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Completing the 2019-20 season must be the Premier League's only option

Sports Mole looks at possible avenues the 2019-20 season could go down amid the coronavirus outbreak and why completing the campaign should be the only option.

The coronavirus pandemic has thrown almost every aspect of society into disarray as the world attempts to get a handle on a challenge the scale of which has rarely - if ever - been seen before.

There is no denying that sport comes a long way down the list of priorities in the grand scheme of things as nations first look to slow the health crisis while also dealing with an economic one at the same time.

However, the role sport plays in the lives of many should not be understated either; for millions of people around the world it is one of the most important things, be that dedicating their lives to a career in sport or putting everything they have into following it.

One of the biggest debates taking place in the wake of the outbreak of COVID-19 is what will happen to the 2019-20 football season, which as things stand has been suspended until further notice almost worldwide.

The Premier League announced yesterday that no matches will take place until April 30 at the earliest, and even that return date looks optimistic considering the government projections suggest that the peak of the disease will come in May and June.

Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp keeps safe from Coronavirus on March 11, 2020© Reuters

European leagues are understood to be united in their determination to have the season wrapped up by June 30, with the lingering prospect of declaring 2019-20 null and void should it drag on significantly beyond that date.

Once again, health is the most important aspect of this argument - if it is not safe to hold large gatherings then the matches may need to be played behind closed doors, and if even that is not safe then they simply cannot take place until a later date.

The health of players beyond coronavirus must also be taken into account; recent reports suggest that La Liga are considering asking teams to play every two days in order to squeeze the season in before June 30, which will significantly increase the risk of injuries, particularly after such a lengthy enforced break.

The reason why June 30 is such an important date is because that is the traditional end-of-season cut-off point when players' contracts expire, new sponsorship and TV deals come into play and it also gives the minimum required time off before the start of the following campaign.

However, in these unprecedented times we must all change our perceptions of the norm. We have become accustomed to seasons starting in August and ending in May, but that simply will not be possible this time around and a campaign which is already three-quarters complete must surely take precedent over one which has not yet begun.

Jack Grealish in action for Aston Villa on March 9, 2020© Reuters

It is for that reason why finishing the 2019-20 season must be the only option on the table for football authorities, however long it takes.

If that means starting 2020-21 later and perhaps sacrificing the cup competitions that season then so be it; it is a much fairer option to end a club's hopes of EFL Cup or FA Cup glory before the tournament has even begun than doing it at the quarter-final stage, where the FA Cup is now.

The same applies for the Premier League and EFL. Cancelling this season in order to adhere to the normal calendar next term would provoke much more anger than taking however long it takes to complete the campaign, not least for the likes of Liverpool, Sheffield United, Leeds United and West Bromwich Albion, all of whom stand on the brink of significant achievements which they have worked years for.

Nor can it be a solution to simply hand Liverpool the title, Leeds and West Brom promotion and end the season as it stands. Aston Villa in particular would be hard done by in that scenario as they currently sit in the relegation zone, two points from safety with a game in hand.

With Premier League football so lucrative now you can be sure that Villa would launch as fierce a legal battle as they could muster if they were to be relegated by default, and the argument that they should be allowed to play their game in hand would also be unsatisfactory as for a league to maintain its integrity every team needs to play the same opposition the same number of times.

Fulham manager Scott Parker pictured on February 26, 2020© Reuters

Bournemouth would be another casualty from that suggestion, and if Villa were to win their game in hand then Watford would drop into the bottom three - the Hornets would argue that they have more winnable remaining fixtures than many of the teams around them.

Another suggestion has been to expand the Premier League to a 22-team league next season, with Leeds and West Brom promoted and no-one relegated, but then those in the Championship playoff positions will be denied both a chance to break into the top two and a shot at the richest game in football.

Promotion to the top flight can shape a club's fortunes for a generation, so denying it to those still in the mix could have much longer-lasting implications than just impinging on next season.

The one thing which is clear is that there will be no easy solution to what is an incredibly complex problem - extending the current season to beyond June 30 and taking however long it takes to finish it throws up myriad problems itself.

The difference, however, is that those problems are not to do with the integrity which football has built up over more than 150 years of history, but rather to do with self-interests and admin.

UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin pictured on December 4, 2019© Reuters

The issue would have been far easier to solve 50 years ago when commercial elements and player contracts played a much smaller role in the game, and UEFA held less sway over the individual football associations.

Player contracts are likely something that will need to be solved between the agents and clubs, while in these extraordinary times we can only hope that understanding prevails over money when it comes to making decisions over the commercial difficulties which have arisen as a result of this.

TV money is, of course, a massive reason why the Premier League in particular has become widely regarded as the best league in the world, but the broadcasters would also be in favour of completing the campaign so that they do not miss out on any of the matches they have paid for, and that their subscribers paid for too.

Another stumbling block is that any agreement would need to be unanimous across Europe so that the impact on the Champions League and Europa League, and the European Championship which will now take place next summer, is limited.

However, domestic competition in this country must come before European commitments; only seven teams at most compete in the Champions League and Europa League, whereas the 92 teams in the English football pyramid would all benefit hugely from completing the league fixtures they were already down for.

Liverpool captain Jordan Henderson lifts the Champions League trophy on June 1, 2019© Reuters

If the top teams are required to sacrifice Champions League and Europa League football in order to squeeze 2020-21 into a condensed timeframe then that is a pill they should swallow in favour of safeguarding the clubs much more vulnerable to the coronavirus outbreak.

Of course, cup competitions also provide much-needed revenue for lower-league teams if they make it into the latter stages, but the lifeblood of those clubs is their matchday takings and the football authorities therefore have a duty to such clubs to ensure that all planned games do eventually go ahead.

While the coronavirus pandemic will have fans of Liverpool, Leeds and more bemoaning their luck, for many teams it poses a much more serious question of survival, and the uncertainty surrounding how long this crisis will drag on only makes things more difficult for them.

The unfortunate truth is that a lot of famous English clubs now face a battle to outlast the pandemic, and those who are not successful could face over a century of history being wiped out.

The situation remains fluid and ever-changing, but finishing the season and also guaranteeing a full league schedule next term should be the only non-negotiable when it comes to maximising clubs' chances of survival and protecting the integrity of the competitions throughout the football pyramid.

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Liverpool's Mohamed Salah celebrates scoring their third goal with Jordan Henderson and teammates on February 1, 2020
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rhs 2.0
2Manchester CityMan City28183768313757
3Leicester CityLeicester29165858283053
5Manchester UnitedMan Utd29129844301445
6Wolverhampton WanderersWolves29101364134743
7Sheffield UnitedSheff Utd28111073025543
8Tottenham HotspurSpurs29118104740741
11Crystal Palace29109102632-639
13Newcastle UnitedNewcastle2998122541-1635
15Brighton & Hove AlbionBrighton29611123240-829
16West Ham UnitedWest Ham2976163550-1527
19Aston Villa2874173456-2225
20Norwich CityNorwich2956182552-2721

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