Most of the chatter in the football world these days, outside of slightly more insane than normal transfer stories, is about the best way to finish off this interrupted season.
The Premier League is desperate to play a full season, but Ligue 1 and Eredivisie have already called it off. Can they squeeze in the remaining games? Should they?
The good news is that I’ve fixed it. The bad news is that you’re gonna hate me (more) for it.
We shouldn't cancel this season. Instead we should cancel the 2020/21 season.
Could they just sort of... pick up where they left off next season?
I got the above message yesterday in conversation with a friend, who’s not really into football. My gut reaction was basically a derisive snort. Of course they can’t do that.
But they definitely could. And the more I thought about it, the more I realised it’s the only viable option.
Breaking: Lyon statement on Ligue 1 cancellation;— Mohammed Ali (@mohammedali_93) April 30, 2020
"Olympique Lyonnais reserves the right to appeal against this decision and claim damages....which amount to several tens of millions of euros"https://t.co/q8554wBrSr
But it wouldn’t be fair to say it’s been unanimously accepted. It will be unfair for some teams, and some of those teams will be negatively affected by it like Lyon were.
Should Sheffield United automatically leapfrog Wolves into 6th, even though 7/10 remaining games were against teams in the top half, including Wolves?
Playing the remaining Premier League fixtures at neutral venues has the "potential to have a material effect on the integrity of the competition", says Brighton's chief executive Paul Barber.— BBC Sport (@BBCSport) May 2, 2020
https://t.co/3HzE0NLYRv #bbcfootball #EPL pic.twitter.com/ew8My6rFpH
That, and the money of course, is a big part of why the Premier League is so keen to play out every game, but could that be done fairly?
Brighton certainly don’t think so and I think they have a point. Their home record is considerably better, but they’d finish the season having played their less than others.
Then you have to factor in the effect of playing the games in such a condensed period. Teams who can afford deeper squads will be at a huge advantage. As soon as Liverpool have wrapped up the title, they’ll start protecting theirs stars against over-tiredness. How do you control for who gets to play the B team?
And of course, fairness on the pitch isn’t even close to the most important part of any of this.
It is impossible to play a contact sport safely and no matter how many tests you want to do, you can’t guarantee that.— Jonathan Walters (@JonWalters19) May 1, 2020
Clubs are also under a legal obligation to provide a safe working environment for their employees.
Jon Walters has been leading the charge on player safety ever since the discussion of coming back to play has arisen and he makes some great points. Football is fantastic, but realistically all sports should be one of the last things that reopens.
And this is where we’ll move away from football slightly. I want to make it clear that I am not an epidemiologist in any sense, but I do have a scientific background and currently work with a lot of them.
After a viral outbreak like this, the first seasonal recurrence the following winter is usually worse than the initial peak.
I don’t say that to spread fear and predictions of more deaths because honestly I don’t know. I say it because all of us, football be damned, should be prepared for more disruption and possibly more lockdowns throughout what would be the meat of next season.
Back to football, that means disruption to fixtures again, quite possibly over the Christmas period where they’re really packed in.
With Euro 2020 already pushed back to next summer, UEFA can’t afford for the leagues to leak into summer next year, because there’s no way they’ll agree to hold a European Championship and World Cup in the same year.
Maybe they’ll be able to fit those fixtures in elsewhere in the season; many leagues already have a winter break. The problem is that no one actually knows.
You can’t plan complete unknowns, but you can mitigate the risks. The simplest way to do that right now is to assume that neither the 2019/20 nor the 20/21 seasons will have time to play every game.
Only one of those seasons has already started, so it should have priority to finish fully too.
So how would it work?
Obviously, taking all that time for some teams just to play nine games does seem a bit extreme, but I’d much rather have one complete, inarguably fair season than two three-quarter seasons that will be disputed, and possibly litigated, for years to come.
It would also provide plenty of free weekends to finish off this years FA Cup and Champions League, while playing through next years League and FA Cups in full. All without resorting to congested midweek fixtures.
As for Europe...well, sorry Foxes fans. We’d have to send the same teams to those competitions next year. But qualification for the 2021/22 tournaments would still be there to fight for, so our season wouldn’t count for nothing.
I get it, it’s not a good solution. It might even be the one that makes the most people unhappy. I’m also willing to accept that I have absolutely no idea about the financial implications, particularly for the rest of the Football League.
But I also think it’s the fairest and, above all, safest solution I’ve heard so far. I’d really like to hear a better one (that doesn’t include aircraft carriers or the Nike cage).