The Eredivisie became the biggest league to suggest cancellations of their season yesterday after the government extended a ban on major events until September. The KNVB said they “intend not to continue” the Eredivisie season, but what would that mean for the rest of Europe.
As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to stop all major football leagues, the window to complete current seasons without major disruption to next season is rapidly closing. While Sean Dyche told BBC News yesterday that he doesn’t see the need for a full preseason schedule to get going again, it’s likely the players would need some kind of lead time.
As Dyche suggested this could simply be a three-week lead-in where teams play games in-house just to get up the match fitness. This could dovetail well with a government-backed lifting of restrictions on movements and small gatherings which would likely be a phased return.
Eredivisie decision would be game-changer
However, with the Dutch making this move it greatly increases the likelihood of other leagues following suit. The Eredivisie season sits on a knife-edge at the moment with Ajax and AZ Alkmaar tied on points and last seasons Champions League semi-finalists ahead on goal difference.
UEFA now faces the prospect of European leagues being out of sync with each other. Assuming some kind of resumption is not possible until September, the Eredivisie would move on to their 2020/21 season, while the Premier League, La Liga, Bundesliga, Serie A, Ligue 1, etc. would still be four to six weeks from completing their 2019/20 seasons.
The logistics of finishing the season, producing fixtures for the upcoming season, having some kind of preseason and/or transfer window are major issues that would have to be resolved, likely leaving the new season to start sometime in late-October or early-November at best.
It seems utter hubris to see that happening, especially given the European Championships scheduled for June 2021.
Clearly everyone would prefer to finish their domestic leagues. Even as they made this announcement about the Eredivisie the KNVB said: “The KNVB has not yet definitively canceled competitions because of financial difficulties in the football industry due to the corona crisis.”
Two of the key issues facing teams is the cost of playing games behind closed doors, and how to prevent fans from gathering outside grounds during games. Whilst clubs are already haemorrhaging money, the cost of putting games on with no matchday revenue could drive many clubs into bankruptcy.
Clubs are going out of business
The Scottish Sun reported on the costs of playing the remaining games behind closed doors yesterday: “The average Championship club will lose £2.6m, while League One and Two sides stand to lose £975,000 and £510,000 respectively.”
Those amounts of money would be far too much for some teams to bear. The overall loss for Premier League clubs is being estimated at £1 Billion. That is an astonishing figure.
Whether this leads to clubs being more creative and creating a new digital delivery system for season ticket holders has been mooted, but again that will add more costs to smaller clubs who simply can not afford it.
Whilst no-one wants to void the 2019/20 seasons, this has become a much more likely scenario with this announcement, and it came mere hours after UEFA softened their stance on leagues being able to cancel their seasons.
Having previously stated that leagues should definitely be completed, UEFA said on Tuesday that leagues could be canceled “in special cases”. While not the favorable outcome, as the pandemic continues to rumble on it becomes harder and harder to see the leagues being completed.
Whilst the Eredivisie may only be the 6th biggest league in Europe, this decision could be a major turning point in the battle over whether to complete seasons or abandon them. KNVB have yet to make a final decision or announce what they will do with the 2019/20 results if they do abandon the season.
At this point, it seems crass in the extreme to be talking about something as trivial as saving a season while thousands of people are dying every day. This pandemic is not going away any time soon, and it’s hard to see football, or life in general, going back to normal until we have a vaccine.
But in footballing terms, this is a monumental decision and feels like it will have major ramifications regardless of whether teams finish out the 2019/20 season or abandon it.
The clock is ticking on the 2019/20 season, and the KNVB have just accelerated it.