UEFA, Covid- 19 and April 23
Clubs, players and fans are biting their nails waiting for the UEFA conference Thursday April 23, which for many believe will be the final decision on whether leagues will play on. If clubs take it upon themselves to stop their season without getting confirmation from UEFA, teams crowned winners for this season may not qualify for Champions League next year. But what does “playing on” really mean?
What are we playing for?
Of course, players want to play but at what cost? For some there is no cost. Their season is either mathematically finished, like Toulouse in Ligue 1 or they have nothing to play for like Brest who won’t be relegated or play for a Champions League/ Euro League place. What motivation do these players/teams have to come back and risk injury or possibly getting Covid-19? And what’s to stop a club who has a great position in the table coming back playing one game securing the 3 pts they might have needed and then throwing their hands up and saying some of our players aren’t feeling well we are stopping. What happens is all medical protocol is respected but a player or staff member gets Covis-19 unknowingly and returns to the team? Would the whole club be quarantined again for 2 weeks?
Today we see the Bundesliga being the first league to try to come back to any sense of normalcy. They’ve already started training in small groups, and they are possibly one of the only countries where players can get consistent touches on the ball. Meaning if Champions League is able to resume, then Bayern would have a clear advantage over not only their direct opponent Chelsea (who are at least 6 weeks behind) but then for the next round also. If the Bundesliga can finish the season is that fair to other countries that can’t?
Some top brass with a lot of sway are publicly saying the season should be stopped and it should be a “saison blanche,” as if the season never happened. Ironically, the most vocal on this subject is Jean-Michel Aulas of Lyon, which if the league position held, his club would have a 7th place ranking and thus qualify for nothing next season. Even if the league continues it would be very very difficult for them to qualify for Champions League next season, but with a “saison blanche” they would qualify for Champions league again. But, he is saying he wants a “saison blanche” because it would be unfair to those teams in relegation position who according to by-laws can not be relegated until the season has been played. Thus, using the underdog as the motive rather than his own bottom line.
Let’s leave Ligue 1 now and look at the Premier League. Liverpool have all but ran away with the title. Their closest contender Manchester City are a whopping 15 pts behind. While, mathematically City could catch them I don’t think many bookies would take that bet. Contrary to belief the Reds have never won the EPL. Their last league title was in 1990 and the Premier League didn’t even exist yet. I’m hard pressed to think any governing body would take away this glorious moment from Liverpool.
Spain & Italy
Two countries hit hardest by Covid-19, that of Spain and Italy might have the hardest time returning to the pitch. La Liga has come out publicly with dates for when the league could resume, however Barcelona’s coach just doesn’t believe the feasibility of returning to play. Which has now led to an open clash with La Liga and the RFEF (Spanish Football Federation). La Liga claiming the season to resume while RFEF is addressing the subject if the season does not resume who will take the Champions League and Euro League spots if confirmed by UEFA. The other country so heavily hit is Italy and the first European country to go into Quarantine and stop the league. The FIGC (Italian Football Federation) is said to be working with medical staff on a detailed protocol for return to play. But have also said they are prepared to continue into September and October which goes way past the rumored UEFA date of August 3rd to finish the season.
I don’t see how UEFA could grant one league, Ligue 1 a saison blanche, and another the EPL to hold the standing they way they are and announce a 2019-2020 Season Champion. Yet a decision has to be made and I believe all leagues should proceed in the same way to keep competition fair for all. So what will they do?
There is nothing about a world pandemic that is fair and there is no way for any governing sports body to be fair at this moment in time. But I’d like to know what you think? What are some options that seem more fair? Should it be UEFA deciding or individual federations?
I hope that all leagues will work together, there can’t be a Champions League if there’s no agreed league or Champions. If it is agreed by all as safe to play domestic, let them play. First things first. Different countries may have different health and safety timelines, be considerate of that. The season will have to push later to finalize, or any number of legal challenges will blow it apart. Or, just write the whole thing off and face those historical consequences.
Totally agree but a decision needs to be made and a game plan established otherwise leaving players in this unknown is more difficult for their psyche and desire to return to play.