In the autumn of 1993 as Graham Taylor’s World Cup bid turned to dust Sky Sports’ Richard Keys hosted a post-mortem as English football looked to the future. Then Leeds boss and future FA Technical Director Howard Wilkinson reeled off a list of changes that would help the next England Manager- top of that list was the introduction of a midseason break, former England International Terry Butcher sagely concurred “Howard’s suggestions sound very sensible” he mused- a mere quarter of a century later it seems Richard Scudamore and the Premier League are ready to install it.
Of course Wilkinson was not the first nor the last man to suggest England’s tournament performances might be boosted by having a winter break- as every other major league in Europe deploys, indeed barely a week passes that Henry Winter doesn’t mention it in his column. The reasons for a winter break to heel minor injuries and rest tired bodies in a League that plays 38 games and 2 domestic cup competitions are obvious and it’s not just the national side that would benefit- it’s hard to see this being anything but good news for English representatives in the Champions League.
There have been numerous reasons for England’s decline in the Champions League in recent years but consider this, when English sides were considered the competitions dominant force (2005-2011) English sides made the final 6 times in 7 years but won only 2 in a period when England often provided at least 2 and often 3 of the semi finalists. It’s true they faced some awesome teams from the continent in those finals but the Premier League sides often resembled teams trying to stumble over the line.
The new proposal suggests from the 2019/20 season a 13 day break for every Premier League team but staggering the break to enable games to take place and be televised whilst half the league take a break. This too is a sensible proposal and makes it harder for teams to do what many have feared they’ll attempt during a winter break- play lucrative friendlies against each other in Hong Kong & New York. It’s a danger the League needs to be alert to but equally would Pep or Jose seriously accept taking their squads on a globetrotting tour when their players are supposed to be resting?
It should also be pointed out it’s not just England that would benefit from the proposed break- with such a multi-national makeup of the Premier League it’s notable how many of its biggest imports have struggled at tournaments whilst stationed at English clubs. Take Sergio Aguero who looked a shadow of his usual self in Agrentina’s run to the 2014 World Cup Final, Belgium have rarely looked at the races in the finals and even CR7 struggled to replicate his Manchester United form with Portugal. Some would argue Wales made a mockery of this by making the semi finals at Euro 2016, but their star man plays his football in La Liga and many of the supporting cast were squad players at Premier League clubs.
Will it make a difference? It’s hard to say for sure although it’s hard to see how it could harm England’s chances. More importantly the lack of a break is always trotted out as an excuse for poor performances in major tournaments- every England manager in living memory has used it. Even if the winter break doesn’t solve the problem it still eliminates the excuse for failure.
The last step the Winter Break needs to clear is ironically FA approval, it seems ridiculous the FA might block it- if they did expect Gareth Southgate and Technical Director Dan Ashworth might just camp outside their Chairman’s front door. But the change will involve moving the FA Cup 5th round to midweek and eliminating fifth round replays something some likely to upset traditionalists.
All that being said it seems very likely we will have the fabled break from 2020 onwardsand for once we’d be seeing the Premier League & The FA working together to improve the fortunes of our national side.