On a day when the COVID-19 crisis had its most disruptive effect on football the European governing body called an online meeting of key stakeholders to discuss what next for its major competitions
Uefa have started to make plans to move the European Championships from this summer to 2021, ahead of a key Tuesday video conference that could determine the fate of the continental season, including the under-pressure Premier League.
On a day when the coronavirus crisis had its most disruptive effect on football – seeing the Spanish league suspended, Real Madrid quarantined and Brendan Rodgers admitting some of his Leicester City players had shown symptoms of the virus – the European governing body called an online meeting of key stakeholders to discuss what next for its major competitions.
The latest news started that “all options will be considered”, including the suspension or postponement of the Champions League and Euro 2020. The outcome of the video conference is to be crucial, as the planned start of the international tournament in Rome on 12 June is putting the football calendar under huge stress because of the lack of room to move. Any postponement would give the domestic competitions the breathing space to go on hiatus.
Several sources have it that Uefa have contacted their outside agencies and told them to prepare for a shift to Euro 2021, and many within the organisation consider that “very likely”.
One widespread expectation is that Tuesday’s conference will see that move announced, and many domestic and continental competitions thereby suspended for three weeks or so, allowing the potential for fixtures be played through the summer.
Whether the Premier League acts on that is another issue, as the competition so far continues to be almost completely guided by government advice. The current view from Number 10 is that suspending football and banning the public from stadiums is not actually that important compared to day-to-day wariness about physical contact and hygiene, and would be alarmist and potentially just cause panic.
A number of developments, however, may ensure events take on a life of their own. Aside from Leicester’s announcement that three players had shown symptoms and Arsenal’s postponement of their match against Manchester City as a precaution, Chelsea had to cancel training after a figure close to the squad complained of symptoms. That saw everyone ordered to leave their Cobham base, which was then deep cleaned.
Such situations have seen the Premier League come under “increasing pressure” to suspend after this weekend, with a growing sense that may indeed prove the case.
The English competition’s stance certainly looks all the starker compared to the number of precautions taken in other major leagues. Spain’s La Liga was on Thursday the latest to suspend altogether, as Madrid players went into quarantine due to one of the club’s basketball players testing positive. The Bernabeu hierarchy have taken the necessary precautions due to the fact all of their various sporting bodies train at the same Valdebebas complex.
That is virtually certain to see their Champions League last-16 clash with City on Tuesday suspended, along with Juventus’ return against Lyon, after Daniele Rugani on Wednesday tested positive. There has not yet been official confirmation of these postponements, but it is widely expected.
The Bundesliga will continue to play behind closed doors, but sources told the Independent that more and more players are wary of this, and that talk of a potential strike in Germany has spread on Whatsapp groups. Whether it actually happens remains to be seen, but it is another indication of the impossibility of football trying to continue as normal.
As regards Euro 2020, there is even the problem that Uefa may not be able to confirm the qualified teams in time, with the final play-offs set to start on 26 March. The Bosnian federation have already put in a request to postpone their match against Northern Ireland.