ON A week that saw two rounds of Premier League fixtures and the fourth round of the FA Cup played tomorrow and Sunday, it is probably unsurprising that three major voices within the game expressed misgivings over the abundance of fixtures and the promise of even further tournaments in store.
Earlier in the week, La Liga president Javier Tebas warned that FIFA’s plans to launch an expanded Club World Cup competition in 2021 could have a damaging impact on domestic leagues and European competitions.
Later, when Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp was asked for his opinion on plans for the African Cup of Nations to be moved to January, the German described it as a "catastrophe" for the club’s fixture schedule and would be detrimental to the desirability of African players to European clubs if those clubs would lose the use of their most influential African players at the most crucial time in the league each year.
A couple of days later, when asked about his views on the number of games played in England during and after the festive period, Man City’s manager Pep Guardiola not only had an opinion, he was also prepared to offer a solution.
His plan? Scrap the Carabao Cup.
The Catalan manager witnessed his side give up a 2-1 lead against Crystal Palace at home, ending in a 2-2 draw, followed by a full 90-minute shift to get the better of Sheffield United on Tuesday at Bramall Lane, and now faces an FA Cup test against Championship high-flyers Fulham on Sunday. All the while, knowing that they have a Carabao Cup semi-final, second-leg, derby against neighbours Man United the following Wednesday and the fear that any injury picked up over the coming days could detrimentally impact their chances in the Champions League second-round clash against Real Madrid next month.
The plans laid out for the Club World Cup would see the competition, won by Liverpool before Christmas, altered significantly from a six-club format to a 24-team event to be played out over June and July in China next year. And is outlined to be played every four years on non-international tournament years. But Tebas fears that this will be pushed to every two years, so in effect, we will never have a summer again without football.
And while that might seem like a dream solution for those of us who go into the football equivalent of cold turkey five minutes after the full-time whistle of the Champions League final, the thought of another competition right after a full season of football must be filling managers and players with dread already.
With clubs unwilling to change their lucrative pre-season responsibilities it effectively leaves players with a mere two-weeks of rest before they are back in the trenches of their respective league.
Of course, the concerns of players and managers would be taken a lot more seriously if it wasn’t for the fact that their club owners enthusiastically approve the concept of another cash-cow tournament at the end of the year.
The arrival of the Club World Cup next summer is one of the reasons that the African Nations Cup has been moved back again to its traditional winter date in January. The other is the oppressive summer heat at the host nation's stadiums in Cameroon in July.
It is a classic example of unintended consequences, Fifa's power-play into club football now sees an entire continent of nations moving their tournament back by half a year to a date when managers in England and Europe are already scrambling for a way to dump games from their schedule.
The impact of the festive season overload has been shown in the long-term injuries suffered by Spurs’ Harry Kane and Man United’s Marcus Rashford and was added to by Jamie Vardy picking up a knock for Leicester against West Ham on Wednesday night, and Liverpool's Sadio Mané going off against Wolves last night. This is not only detrimentally affecting their club’s prospects of making the top-four but may also hinder England’s firepower at this summer’s Euro 2020 should the injuries prove to be as serious as they were initially feared.
The pressure to make top four or avoid relegation in the Premier League has resulted in teams resorting to second-string squads to fulfil their league and FA Cup responsibilities and in Liverpool’s case, their underage team. Of course, it means that the cup competitions are undermined for those players and more importantly the fans that paid-in to see them.
Pep Guardiola’s proposal to consign the league cup to the bin might rub traditionalists the wrong way but it does have some interesting advantages. Losing the league cup would most likely re-energise the FA Cup. Moving the premier cup competition into the slots made available by the loss of the Carabao Cup would free English sides to gain the recovery advantage enjoyed by their mainland European opponents. Even at that, the FA Cup probably needs a format change to go with its schedule alteration. Removing the requirement to replay draws would be an important alteration. Going straight to penalties may irk old school fans, but added time is the real fitness destroyer for players already working hard to keep up with fixtures without added time and replays being landed on them.
Feeling sympathy for millionaire footballers is always a scarce commodity. Yet all the while, our appetite for more football seems to remain insatiable. But we then have to ask ourselves can quality and player welfare be maintained in a 12-month season?
And in the long run, is that any good for the game or the fans?