Fifa, the sport's world governing body, yesterday raised the prospect of a revolution in the Premier League by announcing proposals to limit the number of clubs in domestic leagues to 16 teams. The move was revealed by Sepp Blatter, the Fifa president, at a press briefing in London. The proposals will be discussed by Fifa at its congress in October, with a vote likely next May.
Blatter said that measures needed to be taken to cut the number of matches that players took part in, especially since the death of Marc-Vivien Foé, but that if agreement was reached on a limit there would be a lengthy transitional period. Blatter said: "The ideal number in a league should be 16, have 30 league matches and then cup matches and international club matches on top. I will bring this up in the congress in Doha where it can be discussed and then it shall be decided at the ordinary congress in May next year in Paris."
The Premier League chairmen will be horrified by the prospect of a reduction - the majority have always fiercely resisted such a move but Blatter said if the decision is ratified by congress then they will have no option but to accept it. Blatter added: "If such a decision is taken by the congress I am sure everyone will abide by it, but it will not happen immediately, there needs to be time to adapt and it will take place step by step. We must do something otherwise we will never get off this carousel of too much football with no holidays for the players, injuries and even deaths. The quality of football will suffer if there continues to be too much."
Even if congress believes the reduction to 16 teams is too drastic, the Premier League may be forced to accept a compromise cut to perhaps 18 from the current 20.
A Football Association spokesman said: "Clearly this is hypothetical and is not an issue of discussion at this time. However, as a national association, the English FA would always endeavour to abide by Fifa rules."
* Changes to the format of the Uefa Cup are set to be confirmed today by the game's European governing body. The changes are likely to include a new group stage with each mini-league consisting of five teams. Clubs would play two games at home and two away according to a seeding system, rather than facing the same opponents both home and away.