It’s incredible to think that less than two weeks ago, Liverpool were playing Atletico Madrid in the knockout stages of the Champions League. The match did not end well for the Reds, but the Champions League and football in general have been rendered meaningless as society across the globe adapts to the threat posed from the coronavirus outbreak.
Coronavirus stops the world, not just football
Multiple countries have gone into lockdowns, with Europe now the current epicentre for the coronavirus. Football across all the big five leagues in Europe has been suspended, alongside the Champions League and Europa League.
In an unprecedented meeting last week, UEFA announced that Euro 2020 would be pushed back a year to the summer of 2021 to free up space in the footballing calendar for this year.
During subsequent meetings, all of England’s major footballing institutions, such as the Premier League, English Football League and the Football Association, have underlined their commitment to finish the current season first before moving onto the next. Such sentiment is shared across all of Europe, as football comes together in a manner few would have predicted given the competing factions and previous self-interest showcased by these organisations prior to the outbreak.
Previously, as the Premier League adjusted to the impact of coronavirus and the suspension of football until initially April 3rd (which has since been extended until April 30th), a minority expressed the view that the season should be declared null and void if it could not be finished within the next few months. Fortunately, this view is not shared by many.
Leagues first, cups second when shaping the remainder of the season
Whilst everyone in football wants to minimise disruption to the calendar as much as possible, these are unprecedented times. The Euros has already gone for this year, the Champions League and Europa League will be shortened to allow both competitions to finish quickly, if they can be finished, and the fate of the domestic cup competitions remains unknown.
Priority has to be given to the domestic leagues, as whilst everyone will want to bring the cup competitions to their conclusion, they do not carry the same impact on the setup for the following season.
By contrast, we need to know who will be promoted and relegated this season to form the leagues for next season, and who will qualify for the European places to form the participation of next season’s Champions League and Europa League.
These outcomes must be allowed to happen as naturally as possible given the amount of clubs involved across Europe in relegation, promotion and European qualification and their colossal impact on the clubs involved, both from a footballing and financial perspective.
Too much crisis in cancelling or declaring the season now
Cancelling the season would lead to shockwaves throughout football, with legal cases flying all over the place as clubs protest at the unjust solution to their wasted efforts for the majority of a full season. Clubs who have struggled and deserve either relegation, the loss of European football etc. would keep their status from the previous season, while those who have progressed forward would see their season’s work ruined.
Likewise, a similar nightmare would unfold if you declared the season here and now. A number of clubs have played more games than others and have all played different, uncompleted fixture lists up to this point.
Moreover, cancelling or declaring the season would deny broadcasters the remaining games of the season for television, radio etc. and gate receipts for clubs who particularly need it further down the footballing pyramid. The Premier League in particular would suffer from the former, with reports suggesting Sky and BT would be owed £750m for the rest of the season if it was not televised.
However the season finishes, whether behind closed doors or not (could the Premier League subsidise teams further down the leagues if the season finished behind closed doors?), whether it extends into the autumn and beyond, it has to finish, both in England and across all of Europe.
Football can decide how it wants to modify the following season, and potentially the one beyond that, to reflect the delayed end to the 2019/20 season (perhaps the 2022 winter World Cup may become useful after all?), but all teams would know the situation going into these seasons and would start from an equal standpoint.
Cancelling or declaring the current season would be the opposite of that.
Situation not ideal for Liverpool even with the league title
Rivals may suggest finishing the season is in Liverpool’s interest and there is no doubting that, as the Reds stand on the verge of their first league title for 30 years. Playing the season to its conclusion would not only decide promotion, relegation and European spots, but also the champions of domestic leagues.
However, Liverpool could very well end up winning the Premier League in an empty stadium, with the prospect of any sort of parade or celebration with their fans potentially a long time way, so everyone in football, no matter what happens, will feel the effects of this devastating disease.
Health, family and the economy are just some of the vital aspects that come before football, but in their own world the footballing powers are right to push to complete the season, before turning to the next.