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Premier League draws up plans for isolation football ahead of next UEFA meeting

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Latest coronavirus-related developments

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Coronavirus Pandemic In London Photo by David Cliff/NurPhoto via Getty Images

If you’re like me, and you’ve stopped reading or watching or listening to the news after burning out on all the coronavirus updates — self-isolation is a little easier if you’re not also constantly hammering yourself against the wall-to-wall pandemic coverage everywhere — here are some of the latest related developments in football.

UEFA’s next big meeting is set for this week Wednesday, two weeks after the initial summit and the creation of the various working groups for contingency planning. Feels like a lifetime ago! While obviously nobody knows what will happen, UEFA could decide to already further delay its competitions (and hopefully nothing more drastic at this time). Over the weekend, a potential two-month extension to the 2019-20 season was rumored.

“UEFA has invited the General Secretaries of its 55 members associations to a videoconference on Wednesday 1 April at midday to share an update on the progress made by the two working groups that were created two weeks ago and to discuss options identified with regards to the potential rescheduling of matches.

”The meeting will look at developments across all UEFA national team and club competitions, as well as discussing progress at FIFA and European level on matters such as player contracts and the transfer system.”

-UEFA statement; source: Mirror

As far as what progress the Premier League may report, it will likely include some form of “isolation football” (my terms), or as the Independent put it, a “World Cup-style” tournament.

Basically, this is the logical development of the idea floated recently regarding closed-doors games in a tournament setting to finish out the 2019-20 season, somewhere in the Midlands, but definitely not a moon base or an aircraft carrier as someone on Reddit suggested.

There are 92 games left, and if all teams and support staff remain isolated (and disease free), we could theoretically squeeze them into a two-month period of practically endless televised matches (could be fun!), likely in June-July timeframe — depending on the progress of the pandemic, the flattening of the curve, the state of the country and the economy and the mood in general.

It’s probably the most reasonable solution available to us at the moment, one that satisfies the most sporting, financial, contractual, and legal obligations involved. There is no solution that satisfies all those concerns, but this one is perhaps the least painful.

Simply canceling the competitions at the three-quarters mark remains unfeasible at the slightest closer examination. It may be the “moral” choice, but it’s the least practical and probably the least feasible. Even at the lowest levels where little to no money exists in football, it’s not as easy as we may think.

The FA’s recent decision to annul the season for steps 3 and lower of the non-league football pyramid has come under fire, even, with many clubs taking exception to the drastic measures enacted so soon and without proper consultation or discussions. Can The FA un-cancel a season? Would they want to? Wonder how many of the several hundred non-league clubs in existence (at least before the outbreak) will end up signing this open letter?

Lastly, as much as it may seem incongruous to keep talking about football in the current state of the world, there are real-world ramifications of this work stoppage. We shouldn’t forget that for those involved, this is (mostly) work, that the top level of the game is a massive driver of economy not just entertainment, and all business have to plan for our post-corona future.

Even the likes of Barcelona (players, etc) are taking paycuts — though they (the club) managed to bungle that process royally. Newcastle United meanwhile have become the first Premier League club to put staff on furlough (so they can get help from the government rather than Mike Ashley, their club owner and employer), while at least one top tier professional team in Europe have declared bankruptcy — and they’re from my home country!

Slovakia’s MŠK Žilina will officially begin liquidation proceedings on April 1st (not a joke), although it’s not nearly as simple as the club running out of money. Like many around Europe (including the above-mentioned Barcelona), they had mandated paycuts from their squad — 80 per cent in this case — which the players didn’t agree to and wanted to negotiate with the help of the player’s union. The owner didn’t like this one bit, so he sacked them all (15 so far unnamed players to be exact) by declaring the club bankrupt. Since bankruptcy proceedings could take up to two years, especially these days, the club will actually continue to exist until then, and maybe even play in the top division with youth players. It’s a mess.

And now back to your happier quarantine distractions of Netflix, or puzzles, or Hearthstone, or supporting your local breweries.