Turning FA Cup into a midweek competition is an experiment worth trying for sake of the England team – and it might help out clubs in Europe too

 
Trevor Steven
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Aston Villa v Arsenal - FA Cup Final
The FA Cup could be moved midweek and replays scrapped to make way for a winter break (Source: Getty)

There is no doubt in my mind that the FA Cup would suffer if mooted plans to move all ties to midweek and scrap replays in order to make room for a winter break do come to be implemented.

Saturday afternoon FA Cup matches are still something special and doing away with them would risk the tournament becoming indistinguishable from the League Cup.

Moving the games to midweek would downgrade them. They would lose much of their build-up, while sandwiching them between league fixtures could leave clubs less inclined to make them a priority.

Having said that, I could live with it if the quarter-finals onwards were kept to weekends. The FA Cup needs to have a different identity to the League Cup and that would be a way of preserving it.

Scrapping replays is more understandable. It would hurt smaller clubs for whom such occasions can provide windfalls that last for seasons, although they could still earn big paydays by progressing.

Losing those games, which form part of the FA Cup’s attraction to neutrals, would take some of the shine off it, but that would be mitigated by the drama of extra-time and penalties.

It isn’t ideal but might be worth trying. Whenever I am asked why England fail at major tournaments I answer that it is because they are fatigued. This would at least eliminate that excuse.

Other European leagues have winter breaks – France had one from 20 December to around 8 January when I was at Marseille – and they can be fantastic for players.

It’s only 18 days but it ensures players get 10 days of complete rest to let bodies recuperate, instead of being pushed further, and relieves the intensity of mental pressures caused by a busy schedule.

The Christmas programme is an important and cherished part of the English game so we would want to keep that, but it ought to be possible to introduce a break from, say, 3-20 January.

It’s not just the national team that stands to benefit, either. European rivals currently resume the Champions League and Europa League refreshed compared to English teams; this would level that playing field.

I would like to see it adopted on a trial basis. If it didn’t work or was hugely unpopular with fans then it could be reversed, although some supporters may appreciate respite from the cost of attending matches in early January.

Ideally the experiment would last for six years, or three international tournament campaigns. Unfortunately the prospect of a winter World Cup in Qatar in 2022 might disturb the continuity of assessment.

I don’t think greedy clubs would use a break for money-spinning tours. That’s not what Bayern Munich and Paris Saint-Germain do – 18 days does not offer much scope – but prohibition could be written into in any new rules.

This would be an experiment, but one worth making to see if it improves England. I think it’s vital for our international prospects, and if the FA Cup suffers then that may be the sacrifice we have to make.

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