Football’s power brokers will put their brains together this week to address what exactly to do with a season hanging in suspended animation. Photo: Reuters
Football’s power brokers will put their brains together this week to address what exactly to do with a season hanging in suspended animation. Photo: Reuters

OPINION: This Premier League season must finish, scrap Euro 2020

By Matt Barlow Time of article published Mar 16, 2020

Share this article:

Football’s power brokers will put their brains together this week to address what exactly to do with a season hanging in suspended animation.

Clubs, meanwhile, are trying to tick over as they see fit. Some have taken a few days off before returning to train this week in something like a normal routine.

Others, where they have positive coronavirus tests inside the club, are going through various stages of the isolation process.

Fixtures are suspended until April 3 and yet everyone seems to accept there is no prospect of games restarting so soon.

Not only do they have to find a way to end this season, they must also end some of the uncertainty. And it is not impossible to do both at the same time. First, postpone Euro 2020, an outcome which is expected after a conference call tomorrow chaired by UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin.

Even better, cancel it completely. It was an ill-thought-out and over-complicated mess anyway. Let it be European football’s sacrificial offering in this time of crisis.

It is not a tournament in a single country which has invested heavily in new infrastructure. No nation will be ruined by its absence.

Then, call an official break to this season and resolve not to begin fixtures again until a fixed date in July or August. Err on the side of caution and reconvene at the time when we can be reasonably sure the outbreak of coronavirus will have passed its peak in this country.

Clubs can send their players off to rest as in close-season with their personal fitness plans and bring them back together for pre-season at a time deemed appropriate.

When they are fit and ready to go, play this unfinished season quickly to its close. It could be done by the end of September, maybe sooner.

Inevitable problems will revolve around the transfer market and players’ contracts. Clubs will have to find a way to allow transfers without them interfering too greatly with the integrity of the season yet to be completed. And for the promoted and relegated teams to adjust before the start of the 2020-21 season.

Perhaps they can suggest they open the market and keep it open until an old-style deadline day near the end of the season, with restrictions set on how many new signings can be registered by certain dates.

Clubs rich and poor must also find a way to protect each other and ensure smaller clubs living game by game can survive until the matchday incomes return. By pledging to complete the season, there will be no games lost and therefore matchday revenues will only be delayed rather than lost entirely.

It might suit some more than others but is surely more palatable than the obvious alternatives. Simply abandoning this unfinished season is the least desirable one.

Whether the leagues are judged to end where they stand now — or whether this season is declared ‘null and void’, as Karren Brady of West Ham suggests — to start again in August 2020 as we were in August 2019 is not satisfactory.

Neither is the prospect of some sort of hastily constructed Duckworth-Lewis system, introduced to offset some of the unfairness. Nor elaborate proposals to restructure the league format to allow extra promotions now and extra relegations in the future.

This is not 1939-40 when World War Two forced the abandonment of the English Football League season with only three games played — and when it did not resurface as a competition for almost seven years.

The Premier League is the most valuable league in the world, worth so much money to individual teams that to abandon it, and arbitrarily decide the winners and losers, would be to trigger a wave of bitter court actions.

Remember Sheffield United’s successful pursuit of West Ham for damages when they were relegated after the Carlos Tevez affair.

Imagine the legal fallout if Leeds were denied the chance to end their 16-year Premier League exile or Aston Villa were relegated with a game in hand or Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool were denied the title despite being 25 points clear at the top.

Of course, it’s only football. Only a game. And football, like every other industry, will be expected to endure its share of hardship during this emergency. Public health must prevail.

Yet this is expected to be a hiatus of at least two months and the national sport ought to be strong enough to survive that without descending into chaos.

Dismiss the players now to rest. Complete the unfinished season at a prescribed time in the summer. Then reach an agreement about a way to adapt the next campaign. Truncate 2020-21 if necessary.

What if teams were to play each other only once? Or if the domestic cup competitions can be shortened for one season only? Or if the EFL Cup is played as an appetiser to a new league season starting in October? Or simply allow it to run on into the summer of 2021 and delay the start of 2021-22 — which can then be organised in a way to accommodate the fixture complications of the World Cup in Qatar — due to start in November 2022.

All-powerful broadcasters will surely have something to say. FIFA and the confederations will demand time for qualifiers and other major tournaments.

The Africa Cup of Nations is scheduled to start in January. The Copa America will be looking for a new slot if it cannot go ahead in June of this year.

None of this is ideal but at least everyone will understand the rules before the competition starts — rather than be in a situation where they are making changes to the format when the competition is nearly over.

It will all be easier if UEFA simply write off Euro 2020 tomorrow. Something has to give and it does not need to be the credibility of the sport.

Daily Mail

Share this article: