By Aaron Deering
The Premier League was suspended on the 13th of March 2020, after Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta tested positive for COVID-19 or Coronavirus. The initial suspension of the league was to last until the 4th of April, but the Premier League has recently revised this position and suspended the league until at least the 30th of April. The English FA has also taken the decision that the current season can be “extended indefinitely”. With the increase in number of cases of coronavirus across the UK and amongst players, where does the Premier League go from here?
West Ham’s vice-chairperson Karen Brady sparked controversy when she suggested that the current Premier League season should be declared “null and void” if it can’t be finished. Naturally, this evoked an angry reaction from Liverpool fans, who have waited 30 years for a Premier League title. Liverpool were only 6 points from claiming the title they’ve craved for so long when the Premier League announced the suspension. There were then calls that if the league couldn’t be finished, then the title should be handed to Liverpool because they deserved it and were the clear winners. This idea was completely fairytale stuff, as, sadly, that’s not how the real-world works. Yes, Liverpool deserved the title on merit, but if you hand them the title without finishing the season, it leaves the door open to an avalanche of legal problems. How do you decide who gets relegated? Who gets the Champions League and Europa League places? You would think the simple answer to these questions is whichever clubs are in these positions on the league table when the league was suspended, but it’s not. There’s only 7 points between Chelsea in 4th and Tottenham in 8th and only 8 points separating the bottom 6 teams. There are numerous clubs that can rightly claim that they could’ve improved their league position with the remaining 9 games. There is serious money involved when it comes to both the top 4 places and the positions just above the relegation zone, so clubs will fight to the bitter end to make sure the season will continue at some point.
I think the only solution to the problem is that the season must be finished at some stage, even if this means finishing the season in July. The recent decision by the English FA to extend the season indefinitely was an important step, as it allows great flexibility for the season to be completed over the summer. Euro 2020 was postponed and moved to the summer of 2021, so that has also paved the way for the Premier League to be finished during the summer. There’s suggestions that they could resume the season in May or June by playing the games behind closed doors, but I think this move would be unwise since the peak of the coronavirus isn’t expected until May or June so it would put the players and staff at risk again. It’s better to wait until July or August when hopefully this pandemic will be over.
One of Gary Neville’s suggestions is that there is a festival of football to solve the Premier League crisis. Speaking on Sky Sports’ The Debate, Neville stated, “If football players need to play every day for nine days to finish the Premier League as a worst-case scenario, they would do it because they’d get their heads around it and make it a festival of football. Doing a festival of football where the league is finished in two weeks, the Champions League gets finished in a week and the FA Cup is finished in four days could be something quite special”. As much as I respect Gary Neville, I don’t think this idea is practical. Even if the end of the season is moved to July or August, we must be careful that players don’t suffer from burnout, especially since next season will run straight into Euro 2021. Next season will have to be planned very carefully and may have to start at a later date than usual, depending when this current season is finished, to avoid players burning out. We could see competitions such as the EFL cup scrapped to ease the pressure on the fixture schedule. One thing that is certain, though, is that this current Premier League season has to be finished at some stage in order to avoid a fallout amongst fans, clubs and competition rules.