Premier League clubs and the Football Association have, for the first time, agreed that the high number of fixtures in England must be cut in order to improve the performance of both the clubs and the national team in European and international competitions, The Independent has learnt.
Among the moves that would be considered are the scrapping of FA Cup replays, playing more FA Cup ties in midweek and deciding League Cup semi-finals over one match rather than the current system of two legs.
While there is no motion on the table and any such changes are still some way off, The Independent has learnt that these proposals have been discussed by officials, and there is an increasing willingness among both sides to push for change.
While the Premier League and FA have different reasons for wanting to cut the calendar, there is finally a realisation that fixture congestion needs to be addressed.
FA Cup replays and the fact that England has a rare second domestic cup means Premier League sides often play far more matches per season than European clubs, which comes as a shock to many foreign players, managers and officials when they start working in England.
The boards at some Premier League clubs believe that the demands of the calendar mean it is much harder for English clubs to win the Champions League, and have also cited the resulting high number of injuries in discussions.
In transfer negotiations, clubs have found that some elite players are put off by the “intensity” of the league, which has been put forward as one significant reason why Barcelona and Real Madrid are still preferred destinations for the game’s top stars.
The FA believes that changes may be required to improve the performance of the national team, too, as there is an increasing acceptance that the high concentration of domestic matches has left players fatigued for summer tournaments, in contrast to opposition sides.
The agreement that changes need to be made marks a rare occasion when the Premier League and FA have found common ground.
There is no immediate prospect of any changes, however, due to the delicate negotiations that would be needed with other parties. For instance, any change to the FA Cup would require a renegotiation of broadcasting deals – the current one with BBC and BT sports runs until 2018 – and also needs the approval of the Football League.