How should the 2019-20 football season be finished?
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
How to conclude the 2019-20 season, that’s the question for football fans as a new week starts with sporting life put on hold amid coronavirus concerns and health precautions taking hold.
Professional football is suspended until at least Friday, April 3 in England but with the Covid-19 virus still weeks away from peaking in the UK, it's widely expected that the suspension will be extended.
For Norwich City that has seen home games against Southampton and Manchester United postponed, with a current return to action scheduled to be at Arsenal in the Premier League on Saturday, April 4.
While time is needed for considered thought and discussion among the game's governing bodies, as well as governmental and health bodies at a higher level to provide advice, thoughts within the game have turned to how the season could be finished.
Here are some of the most talked about methods suggested so far, as explained further, below...
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As soon as is safe - behind closed doors if necessary
With around three quarters of the campaign already completed, would it be best to just ensure the season finishes, in the hope of returning to relative normality for 2020-21?
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The thought of behind-closed-doors games is far from palatable for supporters and games played in those settings in the Champions League last week emphasised how crucial fans are to matches as an entertainment spectacle, when huge stadiums featured two teams playing in sterile atmospheres.
Teams may also argue that it takes away their home advantage and would see the season played out an uneven playing field, metaphorically.
The Canaries provide a good example, with five home games remaining as part of their survival search, all of them against teams in the bottom half of the table, apart from 10th placed Burnley.
End it now - current positions are final
West Ham's outspoken vice-chairman Karren Brady put herself front and centre of this theory during her regular column for The Sun.
'So what if the league cannot be finished?' wrote Brady, who has worked in football for over 20 years. 'As games in both the PL and in the EFL are affected, the only fair and reasonable thing to do is declare the whole season null and void.
'Who knows who would have gone down or come up if the games have not actually been played in full?
'A huge blow to Liverpool who might be robbed of their first title in 30 years.
'This will be discussed between the PL and the clubs next week at an emergency meeting.'
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 from strong promotion positions in the Championship.
It seems a short-sighted approach that would leave football's governing bodies open to legal challenges, given the huge finances involved, but is Brady correct? Is that the only way to reach a conclusion?
Wait as long as necessary and delay next season as required
Another options 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 a brief pre-season before recommencing 2019-20 and then a short break before the swift start of the 2020-21 campaign, which would potentially have to be squeezed into a shorter period of time - particularly if the European Championship is postponed until next summer, as seems likely.
The big issues with that theory would appear to be how the transfer market would be managed and how player contracts - which traditionally run until the end of June - would be dealt with.
If clubs return to Premier League battle with changed squads, and form were to change drastically, then this could have a huge impact. Although if all clubs could agree, perhaps this could be accepted as an unavoidable consequence in the interests of moving forward in difficult circumstance.
Promote two and relegate four next season
A more radical suggestion for the top flight appears to have gained traction on social media in recent days and was given a wider platform by Brighton chief executive, Paul Barber, when he appeared on the BBC's Football Focus show on Saturday.
'If we were to freeze the league it would be incredibly unjust not to award Liverpool the title,' Barber explained. 'I think everyone in the game appreciates what a fantastic season they've had and what a wonderful team they are.
'So that for me would be very unjust - but equally it would be very unjust for teams to be relegated when there were still eight, nine or 10 games to play in the Premier League. The financial consequences for those teams would be very difficult.
'Equally it would be unjust if Leeds and West Brom were not promoted because we know how hard it is to get out of the Championship. We know how hard it is to get even to this stage of the season in the top two. It would be very cruel.
'(An expanded Premier League) is a possible option - to leave the 20 teams in the Premier League as it is - would help us and help others and the top two of the Championship would give us a larger league next season and perhaps four relegation places next season then two up again the next season to get us back to 20. It has some merit.
'Clearly there would be details and a number of issues to work out, including qualification for European places - but we are in unprecedented times. We may have to have unprecedented solutions.'
That would means play-offs being suspended in the Championship for this season and the next, with subsequent knock-on effects on promotion and relegation throughout the football pyramid.
While complicated, some fans see the method as a possibility, in a fast moving and highly complicated scenario - set against health concerns on a global scale which are still emerging.
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