Updated: Jun 29
The Coronavirus pandemic has brought about a temporary prohibition on football to the Premier League and EFL. With so many fixtures left to be played, how on earth do we decide who wins?
Coronavirus has gripped the globe. Whilst there are so many things more important in this time of strife than sports, the constant barrage of bad news can become a bit too much. In light of this, I think we can shift our focus to something slightly less taxing. After all, “out of all the unimportant things, football is the most important” – Pope John Paul II.
The current Premier League table has Liverpool 25 points ahead of Manchester City, with 9 & 10 games left to play, respectively. What this means is that, if Liverpool wins two more games, it is mathematically impossible for Man City to win the league – regardless of how many games they win.
This is important to bear in mind when discussing how to end the season. Though, what adds more fuel to the fire, is the fact that this will be Liverpool’s first league title (win) since 1990. For one of Britain’s, nay Europe’s, nay the world’s most successful football clubs to not win the league for so long is outrageous – for them to breeze through the season, only to have it stolen away from them at the end, would be the cruellest of cruel fates.
That said, there seem to be three main prevailing theories on how to proceed with the football season.
The first is to acknowledge that, whilst Liverpool haven’t yet ‘won’ the league mathematically or by fulfilling all of their fixtures, they’re so far ahead & should be accepted as Premier League Champions for the 2019/20 season.
I have an array of problems with this approach. For starters, the argument seems to rely on an emotional, rather than a rational, logic. You see, I feel it factors in the 30-year dry-spell that Liverpool has undergone (in the league). Would this same allowance be made for clubs like Man City or Chelsea? I highly doubt it.
Moreover, there is just a simple flawed precedent being set here. Liverpool, have not, I repeat NOT, won the league yet. Football is a crazy sport. Crazy things happen all the time. Leicester City won the league in 2016 after starting the season at 5000-1 odds. There is a chance that Liverpool could lose every single game, and not win the title.
This notion, in my opinion, flies directly in the face of what sport is. You have to earn your title – not be handed it. I accept that the circumstances here are outstandingly extraordinary & extremely unlucky, but they are where we find ourselves. Liverpool does not deserve the title because they’re in the lead – they can only be given it once they’ve won it.
Also, talking of precedents, we have to acknowledge the other parts of the table that require sorting out. As well as the league champion, the second, third and fourth-placed team qualify for the lucrative Champions League. Also, the fifth-placed team, alongside the winner of the FA Cup and Carabao Cup, qualify for the Europa League. These spots (barring the Carabao Cup), are yet to be decided.
That doesn’t even touch on relegation and promotion. The bottom three sides in the Premier League are automatically relegated – with three clubs from the league below coming up in their place.
For the clubs in the league below, the Championship, playing in the Premier League increases their revenue by hundreds of millions of pounds – something that many clubs speculatively spend on in order to achieve.
Further questions arise from this. If we’re to assume Liverpool would win the league, are we not to assume that whoever is sitting in the bottom three places in the Premier League are to go down? Even when Aston Villa have played one fewer game than the others in that area of the table and a win would lift them out of it? To finish the season as is would be ridiculous.
So maybe we give Liverpool the title & void the rest?
It can’t be one rule for one, another rule for the rest. That is simply unfair & unsporting.
Which brings me onto the second option; the now infamous null & void route. As the name suggests, this eventuality declares the Coronavirus pandemic to be such an unprecedented event, which we cannot remedy in the requisite time, and therefore must declare the 2019/20 football season to be null & void. Essentially, we start from scratch next year.
This suggestion has not been well received by our friends on Merseyside – well, not the red half anyway.
For me, it’s the best of a bad situation. No one can stop Coronavirus at the moment. Nothing can be done to fulfil these games. Unless the virus magically disappears overnight, which it doesn’t seem to want to do, we’re not going to be playing these games anytime soon.
The result of voiding the season is simply that, no one goes up, no one goes down, no one wins the league and no one new qualifies for the European competitions.
There is the possibility, that UEFA (the European football governing body) will make special arrangements for teams to qualify for European competitions. They may just say to the teams who partook this year, that they qualify again. It’s really anybody’s guess. But that is the second option – which to me, seems the most reasonable.
Finally, the most radical and drastic option is to continue with the postponing of the fixtures indefinitely, until such a time that they are able to be played. Though, the reality of this is that the 2019/20 season’s fixtures may overlap into the 2020/21 season’s slot. Whilst this doesn’t mean the end of the world, it does create logistical problems.
For example, assuming the virus is more or less gone by September, and Premier League clubs resume the 2019/20 season, finishing around mid-December 2020, we could find a situation in which other European countries have opted for a different route; say to void their season. Meaning they’re 10-15 games into their 2020/21 season, whilst England are just beginning theirs. How does this work for European competitions? Are they postponed until all teams can catch up? Are they played as normal, meaning that the top clubs have to finish their 2019/20 season with additional fixtures on their calendar, compared to what they would have otherwise had?
The short answer is that nobody knows.
That is where we find ourselves; in the midst of a global crisis, in which there is no playbook, nothing to draw on, no precedent set.
Football, just like pretty much everything else in society, has no guidelines for these extreme circumstances.
The purpose of this article was to discuss the logistics of how to round-off the current football season. Though, in many ways, it is also to document how even the most minor things are being wildly distorted and disrupted by Coronavirus.
My hope is that we can finish this season. Liverpool has gone above and beyond what I thought a football team is capable of & shown themselves to be the best side in world football. They deserve to be rewarded for their efforts with a league title. Though they don’t deserve it to be handed to them – they still have to win two games.
Then, with respect to the experts’ opinions on when this virus will peak, there is very little chance of this season ever finishing conclusively. In which case, null & void it must be. It saddens me that Liverpool won’t ever see their just rewards for a fine season, but I cannot countenance the idea of them, or anyone, being given the title on an assumptive basis.
Perhaps the best solution to the European question, and I propose this genuinely, would be to draw teams from a hat – much in the same way a domestic cup competition is drawn. However, the authorities should only allow teams who have qualified for European competitions in the last 5 years to be included, and they must be in the top tier.
It is a cruel irony that everybody is locked away in their houses, potentially for months on end, whilst at the same time, the most-watched sport in the world is gone too.
Alas, we endure. Society will pull through. And we will be here covering it all.
The Politician will be continuing its news & opinion stories as normal throughout this crisis.
We will endeavour to cover both Coronavirus and our usual content throughout the coming weeks and months. You can read other Coronavirus stories here or by clicking the ‘Coronavirus’ tab under the ‘News’ section.