ENGLAND’S Premier League has agreed to introduce a winter break in a historic move to give players a rest during an increasingly crowded season, the Football Association (FA) announced overnight.
The break – which falls well short of those taken in mainland European leagues – will give the 20 Premier League teams a weekend off football in February beginning in the 2019/20 campaign.
Five matches will be played one weekend with the second batch of five the following weekend.
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The FA’s part of the bargain – also agreed with the English Football League responsible for the divisions outside the Premier League – is to switch FA Cup fifth round ties to midweek in that period.
In addition they will have to be played to achieve a result with no possibility of a replay as was the case before.
“This is a significant moment for English football and one that we believe will greatly benefit both club and country,” FA chief executive Martin Glenn said.
“It’s no secret that we have a very congested fixture calendar and over recent years we have been working with the whole game to find a solution.
“Today’s announcement proves that football can come together for the good of the game.”
Glenn added the hectic schedule over the Christmas and New Year period – which has become increasingly a controversial issue with fans and players alike with Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola telling the BBC in January with such a schedule “We’re going to kill the players” – had been retained.
“We have also found a way to give the players a much needed mid-season break, whilst keeping the much-loved Christmas schedule in place.”
The deal will also add to the rich legacy which Premier League executive chairman Richard Scudamore will leave when he steps down later this year after nearly two decades in charge, first as chief executive and then in his present role since 2014.
“We have been discussing the football calendar with the FA and EFL for several months, including ways we can work together to ease fixture congestion, keep the Premier League action going right through the season and provide a mid-season player break,” 58-year-old Scudamore said.
“We are very pleased to have an outcome that will include an exciting first for fans – a full fixture programme split over two weekends with all matches broadcast live in the UK.” Scudamore’s reference to TV coverage – rights for which under his aegis has risen from below $1.8 billion in 1999 to over $8.8 billion today – will see BT Sport show all five matches live of one of those weekends as a result of the final package it was awarded on Wednesday.
However, whilst the elite players in the Premier League can look forward to one weekend off there will be no such respite for those in the lower divisions in terms of the league programme.
“It is currently impractical even if it was desirable for the EFL to do so,” EFL chief executive Shaun Harvey said, citing the 46-game seasons and resulting promotion playoffs.
The EFL, though, did make one move to reduce the playing time by abolishing extra-time for their League Cup competition – if the scores are level after 90 minutes the game will be decided on penalties.
“The rationale put forward by the EFL is that withdrawing the additional 30 minutes of play would directly address any additional fatigue issues that are occasionally caused when the midweek ties go beyond the traditional 90-minute period,” read an EFL statement.