“That’s it… the seasons over.”
Often, this phrase is uttered by many football fans once they realize any opportunity for silverware has come and gone. Many share the feeling that their teams season has ended prematurely when they no longer have anything left to play for. A “what if” feeling is often felt by fans upon this realization.
Now, this feeling is shared by all.
In rather unprecedented circumstances, the effects of the Coronavirus has brought the sporting world to an abrupt halt. Across the globe, almost every sporting league and conference has been suspended, some temporarily and others for the reminder of the season. The precarious nature of the Coronavirus disease has put sporting leagues in an unforeseen situation, left with no choice but to bring matches and competition to a temporary close.
For us football fans, this spells the end of competition at a seriously critical time.
With only a handful of games left in European leagues, and with the Champions League knockout stages beginning just weeks ago, the timing of the Coronavirus outbreak could not have been more inconvenient. Many have been left wondering what the outcome of these suspensions will be. For fans of teams such as Liverpool, Barcelona, Leeds, and Aston Villa, the next few weeks are absolutely pivotal in the outcome of their season. So what the hell happens next?
The answer to this question, unfortunately, seems to still be up in the air.
English authorities tried resisting for as long as they could, but the diagnosis of both Mikel Arteta and Callum Hudson-Odoi left them with no choice but to suspend the professional game. The longer this disruption goes on, however, the more problems that arise. Euro 2020 was due to take place this summer (which us authors had bought tickets for, a separate but equally depressing issue), but it seems as though the reluctant decision has been made to delay the competition until next summer. This delay would leave time for the completion of European seasons during the summer, but then this delays the time-off for the players, creating a completely different problem. And this is all assuming that the outbreak of the virus has subdued.
Looking at it from a completely hypothetical viewpoint, there are really only three possible options.
- Void the season and start afresh next season. No teams promoted, no teams relegated, and no awards won. In other words, act as if this season never happened.
- End the season now as if it is the end of the season, i.e. Liverpool are champions, and Bournemouth, Aston Villa, and Norwich go down.
- Attempt to finish the season once the severity of the Coronavirus lessens. Or as Serie A has suggested, hold a playoff competition to shorten the remainder of the season.
The issue with these three possibilities is that each has an inherent problem of their own. The first possibility would cause massive outrage for many teams. While sides like West Ham and Spurs have advocated for this idea, other teams like Liverpool, Leeds, and Lazio would be outraged. Liverpool were a matter of days from winning the Premier League, while Lazio are just a point behind Italian league dominators Juventus. Although some teams may regard their season to “be over,” with nothing significant left to play for, others are in the defining points of theirs.
Ending the season now would also cause huge issues. In the Premier League, none of the bottom three teams are mathematically relegated, and still have all to play for in their remaining games. On the other end of the table, there is still a big fight for the Champions League positions, with extra-incentive because of Man City’s impending European ban. Teams such as Arsenal, Wolves, Manchester United, and Sheffield United still believe they can qualify for Europe’s elite competition.
Finally, the last alternative is also largely problematic because nobody knows for sure when the spread of Coronavirus will end. Some believe the problem is only just beginning, and will begin to hit its peak in May or June. Rumors have also begun to spread that football authorities silently believe no football will be played until September, a month into next season. Relying on completing the season when there are no guarantees it can be done any time soon is extremely risky. The Italian League’s suggestion of a playoff competition to decide the outcome of the season is smart, but in retrospect this could also cause serious issues. How would the system work, when Liverpool are 25 points ahead of second place? How does one decide what teams are in the relegation playoff, and how does the system benefit a team that currently has more points than a relegation rival? The system would need to be worked on and agreed by all to succeed.
What each of these alternatives prove to us is that there is no easy way out of the problem that the Coronavirus outbreak has caused. If this had happened in August, September, or perhaps even October, then most teams would accept a void of the season. But the delay has happened at arguably the most pivotal point of the year. In a football world where a teams fate is life and death for many fans, an alternative other than the norm is completely unacceptable. Although it may be hard to accept, the Coronavirus, and the populations wellbeing, is bigger than football. It is essential that football authorities have these conversations, but the outcome will inevitably disappoint a large section of football fans.
We will just have to wait and see exactly which fans that will be.