News is filtering through today that the English Football Association (FA) are to consider scrapping FA Cup replays, with the view of freeing up space in the already-congested domestic fixture list for a much-vaunted winter break.
The proposal is just one of the possible options that the FA are mulling over, as they try to rejuvenate the image of the 139-year-old competition that is currently struggling with dwindling interest and declining attendance figures as clubs and supporters alike begin to shift their priorities to more financially rewarding undertakings, i.e. European commitments, conserving league status etc.
The Premier League board have traditionally been resistant to the concept of a mid-season break, arguing that there is no room in the already-choked schedule, but it would appear that they are willing to discuss a compromise with the FA – if replays are indeed to be abandoned outright.
The decision would have to be voted on by all of the 20 Premier League clubs, with a two-thirds (14 votes ‘for’) majority required for it to pass and any forthcoming changes would not be implemented until the 2011/12 season.
If replays were axed it would free up the midweek fixture slots usually occupied by the FA cup rematches, which could then be used to stage a full round of league matches – thus allowing time for a two-week winter break to be crow-barred in over the Christmas period.
However, both the Premier League and the FA would seek mutual assurances from one-another that the prospective break would not be undermined by clubs filling the newly-created interval with money-driven exhibition games and/or international friendlies.
There are also concerns that removing the replays could have an impact on the FA’s broadcasting and sponsorship deals, as well as affecting the revenue of any smaller clubs that would potentially benefit from lucrative replays against larger (and wealthier) opposition.
First impressions are that the proposal is a pretty sound, logical idea in theory – which would pander to the wishes of many of the major players within the England national team set up (coach Fabio Capello included).
But alas, if the FA and the Premier League’s incomings are to be threatened in any way, shape or form – then you can almost guarantee that their coffer-swelling vested interests will take priority.
From the standpoint of a usually impartial (thanks to my unfortunately placed club loyalties) observer, the loss of FA Cup replays from the schedule wouldn’t be particularly grievous as, although they have provided some of the most fascinating domestic encounters of recent seasons, all the tension and drama these ties tend to afford us would simply take place over the course of the original single fixture – rather than prolonging the whole debacle by another game’s-length.
For me, the real point of interest would come at the culmination of the European Championships in 2012 (assuming England qualify, which is by no means a ‘given’) whereupon we would be able to measure the effectiveness of a fortnight’s hiatus on the national side – as it seems, according to Capello at least, that the lack of a break was one of the major factors behind our ‘brave boys’ wilting in South Africa this summer.
The introduction of a break would strike one of the ‘biggies’ off England’s long list of excuses for their recent underperformance, and the mind boggles as to what they could possibly call into question should their Euro campaign go t*ts up in two years time.