Monday, April 27, 2020

Green Shoots on Hold

Europe's leagues plan to return but governments hold the keys

The European COVID-19 standstill will not last forever and countries are eager everywhere to begin loosening the restrictions on everyday life. Football leagues, which were interrupted three-quarters of the way through, are all deep into discussing when and if they can resume play.

After UEFA's videoconference last week, a deadline to this season's domestic leagues has been pencilled-in for the 31st of July with the Champions League and Europa League to be completed in August, perhaps by single-leg ties.

However, all returns to action are subject to approval by particular national governments and the many details are yet to be worked out. Playing to empty stadia or at training grounds with free-to-air TV coverage has been suggested.

*England's Premier League is tentatively beginning to start up again.

Arsenal, Brighton and West Ham are starting to reopen their training grounds, it was reported today, but will not conduct any group practice sessions.

Arsenal's London Colney training ground in Hertfordshire is maintaining the UK government's social distancing guidelines: Five players can exercise individually at a time if they occupy separate areas. They will have to arrive and leave fully kitted as the changing rooms will remain closed and no socialising will be permitted before or after training.

Green Shoots on Hold

The UK government has not announced any relaxation of the national restrictions introduced on the 23rd of March but football's governing bodies are eyeing the 8th of June as a possible date of restarting English leagues.

*Germany's Bundesliga is hoping to restart on the 9th of May without fans, but their plan is subject to a stamp of approval from the government this week.

*La Liga in Spain is also itching to get back in action, having put forward three possible dates for resumption: The 29th of May, 7th and 28th of June, but again any reopening

depends on government say-so.

*In France, Ligue 1 clubs will resume training on the 11th of May, the day national restrictions are set to end. Players must keep a distance of four metres from their colleagues until further notice. The French league is due to return on the 17th of June and conclude by the 2nd of August.

*In Italy, Serie A clubs will begin individual training on the 4th of May, the day Italy's parks will reopen, with group sessions resuming on the 18th.

The Italian football association, the FIGC, has already put back the end of the season until the 2nd of August, with a tentative plan for games to resume in June, depending on government permission. There are 12 remaining league dates in the top flight as well as the Coppa Italia semi-finals to conclude.

*In what may be a case of things to come, Holland has jumped first. The Dutch football association has given up the ghost and abandoned the league season for the top two divisions. Clubs will start again in the autumn in the same division they were this year.

The KNVB felt compelled to take the nuclear option following the Hague government's decision to ban all public events in the Netherlands until the 1st of September.

"Unfortunately with the cabinet's most recent Coronavirus measures, it has become impossible to play out the 2019/2020 season," their press release said.

"It was a very bitter day," said Just Spee, KNVB President. "We feel sad....we sympathise a lot...At the same time there was no way around it."

Ajax led AZ Alkmaar on goal difference with nine games to play. AZ were hoping for their first title since their 2009 win under Louis Van Gaal. At the other end, relegation certs Waalwijk and Den Haag have won a reprieve.

Cambuur, 11 points clear of the race for promotion from the second tier, will have to try again next season.

Next season's UEFA competitions will take Ajax and AZ into the Champions League and  Feyenoord, PSV and Willem II, 3rd, 4th, and 5th respectively, into the Europa League.

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile

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