Thursday, March 26, 2020

China Begins the Recovery

Football is temporarily paralyzed but not mortally wounded 

As FIFA explores extending contracts and the summer transfer window until January 2021 as the first steps at hauling world soccer out of the Coronavirus crisis, Asian leagues are showing some green shoots of recovery.

Chinese Super League teams have started training again after three months off, as the country gingerly takes the road out of the COVID-19 crisis.

China Begins the Recovery

China has dropped to third in the league table of total deaths from the flu pandemic and 18th in the daily new deaths toll.

The league has targeted mid-April for a return to action.

Meanwhile in Japan, 18th in the world list with only two deaths yesterday, the return of the J-League has been postponed from the 3rd of April until the 9th of May.

With no imminent return to action in Europe, all over the continent clubs and associations are seeking answers from governing bodies as to what will happen to this season and their jobs and businesses going forward.

For instance, in a video-conference today, Italian football's leaders pleaded with their government for help in keeping their nation's passion alive in terms of deferred payments and financial bailouts.

Given the timescale of the global pandemic, if Chinese clubs can resume in mid-April, then UEFA leagues should be back some time in June, but amid all the quarantines and overrun health systems, a return to football is frankly far from most people's minds this week.

England's lower leagues, from tier seven downward, today agreed to write off this season and begun again this autumn.

With May marking the traditional end of the national season anyway and the COVID-19 peak set to hit in the next couple of weeks, it looks increasingly likely that the upper echelons of the pyramid will have to do the same.

In the Championship, Birmingham City players have taken a 50% wage cut for four months while Leeds United's staff have agreed to a wage deferral.

Leeds, on the brink of a historic return to the top flight under legendary coach Marcelo Bielsa, could see their dream smashed, unless an agreement is reached to honour the current standings.

As regards the top flight, does this mean Liverpool will be awarded the title, their historic first since 1990? If it is it will not be begrudged as the Reds are all but over the line, but the sense of an incomplete triumph will remain.

Sooner or later difficult decisions must be reached. The players union the PFA has called for an urgent meeting with the Premier League and Championship as their members fear losing salary or jobs.

With an Italian-style peak in Coronavirus cases expected within a couple of weeks in Britain, do not hold your breath for a positive announcement on the football front.

For now, the 30th of April remains the return date for English leagues.

Ditto in Spain, but the Spanish Football Association president Luis Robiales said this week a quick return is not on the cards:

"We think it is practically impossible to resume competitions at the beginning of May."

The RFEF have secured half a billion Euros in loans to keep clubs alive but the future remains very vague with Spain having leapfrogged China for COVID-19 deaths this week.

World football is a wounded animal, unable to move but waiting for the paralysis to ease so it can get up again and run.

At least China, where it all began, is now daring to hope.

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile

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