On the 17th of June, the English Premier League resumed its season after 100 days of postponement. With ninety-two games to fit into a five-week window across the entire league, teams will be playing every two or three days. On the 17th of March, I wrote an article calling for the season to be voided unless the season can be finished in an orderly fashion that does not diminish the integrity of the competition. What has resulted, does not fit that description. However, after revelations over the sheer fortunes that would have to be reimbursed to the TV companies upon cancellation of the season, I have reconsidered: “Operation Restart”, as it has been dubbed, is financially vital, but otherwise absurd.
The re-opening game to the 2019-20 Premier League season saw Aston Villa play host to Sheffield United. An otherwise dull match played in an empty stadium saw just one flicker of significance, in which the Referee’s automated goal decision system, and the highly controversial VAR, both failed to pick up what was an obvious goal for Sheffield United. Thus, meaning the game finished a goalless draw.
Later, Arsenal travelled to Manchester City and were soundly beaten after losing two players in the first twenty minutes. Arsenal’s Brazilian substitute and Sideshow Bob lookalike, David Luiz, made two dreadful errors which led directly to goals, before being sent-off after only 25 minutes on the pitch, leaving Arsenal with just ten men for the remaining 41 minutes.
What these two games demonstrated was a complete lack of fitness in the players. With 92 games to be played across the entire division before the 21st of July, most teams will be playing every two or three days. In a typical season, most teams will play just once-a-week, with the occasional midweek match. At the best of times, players struggle to manage with the level of intensity over a 10-month season, now each side has to fit at least 11 games into 5-weeks? Absurdity.
In normal circumstances, after the end-of-season break will last about a month, and even less if it’s a World Cup or European Championships year, yet still teams will go through a month of physical training to get their bodies into pristine condition. Remember, these people are professional athletes, they train harder than most Olympians. However, upon resumption of the Premier League, teams were allocated just two weeks of training.
The result of which was an absolutely turgid couple of matches in which, as I mentioned before, two Arsenal players suffered serious injuries within the opening twenty minutes of the game. Of the four goals scored on the re-opening day (including the disallowed Sheffield Utd goal), one came from a corner, one from a penalty, one from a major defensive error, and another in the dying minutes of the game, when no one had any energy left in the tank.
After watching the two matches, I decided not to watch for the next few weeks, for the same reason I don’t watch pre-season warm-up games; they’re boring and meaningless. The players are still getting fit, check; they don’t count for anything, check…?
Once these first few weeks of games have passed, and the players are at least approaching a level of fitness resembling that of a normal season, the majority of the games will be meaningless. By that time, the league title will have been decided, and my team will be loitering around the middle of the table, with no chance of achieving anything this year, but no chance of being relegated either; each game will literally be an exercise in tedium. For some, their team may face the prospect of staving off relegation, but even then, any relegation will never be fully accepted because of these strange circumstances.
If players are being injured, and the quality is so low, why even bother restarting?
It’s the economy, stupid! Seriously, the footballing economy has taken a massive hit. In normal circumstances, football’s economy is good at staying immune to external slumps, but as we’re all well aware, these are not normal circumstances. I have written a previous article on the impact of lockdown on football, with an emphasis on the lower end of the professional game. This article does not have the space to unpack the finer points of the footballing economy, but to oversimplify massively, whereas the lower-tier clubs generally rely on their gates (i.e. match ticket revenue), the top-tier clubs tend to rely more on TV revenue through deals with major networks. Obviously, this income relies on the games actually taking place.
Unbeknownst to the public until very recently, the final tranche of TV money was set to be released during March, of which the majority was withheld because the service paid for had not been redeemed. Without the resumption of the season, that final tranche would not be paid, which amounts to (approx.) £753M across the whole league (£37.65M per club).
It is widely thought that, due to the large sums of money in the balance, that football clubs tend to make gigantic profits. That would be incorrect. In fact, very few clubs turn profits each year, instead of relying on multimillionaire or even billionaire owners to underwrite the deficits. However, as I had outlined in a previous article about Financial Fair Play rules, owners are prohibited to inject more than a small percentage of the club’s annual turnover (it changes each year, but usually sits around the 15% mark).
There have been calls to relax FFP rules during the Coronavirus pandemic period, but it is uncertain as to whether they will be formally relaxed, whether the governing bodies will simply turn a blind eye for a few years, or whether they will be upheld. This uncertainty dictates that club directors have to work within the existing framework and assume that little deficits can be underwritten. Thus, making the final TV tranche vital to Premier League clubs.
So, here we are, playing 92 low-quality games, to no crowd, with players at risk of serious muscle injuries because they are nowhere near the requisite fitness levels, all in the name of money. However, considering who is at the front of the queue in terms of losing their job when a club is hard-up for cash, it is the normal, working people - not the players. Ultimately, I can stop moaning about how bad the football is. Hard-working families can now go back to work and feed their families with growing confidence of long-term security. Getting the economy moving is the most important thing at this stage, and the football industry amounts to a reasonably large part of the British economy, relative to sport in other countries.