Firstly, before going into the seemingly impossible minefield football must face as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak, I want to remind everyone that the health and well-being of everyone should be of primary importance and I wish all the best of health to anyone affected directly or indirectly by the ongoing issues.
However, ultimately our job at AVILLAFAN is to talk all things Aston Villa and I have spent time mulling over the trials and tribulations that COVID-19 is bringing and may continue to bring when football returns.
Many will read this and totally disagree with a lot of what I have to say but I have tried to be as level headed as possible as to what I think are the better options in going forwards.
I have also tried to steer clear of purely supporting options that are solely based on the benefit of Aston Villa (hard I know!)
Negotiating the myriad of hurdles to clear whilst pleasing everyone is practically impossible and with no one person knowing the exact peak and trend of COVID-19, it’s bound to rumble on for some time too.
One thing is for sure, the long term implications of COVID-19 are potentially groundbreaking across the league and the impact of those making the key decisions will be felt across world football.
As it happens, I agree with the decision to postpone games until early-April. It buys some time to get heads together and thrash out some contingency plans.
However, how much time will be needed by the Football Association, UEFA and even FIFA is the million-dollar question. How much time will it take until football can be played whilst avoiding possible further infections?
Whilst we are all human beings, players are on multi-million pound contracts. I for one still cannot get my head around the sheer numbers but insurance fees on top, player bonuses as a result of promotion, titles, European qualification and avoiding relegation are big issues to sort.
Then there is the cost of relegation from the most lucrative league in world football.
COVID-19 will almost certainly affect the lower league clubs badly too. Beyond the comprehension of some of those eating at the top table of the English game.
As games are repeatedly cancelled, the match day revenue that clubs depend on to keep running effectively day in-day out is rapidly dwindling.
We are facing teams potentially going into administration or ceasing to exist.
This season alone shows what can happen without a worldwide crisis on top of other factors as Bury were disgracefully allowed to vanish. The conscience of those that rake the money in and throw it away as quick as it comes in will forever be tarnished.
So how do we find a way that works with minimal impact?
Who gets promoted?
Who gets relegated?
Does the league end as it is?
Does the league play to a finish?
All of these will be thrown into the melting pot as UEFA meet on Tuesday before the Football Association attempt to come up with their blueprint on Thursday.
These are unprecedented times and for football fans, they are uncertain times.
The season is made null and void.
Liverpool are awarded the title but the season is reset to next season with no teams relegated and the addition of Leeds United and West Bromwich Albion. Whilst many have said a void season means no title, the fact Liverpool need just two wins from their remaining nine games should be accepted as a mark of respect more than anything. One of the best sides to have graced the Premier League.
22 teams battle it out next season with five relegation places.
The ‘two up’ with no relegation proposal is implemented across the league and therefore no one suffers the drop and everyone knows their job next season.
Seems a logical and simple decision. Or does it?
Some of the issues faced by this decision would be the teams who mathematically could reach European football, the teams in each league who mathematically could catch the automatic promotion spots.
Where do you draw the line for promotion as teams in playoff positions will argue they were playing for three opportunities for promotion?
Whilst he supported the logic of Liverpool being denied a title as absurd, he suggested the ‘best of a list of imperfect outcomes’ was to halt the league and award the title to Liverpool.
This was after pointing out the social unrest in Chile last season. A year which saw civil chaos on the streets of Santiago and Universidad Catolica were awarded the title as they led Colo-Colo by 13 points. However, no teams were relegated.
Interestingly, after using this example he then went on to say the bottom three as they currently sit, are relegated and even argued on social media that ‘if you average out points across the season’ Villa’s game in hand would not really matter.
Later in the article he goes on to say as Liverpool are given the league, “the rest of the country will just have to suck it up.”
The sheer amounts of money that are lost in relegation is life changing within a club, parachute payments aside. You are looking at the sponsorship, share of TV revenue, loss of key assets at greatly reduced costs and ultimately in some cases, people’s jobs and livelihoods. Not something to be played around with unless it is absolutely necessary to do so.
If a team is relegated whilst mathematically able to escape, the lawsuits will be queuing up at the door.
Also take a moment to look at League Two.
Crewe and Swindon sit first and second respectively, both on 69 points.
Plymouth are third on 68 points with Exeter on 65 points in fourth and Cheltenham on 64 points with a game in hand in fifth.
Try telling those sides that the top two have been decided without causing chaos.
As I said earlier, I want to address the balance of debate and try to not sound biased in the favour of the club I love.
There has been some coverage throughout the week of a 75% rule listed within the Football Association guidelines.
The rule states:
“If a team play over 75% of it’s games and the season ends for any reason, all points remain valid and it can’t be void.”
Again, sounds simple doesn’t it?
Especially when 29 games have been played by all teams in the Premier League, the magic 75% mark.
All teams except Arsenal, Aston Villa, Manchester City and Sheffield United.
The postponement of Aston Villa’s home tie to Sheffield United was caused due to Dean Smith’s men reaching the Carabao Cup final.
Whilst the COVID-19 outbreak saw Manchester City and Arsenal become the first victims of what is now classed as a pandemic.
So another solution is those four teams testing their players and playing out their games.
Villa have their shot at survival against Chris Wilder’s men who themselves have a chance to finish fifth in what has been a simply incredible season for the Blades.
Granted, Manchester City haven’t got much to play for in the league but Arsenal would have the opportunity to leapfrog rivals Tottenham Hotspur, some feat considering the appointment of respective managers at different ends of the managerial experience ladder in Mikel Arteta and Jose Mourinho.
The issue with this idea is the remaining fixtures of teams and those with potentially easier run ins.
Euro 2020 is cancelled with a possible restructure for 2021 and finish off the season once we are past the worst of COVID-19 and it is deemed safe to do so.
If this happened, no one could argue that any side has not had an adequate opportunity to sort their own position.
Simple yet again?
Not at all.
We have no idea when the outbreak will be stemmed, no vaccine as of yet and even when there is one, how long for it to be readily available and by that time how many will be affected by COVID-19?
Also the contracts of players and those on loan will probably have passed the 1st June cut-off date.
A late end to the season gives teams next to no time to prepare for next season and especially those reaching Europe or moving divisions to get the right players in.
Transfer windows would need to be completely restructured.
Would these windows be open if some countries still have travel restrictions?
I certainly do not see it happening but could the European tournaments be shelved for a year too?
Contractually, and in regards to money again, the biggest teams in Europe would be devastated to lose the highest level of competition. But it could allow for more recovery time and an open season next time around for teams to qualify for Europe. A blank canvas.
It would also mean that if the European Championships were moved to 2021, players would go into it having played less games and would be less affected by the travel in a tournament based all over Europe.
A SUGGESTION FOR ALL
Regardless of what decisions are made by the people in power, there is one area, repeatedly referred to throughout this article that needs addressing to support football at all levels.
Greg Dyke, the Chairman of the Football Association was alleged to have admitted that the current season probably will not be completed.
Whichever plan they go for, money needs to be pushed down the leagues to support the teams in desperate need if we want football to be for the fans.
The dividends of money have already become immoral but as the clock ticks down for teams struggling, those with eye watering finances should be helping and doing their bit in a time where we all need to come together. In this case for the good of football.
This should be just as important as the resolution to unplayed fixtures in this week’s meetings.
I also think the Professional Footballer’s Association should be negotiating the simply ludicrous amounts of money that players earn at the top to help cover the teams that are close to being wound up or disappearing due to the sheer unknown we are facing.
The media and the toxicity of social media will hype things up regardless of the platform and the nature of the issue discussed but when COVID-19 has been stopped, people will still need work and many will be powerless whilst the six-figure-a-week salaries of players in the Premier League are fulfilled.
Football is our game and again it should not be deemed as being above our livelihoods.
But the game we all love may be changed with irreversible damage if knee jerk decisions are made this week.
Stay safe, follow advice and look after each other.
Up the Villa