After mulling it over for a few months, it seems the Football Association has finally agreed to implement something that kinda approximates a breather in February.
Kinda. Sort of. In a way.
Starting with the 2019-2020 season, Premier League clubs will all have a week off to get a little R&R (or, if you’re cynical, to play a lucrative friendly match in an overseas market to make £££). But the structure of the break will be a little weird: instead of just stopping the football for a week, half of the league will be off one weekend and the other half on a second weekend.
Here’s Rob Harris, explaining it on Twitter:
FA: "Each weekend during the Mid-Season Player Break will feature five Premier League games on the first weekend and five on the following weekend."— Rob Harris (@RobHarris) June 8, 2018
If you look at that and say “Hey, that doesn’t really look like much of a break,” well you’re right. And Premier League executive chairman Richard Scudamore explicitly said: don’t call it a break.
“It’s all come together at a nice time and it’s now definite. We will have this split weekend and we are calling it a ‘mid-season player break’. We’re not calling it a winter break. Why is that? Because we’re not breaking.
“We’re playing five games one week and five the other. I think that’s positive I think it’s good for English football. I have to compliment Martin Glenn, he doesn’t see anything other than a successful Premier League as being good for English football.”
The room in the schedule will be offset by eliminating replays in the FA Cup Fifth Round, meaning that draws will go to extra time and, eventually, penalties if needed.
Now, I’m all for giving players a breather. Most of the other major European leagues have a (bigger, longer) actual BREAK break built into their schedules, and it seems to be a good thing for them. However, this “midseason player break” barely does anything to address the fixture congestion that has led to English football players playing basically non-stop from August to June, in some cases. There are still two domestic cups in addition to European competition for some clubs. There’s still the crowded holiday fixture congestion. And while the February pause is intended to give players a rest before the 2020 Euros that summer, I’m kind of dubious that it’ll make that much of a difference. It’s also worth noting that this only applies to the Premier League — the Football League, which has a longer fixture calendar, will not have a break.
But, I’ll be the first to admit — it’s a start. It manages to keep all of English football’s traditions while still carving out an opportunity for players to (in theory) get a little rest. It’s better than having the league’s best players go full-tilt from a grueling league campaign straight into another summer of international competition.
The league certainly could do a lot more radical things to ensure the health of its players, i.e. get rid of the League Cup. But this is certainly better than nothing, and it’ll have to do for now.