cup run was more exciting than any other of their exploits in recent years. Another issue is the fact that Thai energy drink company Carabao have recently signed a three-year sponsorship deal with the EFL Cup, beginning from next season.
Despite people wanting to get rid of the EFL Cup, it would be extremely controversial for the FA to do this, and many pundits see this proposal as highly idealistic.
Play through the international breaks
There is another solution, not yet officially proposed, that needs investigating. It involves following the example of Premiership Rugby. If the Premier League played through international breaks, at least two weeks could be spared in the chaotic Premier League calendar. By no means would club take priority over country – Dele Alli, Eden Hazard and Alexis Sanchez would all still go and represent their nations – but everyone would get time off over Christmas.
Doing this would result in clubs having to field a team put together from non-internationals. For only two matches a season, this can only benefit teams and players. It would reward teams with squad depth. More importantly, it would allow teams battling the drop, with fewer international players, to pull off some notable scalps. In these two games, clubs such as Middlesbrough and Sunderland, who lose roughly half their sides in the international break, would have a greater chance of defeating a team of youngsters from Chelsea. Six points can be invaluable in a survival fight.
This proposal of maintaining fixtures across international breaks would also aid young players. They may be in and around the first team squad, but unable to get time in the Premier League. Any player will vouch for the fact that academy matches and Under-23 games lack the competitive bite of a Premier League match. This proposal would give 90 minutes to frustrated players not normally making the side. Once that has happened, breakthroughs can often occur. Freeing up names on the team sheet will at least give young or out-casted players a chance.
Surely this is more plausible than abandoning the EFL Cup. It would do exactly the same – free up two weekends to allow for a winter break – but would avoid breaking into the heritage of English football.
Managers will continue to fight for a winter break, despite most fans opposing it. The holiday period is for many fans a time dominated by football. Perhaps for the sake of the national team, some fans might be willing to give it up.
Removing the EFL Cup entirely from the fixture list seems unlikely. However, it would be logical for the FA to consider maintaining Premier League fixtures through the international breaks in the future.