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Football in doldrums

The Coronavirus outbreak has suspended all footballing leagues in Europe as of now. Patriot discusses the ramifications of this total lockdown in the sport

English football authorities have confirmed the suspension of professional matches until at least April 30.

All fixtures in the Premier League, Football League, Women’s Super League and Women’s Championship, and all fixtures in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, are currently postponed.

“In this unprecedented situation, we are working closely with our clubs, Government, The FA and EFL and can reassure everyone the health and welfare of players, staff and supporters are our priority,” said Premier League Chief Executive Richard Masters.

The move follows other decisions made by Football governing authorities in France, Italy, and Spain, while UEFA has agreed to delay this summer’s European Championships until 2021.

 A number of countries have also expressed the wish to fulfill the remaining fixtures and competitions, but how great will the impact be on the world of sport?

The Italian Football Federation (FIGC) has admitted that the Serie A season might not finish, and said that they would be discussing several alternatives if games cannot be completed.These options include:

  • staging play-offs
  • not having a champion for 2019-20
  • declaring the current standings final

Across Europe and the rest of the world, league competitions have been suspended, including Italian Serie A, Spanish La Liga and the USAs MLS, with each nation facing their own battle against coronavirus.

So what are the options open to football as things stand?

The first, and most unlikely, action, would be for the season to be struck from the records and effectively started again at the start of the 2020-21 campaign, with no relegation, promotions or titles.

Naturally, that would be an extremely controversial decision due to the number of matches that have been played this season, with clubs chasing league titles and promotion certain to have the biggest uproar against such an idea.

A second approach would be to just suspend the season from this stage, with the league tables remaining as they currently look, with the title, promotion, relegation and everything else being dictated by current standings.

Again though, this would be extremely controversial as there is still plenty to be decided across all levels of England’s football pyramid, from Champions League spots in the Premier League to the battle to avoid relegation in League Two.

The final end result would be for playoffs to be scheduled to decide the final outcomes for any relevant titles, promotion, relegation or European football spots, although there are also issues in this area.

The title winner in Italy was previously decided by a play-off in 1964 when Bologna beat Inter Milan after the two sides finished level on points.

 The benefit to the leagues would be that this would limit any interruption to future fixtures and seasons, but, again, goes against all the hopes that authorities have of completing the games as intended.

 The reality is that there is no obvious model to follow.Football competition across Europe was last severely affected during and immediately after World War II.

 The 1939-40 English Football League season was abandoned after just three matches, with Blackpool one point clear at the top of the First Division.

 As the country’s focus shifted towards the war effort, regional league competitions were set up as an alternative and no title was awarded.

 There have been more recent examples across Europe where trophies have been owner-less.

Juventus were stripped of their 2004-05 Serie A crown due to their involvement in the Calciopoli scandal (where fraudulent relationships between certain teams and certain referees were uncovered) and Olympique Marseille lost their 1992-93 French title over a bribery scandal.

 But in both of these examples, the seasons had been concluded and no fixtures were abandoned.

Determining the points table and who would qualify for the Champions League too can be quite a risky and debatable proposition.

In the Premier League, for example, Leicester City hold an eight-point lead in the hunt for Champions League qualification, a significant advantage but one that could still be overturned by the chasing pack.

So if it were to be decided by a two-legged playoff, is there any way to reflect that advantage? Or would it be wiped away, something that many clubs would certainly oppose.

Liverpool lead the Premier League by a huge 25 points and need just three more wins in their quest to end a 30-year drought. But this unexpected health crisis has thrown the season’s conclusion into doubt.

In other European leagues, just two points separate Barcelona and Real Madrid at the top of the Spanish La Liga, while the margin between Juventus and Lazio in Serie A is even smaller.

Meanwhile, in Switzerland, the league title and relegation spot would both be decided on goal difference if the season were to conclude now.

Unfortunately, it’s difficult to say exactly what would happen in this scenario as we are in uncharted territory, there is no precedent to follow and there are many questions that need to be answered.