After weeks of general nothingness, this week news about the future of football went into hyperdrive. It started on Tuesday when France became the first of Europe’s top five leagues to cancel the remainder of their season following the French government’s decree banning all sporting events until September.
Only a few hours later, on that very same day, it was reported that clubs in Spain would be allowed to resume training next week.
BREAKING: Professional sportspeople in Spain have been given the go-ahead to return to training from May 4 as part of the country's plan to get out of lockdown.— Sky Sports News (@SkySportsNews) April 28, 2020
As such, it was no surprise that England began squirming to get the Premier League restarted. By Wednesday evening it was reported that Manchester United would resume training on May 18th, making obvious plans to restart the season in early June.
Premier League clubs are determined to finish this season despite concerns football may be preparing to come back too soon.— Sky Sports News (@SkySportsNews) April 30, 2020
By Thursday the Premier League was in contact with its clubs, presenting proposals on player testing that will be submitted to the government for approval. Among them: players will need to shower at home, wash their own kits, and have to wear masks on the pitch. They’ve also told clubs to begin recalling any players who were abroad.
Premier League players will have to cover their faces as part of new rules to allow a safe return to full training.— Sky Sports News (@SkySportsNews) April 30, 2020
(For anyone who has attempted to do any outdoor exercise with a mask on these past few weeks, you know exactly how ridiculous that sounds).
This all begs the question: what are we doing here?
The first bit of ridiculousness came with the juxtaposition of France’s and Spain’s announcements considering those two countries border each other. Obviously they’re governed differently which affects the way they’ve handled the outbreak. But opening up the country eventually means opening up the border, especially for cities near the border where workers may live in another country. That can easily mean someone carrying the virus from one country to another and causing problems.
What’s more interesting is that according to Domo, France currently have fewer cases per 100 people than Spain. Yet France is still taking more precautions, while Spain is aggressively trying to open back up.
It’s wild that in just a few hours, these two big countries that sit right next to each other went in completely opposite directions.
I’m no expert on the EU, but isn’t one of the reasons it exists to make sure that all the countries in Europe are on the same page? We’re certainly not getting that here.
We’ve known for quite some time that Germany is trying to restart the Bundesliga as early as mid-May, though that plan has still not been approved by the government. Germany is far more prepared to do this, mostly because Germany had a far better reaction to the initial outbreak than most countries.
How shocking — countries that were willing to react quickly are coming out of this faster than the ones who neglected it. Those same neglectful countries seem to be hellbent on getting things back up and running sooner rather than later, which could be further detrimental.
Just like how a few weeks ago Donald Trump held a conference with the leaders of major sports urging them to get back as soon as possible to provide a distraction for the people, and the UK is now following suit.
On Thursday, The Athletic reported that “Premier League chief executive emailed the 20 clubs this week giving indications that the government was keen to get football back and it will be discussed in a meeting on Friday.”
This report comes just a day after the UK suffered its worst day in terms of total deaths to date.
As I said earlier this week, it’s a tactic that goes back to Ancient Rome. Distract the citizens with games so they forget what a terrible job of governing you’re doing. It’s entirely political. Some countries were proactive, others are being cautionary, some are trying to distract.
What. Are. We. Doing?
Over the past few weeks I’ve made my thoughts on returning to football abundantly clear. I want it back. Having it back would be really good for me. But the players are human too and they can’t be made less important. Their lives matter. Locking them up in hotels away from their families for two months doesn’t seem feasible, and will wreak havoc on their mental health.
That above article from The Athletic goes even deeper into this. Players have very valid and different concerns. Every situation is different. What about players who have four kids at home? They can’t leave their wife alone with four kids for two months, especially when help from the grandparents, which may be usually available, can’t be called upon right now.
On the flip side, what if we’re not locking the players up? Some have concerns about that too. Players have wives and partners who have pre-existing conditions and should have extremely limited contact with others. Some players still take care of their parents. Some have their parents or in-laws, who are in the higher risk bracket, living with them. How can they feel comfortable going out every day, coming into contact with dozens of different people and then returning home to those family members.
The rush to return to football seems to be ignoring many basic questions. First of all, we still know very little about this coronavirus. COVID-19 could be mutating more than was expected, therefore surviving the virus once may not necessarily make you immune. That could explain how Juventus’ Paulo Dybala has reportedly tested positive four times in six weeks.
Juventus striker Paulo Dybala has tested positive for the coronavirus for the fourth time in six weeks, a source close to the player has told CNN. https://t.co/2NeYEBOBdM— CNN International (@cnni) April 29, 2020
The Premier League’s plan would be to test players twice a week, but those tests don’t yield immediate results. And what happens when a player tests positive? Do we need to quarantine the entire team or just those he came in contact with? If we’re playing matches every two or three days does that mean we’ll have to quarantine the opposing team’s players as well?
You can see how this can quickly become a problem. If a club is quarantined for two weeks it’ll be awfully hard to fulfill its fixtures. That’ll lead to a fixture pile up that’ll just keep dragging the season on and on.
And don’t forget about the whole “contracts expiring June 30th” thing. There are no reports that suggest we’re anywhere closer to a resolution on that front either.
Just like European countries may need some oversight to keep them all on the same page, so to do the football leagues. That’s where UEFA come in.
Throughout this whole ordeal UEFA have worked really hard to do... nothing. Their strategy seems to have been to sit back and wait as long as they could. Last week UEFA released a statement that was... well, pretty much more nothing. They recommended that all leagues finished, but in cases where they couldn’t, qualification to the Champions League or Europa League should be determined on “sporting merit” from the 2019-20 season.
Like England, UEFA are simply acting to protect their own interests. They are determined to make sure the 2020-21 Champions League happens.
At some point they’re going to have to realize that’s an extremely difficult goal to achieve. While every country may have different plans for when and how to bring back football, those plans only need to work within those countries. UEFA needs every member country to be ready. It doesn’t work if Germany can play games but Italy can’t.
The buck really needs to stop with UEFA. Europe’s governing body needs to stop passively sitting and actually start leading. UEFA needs to realize this can’t be left up to the countries but rather that the decisions need to be made by them. They need to rule on how European football as a whole is going to move forward.
Leaving this up to the countries only opens up more cans of worms. What if football isn’t ready to resume anywhere until August? Then when August comes, what happens if you have some leagues that decide to complete their 2019-20 seasons, while others like France or Belgium who have cancelled those campaigns want to start the 2020-21 campaigns on time?
The clubs in France would presumably want a transfer window ahead of their new season so they can bolster their squads. But other leagues would still be completing; they wouldn’t be ready for a window to open and they surely wouldn’t want players leaving during the run in. Then what happens if those leagues are ready to begin the next campaign in October, when France is two months into the season. You’re in the same situation.
At some point there needs to be a window. Clubs need to sign new players to replace the outgoing ones. Some clubs already have transfers in place.
If there’s no blanket response here, it’s not going to work. Eventually UEFA has to put their foot down otherwise too many things can and probably will go wrong.
Until that happens, what are we doing here?