Is there a radical solution to end City’s season?
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Stuart Webber insists every avenue must be explored to finish Norwich City’s campaign. Further meetings are planned in coming days with powerbrokers at Uefa and the stakeholders in England to find a workable football solution to the coronavirus outbreak. What could be on the table?
Norwich City’s Premier League and FA Cup quest remains on hold, with the only certainty at present is no football will recommence before April 30.
That was the line reiterated by the Premier League, Football League and PFA on Friday ahead of further discussions aimed at finding a way forward.
City’s sporting director Stuart Webber has clearly mapped out the Canaries’ current position.
“The first objective has to be to finish the league. We sit here in March and that is the sensible action,” he said, speaking on Guillem Balague’s latest episode of his Pure Football podcast. “It would be too early to be making rash decisions.
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“But we have to be realistic and that means thinking about plans and ways to get around this if we can’t finish the season.”
On the basis that is the same starting point for the other 19 top flight clubs, then all viable options have to be considered. In the last few days alone the national media have carried stories suggesting there is traction behind either a World Cup style tournament to play the remaining games behind closed doors at a central location in the country in June and July or bringing that forward to early May to head off the potential financial ramifications in regards to existing broadcast contracts.
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But every option seemingly contains drawbacks and in most cases prompts further questions around player contracts and transfer window implications. Here are the leading options.
• Behind closed doors - when the authorities deem it is safe to do so
The thought of behind-closed-doors games feels alien to most supporters and Webber for that matter. Go back to the recent Europa League game between Wolves and Olympiacos and witness how sterile and lacking in entertainment that spectacle was.
Teams may also argue that it takes away their home advantage and would see the season played out an uneven playing field.
Look at City’s run in. Five scheduled home games, all of them against teams in the bottom half of the table, apart from 10th-placed Burnley.
But the Independent now report the Premier League is considering a congested World Cup style tournament, based only in the Midlands and London, during June and July to play the remaining Premier League fixtures behind closed doors.
In order to complete the plan, clubs and their staffs would be confined to separate hotels away from their families, just like in an international tournament – albeit with full testing and quarantine conditions. The aim is to reduce the risk of contracting Covid-19, as even one case could derail the whole plan.
While on Tuesday the Daily Mail have put a twist on this idea, to restart on the first weekend in May with a schedule to finish by July 12.
The paper claim should the season be unresolved by the cut off point of July 16 for existing broadcast deals the domestic and overseas rights’ holders could demand rebates of up to £762m.
• End it now - current positions are final
West Ham’s outspoken vice-chairman Karren Brady advocated declaring the whole season null and void.
Opposition fans were quick to criticise that approach as opportunistic, with the Hammers currently only above the relegation zone on goal difference and in danger of the drop.
It would also mean Norwich, Aston Villa and Bournemouth would survive, and deny Leeds and West Brom promotion from the Championship, potentially leaving football’s governing bodies open to legal challenges given the huge finances involved.
• Wait as long as necessary - even delay next season as required
Another option is to, essentially, wait and see. That would mean accepting a lengthy break ahead of the season being completed later in the year - when it’s hoped the pandemic’s wider threat will have lessened.
This would potentially mean treating the current shutdown as a pre-season before recommencing the 2019-20 campaign and then perhaps a short break before beginning the 2020-21 version, which would potentially have to be squeezed into a shorter period of time given the European Championships will now take place in 2021.
The big issues with that would appear to be how the transfer market is managed and how player contracts - which traditionally run until the end of June - would be dealt with.
If all clubs could agree perhaps this could be accepted as an unavoidable consequence in the interests of moving forward in difficult circumstances.
• Promote two and relegate four next season
An idea floated by Brighton chief executive, Paul Barber, in the early days of the shutdown which appears to have now been rejected.
Retaining the current make up of the Premier League and inviting West Brom and Leeds to make up an expanaded top flight next season, with more teams being relegated from 2020-21.
That would require the suspension of the Championship play-offs for this season and next, with subsequent knock-on effects on promotion and relegation throughout the entire football pyramid.