The Football Association said yesterday that the Premier League's plans for an "international round" (IR) of matches overseas are unsustainable in their current format, with its chairman, Lord Triesman, unequivocal in citing four major reasons why a "39th game" – as mooted in a first blueprint earlier this month – cannot happen.
Triesman was speaking after the FA board agreed – almost unanimously, it is understood – that there were "a lot of fundamental issues" with that blueprint, which envisages one extra round of Premier League matches, in foreign cities, probably in January, from 2011 onwards.
These "issues", Triesman said, were fixture congestion, and disruption to domestic competitions; risks to the FA's "international relationships" with Fifa and other governing bodies who might object to the plan; "unfairness as it is perceived in the competition" because of a 39th game distorting symmetry; and general hostility, including from fans. In other words, the plans, as they stand, are a non-runner.
Yet Triesman left open the possibility for the Premier League to explore ways around these "issues". If this is to happen, Triesman urged the League to do it quickly, but set no timescale. "At the moment, we have not seen a sustainable plan to which we can agree," he said. "If the Premier League has things it wants to say about changes or new variants, well then they will come forward.
"But personally I would prefer it happened sooner rather than later because I don't want this to drift on particularly as we are to launch our World Cup bid [for 2018]. In general I think uncertainty is not very helpful if it goes on for any length of time but that is a matter for them."
The Premier League responded by stating: "We are pleased that the FA shares our opinion that the proposed Premier League international round merits full consideration and consultation. The issues raised – sanction, fixture calendar, sporting criteria and stakeholder consultation – remain the ones we identified, with our member clubs, as being critical to the progress of the proposal."
While the first sentence of that can be interpreted as positive top-spin, the League can justifiably argue that it quite clearly said, when launching the IR, that it would spend until January 2009 looking in detail at how it might work. Barely a fortnight has passed since, let alone 11 months.
The next pivotal stage will be a meeting late next week between the League's chief executive, Richard Scudamore, and Fifa's president, Sepp Blatter, who has voiced initial opposition to the IR. Scudamore will argue the IR carries potential benefits not just for Premier League clubs but football development projects worldwide. Triesman will also meet Blatter next week, to talk about the FA's 2018 bid and other matters.
Scudamore received backing yesterday from Chelsea, whose chairman, Bruce Buck, said the Premier League's 20 clubs had "unanimously" agreed to explore the IR, and that the clubs themselves had already identified all the issues Triesman cited as needing work. "We're supportive of a review of the concept by the executive of the Premier League," Buck said, while acknowledging the FA and Fifa's views as critical. "We're willing to let this process continue to its logical conclusion."