World football has all but grounded to a halt and the confusion as to how competitions across the globe are going to be concluded continues to spiral on.
Looking at English football, there are already a number of solutions being proposed. Let’s delve into them and investigate who might benefit most – or lose out – because of them.
End the football season as it stands
With most football seasons across Europe soon drawing to a close, it makes sense to end the season abruptly and award titles and European qualification – or promotion in some divisions – to the teams currently occupying the relevant positions. In England, of course, this massively benefits Liverpool who have all but secured their first Premier League title. However, some would say that awarding Klopp (above)’s side the title in this way is unfair, not least to them for the fact that it would always go down in the record books as a uniquely special season.
This way of finishing the season also hugely benefits the current top five. With Manchester City on a two-season European ban, 5th placed Manchester United look would secure a Champions League spot, alongside Chelsea and Leicester. Whilst no one would doubt Liverpool deserve the Premier League title, questions might be raised over whether Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side deserve to qualify for the Champions League given they are only two points clear of 7th placed Sheffield United – who have a game in hand over the Red Devils.
Furthermore, given that as low as 8th in the Premier League could warrant Europa League qualification, many teams – even in the bottom half of the table – would argue that they could have staked a claim for the chance to play in the Europa League next season. Teams as low down as 14th placed Southampton would argue that a good run of form is what the difference is between them and European football next season.
Also, who gets relegated from the Premier League? Tom Clabon’s article sums up how the relegation battle is far from over in England’s top division, and it can be seen across all four divisions: who would get promoted from the Championship, or Leagues 1 and 2? The automatic promotion spots are far from confirmed with nine games to go in the Championship, and several teams have games in hand even further down the table. Also, who would get the final promotion spot in each division? Would the play-offs still take place or would the 3rd placed team be the one that gets promoted? This might be an easy solution in some cases, but this solution only opens up a greater can of worms – especially given the huge sums of money involved in promotion, relegation and the play-offs.
Declare the season null and void and start the new season when the outbreak has globally settled
In what would no doubt be the worst solution for Liverpool, is the potentially most simple solution for the Premier League to be declared null and void and start next season – when the government permits – as if this season never happened. This would benefit Manchester City most, who would still (rather miraculously) be Premier League champions. Also benefitting would be North London sides Arsenal and Tottenham, who would be guaranteed Europa League and Champions League football respectively, something which appears insurmountable for both this season.
It would be a massive let-off for the teams in the relegation places up and down the Football Leagues – but what would it mean for teams like Chelsea? Would they be banned from transfers again? What about in League 1 – would it be another season with just 23 teams? Would Bolton start the season on -12 points again?
Administratively easy and perhaps leading fewer questions and fewer disappointed teams, but still an unfair way of concluding a season for teams who have transcended expectations like Liverpool, Sheffield United and Leicester. With the threat of potential legal action from Championship sides, too, this could be a dangerous solution for the FA.
Finish the season, whenever possible, behind closed doors
This solution is far more complex but nonetheless is the fairest. The complications of finishing the season when possible are great: would we still require the mid-season break to ensure players are back to peak fitness? What would the knock-on effect be for next season – would we start later and have a more packed schedule than we already have? There have been suggestions that, should this be the solution, the FA may suspend cup competitions like the League and FA Cup in order to accommodate for all of the league fixtures. This might be fine for the big clubs, but smaller clubs further down the league ladder would be financially hurt, as they thrive from TV money, gate receipts and prize money from these competitions.
While it is impossible to know when the season will be able to resume, playing behind closed doors provides the quickest solution to get going again when the government begins to ease social distancing measures as small groups – like football teams and their relevant staff – can play matches, albeit without crowds. This is the fairest way to finish the season as it gives everyone the chance to play games in hand and fight for respective titles, promotion places, and safety. But it does come with a huge set of questions and uncertainty. With EURO 2020 postponed until 2021, there lies the possibility to extend the season well into the summer.
Have a mega-season – add this season’s points to next season’s table
A more radical proposal: this season would end with around 67 games played and Liverpool potentially winning the title just short of 200 points. Playing any games in hand and then starting next season with this season’s table leaves Liverpool waiting another year to win their long-awaited first Premier League title; yet they could get it with a record number of points. I only propose this ‘solution’ because it means I could get more points in my Fantasy Premier League team!
From weighing up these solutions, it’s clear that it raises more questions than answers. Regardless of solution, not everyone will be satisfied: some teams will end up being disadvantaged in some way. But whilst the priority remains the health of the country and the world more widely, some clubs will have to accept whatever solution is put in place.