In June 2018 the FA announced the introduction of a ‘mid-season player break’, describing it as a “significant moment” that will “greatly benefit both club and country”. Even Richard Scudamore, the then Premier League CEO, said that it would be an “exciting first” for fans.
However, EFL clubs and players were not included in this idea to squeeze in added recovery time, whilst the authorities have still not addressed how the overall number of fixtures in English football could be reduced. The deal sounded good and was probably well intentioned, but it is fundamentally flawed.
Amid the focus on what was best for those plying their trade in the Premier League, it was too easily forgotten that the 10-month EFL schedule already requires a 46-game league season, two cup competitions (three for League One and League Two clubs) as well as play-offs with two-legged semi-finals and a final.
There is no perfect answer, but the only proper solution has to be one that actually reduces the overall number of matches. Yes, replays could go, but this is an easy argument being made by the elite clubs. What everyone is missing is the entire structure of a pyramid with 20 and 24 team divisions should be looked at.
Maybe we could have 18 team divisions split into five leagues, with fewer clubs? Or 18 clubs in the Premier League and 20 in four divisions below that with six clubs added to the EFL? In all honesty, who would invent two domestic cup competitions if they did not already exist.
How might European club competitions be more streamlined? Do they really need the league set-up, which results in meaningless games towards the end of those league fixtures?
So, what is the solution? The argument for keeping FA Cup replays is getting thinner, especially when even lower league managers are arguing against them – yet they can provide much needed money into the poorest club’s coffers.
The FA also have to ask themselves what is most harm to the FA Cup as a competition. Why not have had extra-time and penalties at Shrewsbury following an enthralling match against Liverpool, instead of a replay at Anfield when the Liverpool manager and first-team players can’t even be bothered to turn up?
A meaningful change would need significant compromise from the Premier League, FA, EFL, FIFA and UEFA, so it is hard to see what can change in the short term, which leaves the responsibility with the managers who must also look at themselves.
What is perhaps more worrying is that every other big league (and some small ones) in Europe manage a winter break without the chaos ours has caused. Some will point to too many games over Christmas, but it is a brave man to suggest scrapping the festive period.
Maybe it is bad planning, or maybe it is greed that accounts for all these games?