Coronavirus pause could force global football to change

Not since World War II has the sport been forced to stop across Europe. (Reuters)
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Updated 03 April 2020

Coronavirus pause could force global football to change

  • The sudden interruption has exposed the deficiencies of a system intoxicated by huge sums of money

PARIS: Football has ground to a halt due to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19)  pandemic, and the immediate concern is the simple survival of many clubs because of the financial impact, but there is hope that the global game could ultimately emerge better from this crisis.

“We are living through something none of us were used to and which will change us profoundly,” Everton manager Carlo Ancelotti told Corriere dello Sport.

Not since World War II has the sport been forced to stop across Europe. The sudden interruption has exposed the deficiencies of a system intoxicated by huge sums of money.

Cutbacks are inevitable in the short term.

“TV money will go down, players and coaches will earn less. Tickets will cost less because people will have less money. The economy will be different and so will football. Maybe it will be better,” said Ancelotti.

“As with most things, crisis is an opportunity,” football historian and academic David Goldblatt, author of recent book The Age of Football, told AFP, before sounding a warning.

“It could actually get worse. For there to be real change there has to be a change in the way power and ownership is distributed in the game.”

At the moment the financial power belongs to the lucky few at the top, but even they are being hurt. That is likely to affect the transfer market, and huge spending sprees on players could become a thing of the past.

“In two or three years, it will not be possible to spend the sums we have been seeing because every country will be affected. In all likelihood a new footballing world will emerge from this,” insisted former Bayern Munich president Uli Hoeness.

Already players at Barcelona — the richest club in the world — have agreed to a 70 percent pay cut. Clubs across Europe are taking similar measures.

It is evidence that clubs, even in the elite, have been living on the edge, and it raises the question of whether salary caps could finally be seen as a way forward, despite the difficulties presented by EU rules.

In Germany, the Bundesliga’s four Champions League representatives this season have pledged €20 million ($22 million) to help crisis-hit clubs in an encouraging sign of solidarity.

Meanwhile, lessons may also be learned about how TV revenue is distributed in the future.

It may also be time to rework the fixture calendar. The fashion for expanding existing tournaments — like staging a 48-team World Cup and 24-team Club World Cup — is surely not sustainable.

“It is now high time that we find some rules to say ok, let’s get out of this crisis as well as we can, but let’s also put safeguards in that manage player loads successfully moving forward,” warned Jonas Baer-Hoffmann, general secretary of global players’ union FIFPro, as he called for “a much healthier setup than we what have had lately.”

FIFA President Gianni Infantino has acknowledged the calls for change, telling La Gazzetta dello Sport that “we can perhaps reform world football by taking a step back. With different formats. Fewer tournaments, maybe fewer teams, but more balanced.”

Goldblatt, meanwhile, believes FIFA need to look again at plans to stage a 48-team World Cup in 2026 all across North America.

That, and the European Championship that UEFA intend to stage in 12 cities across the continent, are being planned in ways which appear at odds with the need to face up to another imminent threat: Climate change.

“If we have learned anything from the last couple of months it is that we should listen to the scientists,” Goldblatt says. “We need to hit the pause button on all of this and have a massive rethink.”


What next for Premier League’s ‘Project Restart’

Updated 03 June 2020

What next for Premier League’s ‘Project Restart’

  • Restart to begin with 2 matches on June 17, to ensure every side played same number of games

LONDON: The Premier League's return is just two weeks away but there are plenty of details for the 20 clubs in the English top-flight to work out before competitive action resumes on June 17.

AFP Sport looks at what is on the agenda at the latest in a series of meetings between the clubs on Thursday.

There have been squabbles over how final league standings should be decided if the season cannot be completed but clubs need a contingency arrangement if a spike in coronavirus cases wrecks their plans.

Most of the teams in the bottom half of the table are reportedly pushing for relegation to be scrapped if the season is not completed on the field.

That still seems highly unlikely, with the English Football Association and English Football League both insisting on promotion and relegation throughout the pyramid.

A points-per-game formula is the most likely option and is part of the reason why the restart will begin with two matches on June 17, to ensure every side has played the same number of games.

Once the two outstanding games — Manchester City vs. Arsenal and Aston Villa vs. Sheffield United — have been played, all 20 sides will have nine games remaining.

No dates for other matches have yet been released, but fixtures are expected to continue from where they left off in March and be crammed into just five weeks ahead of the FA Cup final on August 1.

A long layoff, little time together in contact training and a gruelling schedule mean players' bodies will be pushed to the limits.

In an attempt to minimize injuries and fatigue, world governing body FIFA has allowed leagues to temporarily change their rules to allow five substitutes.

Chelsea have also reportedly proposed increasing the number of substitutes available from seven to nine.

However, critics have suggested those changes will simply play into the hands of the bigger clubs with deeper squads.

Premier League clubs appear to have won their battle to have games played in their own grounds rather than on neutral sites.

However, the UK's national lead for football policing confirmed last week that a "small number" of fixtures will take place at neutral venues.

That is likely to include any match that could see Liverpool crowned champions for the first time in 30 years, to try and avoid crowds gathering at Anfield.

Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp is unconcerned by playing at neutral venues, with results from four rounds of Germany's Bundesliga showing no advantage for home sides in a closed-doors environment.

"We will not have the help from the crowd but no team will have that, so where is the advantage?" Klopp told the BBC.

"Whoever we play it is the same situation, which is why I'm not too worried about it."

The use of VAR could also be dispensed with for the rest of the season should the clubs wish to further cut the number of people required for games to go ahead.

However, the Premier League's CEO Richard Masters is keen for it to remain.

"VAR has its own social-distancing issues, but we think there is a way of completing the season with VAR," Masters told Sky Sports.