Word must have somehow reached Uefa that people are suffering in the present crisis, with the return of competitive football not really their highest priority, since the governing body’s latest edict not only showed uncharacteristic humility but revealed an unexpected shift towards common sense.
Of course leagues around Europe should not be penalised for scrapping the present, wrecked, season without playing any more games. Of all the solutions being suggested over the past few weeks this is the obvious one and the easiest to put into practice.
Yes, something will have to be done about the loose ends, some formula found to come up with an order of “sporting merit”, but this should not be beyond the wit of a worldwide game with profits measured in the billions.
Everyone knows the real desire to see leagues completed and matches played behind closed doors comes from the money men anyway. There certainly seems to be little enthusiasm for such plans from players and coaches and for that reason alone justifications of sporting integrity ought to be treated with suspicion.
The Premier League season is hopelessly compromised. Playing out every single fixture at some point in mid-summer might seem the fairest option, yet the artificiality of the exercise would quickly become apparent once games got under way. Liverpool were on course for a record-breaking season before the shutdown, probably about to overtake the 100-points total Manchester City reached two years ago.
Does anyone imagine that trajectory will be maintained if fixtures are completed behind close doors? Liverpool’s desire to claim the title by playing rather than points-per-game ratios is understandable, though given that a win or two is all they now need would their enthusiasm to reach new heights last until their final fixture, whenever that might be?
In the event of the league being completed in empty stadiums, it is highly unlikely all 20 teams would be equally motivated. There would be a huge difference between playing a side pre-lockdown and a post-lockdown version anxious to get the formalities out of the way and begin looking forward to next season, so obtaining a final league table might still turn out to be something of a lottery. Traditionally, teams with nothing much to play for near the end of a season still pride themselves in putting on a performance, but whether that logic would apply in stadiums devoid of fans is anyone’s guess.
The point is, really, that playing out the season just for the sake of it would be utterly pointless and quite possibly dangerous. The determination of Premier League clubs to find a way to do it is based only on a desire to avoid paying back large amounts of broadcast revenue. Yet if we are all supposed to be in this crisis together then surely BT and Sky, who disclosed profits of £2bn and £1.2bn on the back of football in their most recent results, should not now be holding the game to ransom.
Football has been living in the bubble of silly money for too long if it cannot see that these are extraordinary circumstances. No one wants a truncated season, but no one asked for self-isolation and physical distancing either.
Everyone is making sacrifices and, with the government constantly warning the situation will go on for weeks if not months, it would be folly to place relegation and promotion issues above health concerns when a little adaptability is all that is required.
As has already been suggested, no one need be relegated this season, just for once. If a mechanism can be agreed upon to determine which teams deserve promotion, each division could be allowed to bulge a bit until the danger is over.
What happens to the Champions League is a thornier problem and one Uefa is unlikely to relax its stance of wishing to see it played out, though even if it ends up impinging on next season it involves relatively few teams and matches, as does the Europa League.
Germany is ahead of most in terms of testing, tracking and containing the coronavirus, yet taking advantage of that to reintroduce a football programme is still likely to prove hugely controversial. Though large public gatherings are banned until October, the earliest possible date at which football with spectators could resume, Bundesliga players are back in training and clubs have asked government permission to commence games behind closed doors next month.
Not everyone is impressed. Though anything half-decent to watch on television would be welcome in most households at the moment, Germany is not yet out of lockdown and the question of propriety has been raised. One fans’ organisation said restarting the football season in the middle of a pandemic would be “sheer mockery for the rest of society”. Hard to argue. Just how important does football think it is?