It’s uncharted waters, it’s uncharted territory and, in the scheme of things, it’s out of the hands of football’s authorities – such is the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and the priority of a globe’s health.
Mind you, that doesn’t stop debate about association football and in Spain, what happens next in La Liga – indeed, will the 2019/20 campaign ever resume?
One bright note was the announcement this week that the Spanish Football Federation is hoping that whenever football can restart, the Copa del Rey final will be held as a tribute to the victims of the virus.
The showpiece match is set to take place between Athletic Bilbao and Real Sociedad, although it’s unclear just when it can be played.
But that is just one game. What exactly could happen if La Liga – which still has 11 rounds of matches to get through – can’t be concluded (let alone resume) by the end of June (the date provisionally set for the completion of all 2019/20 professional football).
There are many permutations.
Bosses are currently considering the calendar challenges for restarting suspended seasons, as well as examining the economic, financial and regulatory impact of the COVID-19 outbreak.
With FIFA facilitating the extension of players’ registrations and contracts beyond the standard June 30 termination date, the Professional Footballers’ Association and the international players union, FIFPro, are also looking to protect players’ wages as much as possible.
The best solution may be that mooted by the FIFPro chief executive who is looking to negotiate for clubs to retain a whole squad until the new end to the season (whenever that may be), rather than finish some contracts on June 30 and for players to be paid in full for any extended contractual period.
Yet what further knock-on effect could that cause.
What we do know is that Spain’s footballers will themselves vote on whether or not they want to play games every 48 hours if there is a chance the 2019/20 season can be concluded.
La Liga met with the players’ union on Tuesday via a video conference and, among other matters, discussed that and the handling of clubs’ proposed salary cuts.
With an acceptance that finishing by the end of June is now effectively impossible and even starting by then is optimistic, a UEFA working group is understood to have modelled different possibilities for restarting competitions, if an end of June date is possible, or July, and finishing them by August.
The group has not modelled stripping back the remaining Champions and Europa League ties either, for example by reducing two-legged rounds to one match. Different ways of trying to conclude competitions have been considered such as trying to finish domestic league seasons first then completing the UEFA competitions rapidly, all in one go, after that.
Who knows! No one can say with any confidence when professional sport will resume or even in what form.
The only certainty is that the longer the pandemic halts sport, the chances of 2019/20 being declared null and void grows closer.
For now, it’s a waiting game.
The League has sent its clubs a rough draft of the protocol they should follow to gradually return to training, once the Spanish government gives the green light.
The first phase is training alone then, once it’s safe to do so, training in groups of eight and, finally, training altogether and with a ball.
It will also include tests of COVID-19 for all the players, coaches and family members – tests which will be carried out 72 hours before clubs return to full training, with a further 15 days of workouts before matches restart.
Right now, it seems a long way back. The consequences exist but are secondary in the world order.
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