A Premier League winter break beginning in the 2019-2020 season is gaining acceptance and momentum. According to a report in the Guardian, a tentative agreement has been reached between the Premier League, the Football League, the Football Association to slightly adjust the format of the FA Cup fifth round to accommodate a two-week break at the beginning of February, 2020.
The agreement has not yet been ratified, but in order to make room for the 14-day break, the FA Cup fifth round will be moved from a weekend tie to a mid-week tie. The fifth round will also be converted from a home-and-home two match series to a single match, similar to the way it is now from the quarterfinals onward. There will not be any changes to the League Cup format.
The two-week break in February is designed to give footballers playing in an English league a breather in a year that features the 2020 European Championships in the summer. The Euros will be held in various cities across Europe in 2020 to celebrate the 60th “birthday” of the competition, but the semi-finals and finals will be held at Wembley Stadium in London.
Interestingly, the winter break will only be observed by the Premier League and NOT the Football League, as the larger number of teams makes it more difficult to find the space in the fixture calendar.
I’ve long been a proponent of having a winter break, especially in summers with major international competitions, but I’m a little bit hesitant to say that two weeks without football in February is going to have a major impact on the way players perform in June. The fact that this only applies to the Premier League and not to the Championship, League 1 and League 2 implies that it’s really only intended to help players who will be competing in the Euros, and it does nothing to affect the glut of matches over the Christmas holiday period, which is the whole reason why people have been advocating for a winter break for years.
Moreover, the timing of the break also feels a little cynical, as the proposed pause happens to fall right before the Champions League Round of 16, as noted by Martin Calladine on Twitter. (There’s a whole thread in that Twitter post that’s worth a read.)
I'm not opposed in principle to winter breaks. But this is not a winter break; it's a Champions League break. The English football calender is being reorganised to help four rich teams earn more money in Europe. pic.twitter.com/bd7kvcaBSk— theuglygame (@uglygame) February 27, 2018
The Premier League doesn’t appear to want to tackle the congested holiday fixtures, as they consider it “traditional.” That’s fine, I suppose, but there would be ways to easily keep some of the most traditional holiday fixtures (like Boxing Day football) and still give the players a rest at the halfway part of the season. As it is now, the break benefits clubs who make signings during the January transfer window (potentially giving them more time to bed in new additions), and also the Premier League clubs that are still in the knock-out phases of the Champions League.
You can make the argument, and someone likely will, that the effects of the proposed break happening in February instead of in December or January are negligible. Still, I can’t help but think that there’s an ulterior motive behind the break in its present form, and that it doesn’t help nearly as many players as it could, or should.