Serie A Prepares To Restart After Pandemic, But Not Without Concerns

We are living in dark times and on unfamiliar territory. With the current epidemic, COVID 19 has taken away the thing we love most, football. In doing so, it has stopped some really enticing title races throughout Europe from reaching their conclusions especially in Italy.  Before the shutdown, Juventus and Lazio were only separated by only one point having both played 26 times. Juventus haven’t really been the same as maybe previous seasons but the stardom of Paulo Dybala has made the difference for the league champions. Meanwhile against all the odds Lazio have found themselves in title race for the first time in decades.

Dybala has been in incredible form but will he and Juventus get to finish the season? (Image from Tumblr)

Dybala has been in incredible form but will he and Juventus get to finish the season? (Image from Tumblr)

Beyond that title race, the Champions League race is really tight with Inter Milan, Roma, Atalanta and to a degree Napoli fighting for the final two Champions League spots. This has been one of the best years of Italian football in recent memory. The coronavirus has put a stop to all that and we’ve have been waiting months for the league to resume and for the final places to be settled. Who will win the league? Will Lazio manage to dethrone Juventus after seven years on top? Or will the brilliance of Paulo Dybala be enough to earn yet another title for Juventus.  Or will Inter upset everything by clawing their way back into title contention?

We have been sitting on these hypothetical questions for the last two months while the coronavirus has hit hard throughout Europe as well as the United States and beyond. It has left fans waiting for the day matches can resume and we can feel ‘that’ feeling again. That day however appears to be coming it has been announced that Serie A is looking at June 13th as the date to reopen Italian football. It will follow the German Bundesliga which restarted earlier this month much to the delight of its fans. It certainly is the right move but that doesn’t necessarily mean it comes without risk. Even without fans there was going to be a risk that someone can still catch the virus. The risk is obviously something that the Federation needs to take seriously and appears to be. Clubs are obviously conflicted about the league restarting. This decision will benefit some teams and it will deeply upset others. However we must find a way for the league to return it has to come back eventually. If the league is not restarted then the alternative is that its cancelled and will be deemed a lost season. The safety of the players is incredibly important but canceling the league or suspending it until next season just doesn’t sound like a productive way of handling this situation and wont resolve the unknown questions that only come from the league being up and running. This is the tightest title race we’ve seen the last couple years  so throwing away the season will frustrate more than just the fans.

Preparations are being made to make it safe for the league to restart (Image from Tumblr)

Preparations are being made to make it safe for the league to restart (Image from Tumblr)

This year Lazio made a massive step forward after finishing 8th last season. They without doubt have been the biggest story of the season. They didn’t add all that much and still have drastically improved since last year. It’s hard to say what the future will hold for this team because this might be the only chance for Lazio to win the title in the next 20 years. Stripping them of that warranted chance would be a travesty regardless of how much Lazio winning would hurt me they deserve to see how the story ends this season; it would be would be cruel to the sport itself. Equally though the safety to the players has to be taking into consideration and made a priority. If there’s a way that the league can continue this season and conserve their safety they must find a way to make that happen; cancelling the season just isn’t an option.

The matches will probably have to be played without any fans for at least a year. Unfortunately the impact of the coronavirus is going to change sporting events for at least the next two seasons at the very minimum which will be sad because of the value that fans bring in football. They are why we play the game especially; during derbies it hard to fathom them without fans. We will eventually get to go to games again and see our teams score goals and win big matches but in this time we are living in that seems to be far from where we are now. The impact of this virus will take some of the passion and emotion from the game unfortunately but there’s no way around this. All the leagues need to prevent stuff like this happening again; safety has to be the number one priority. Which means for at least a year the Milan Derby, the Roman Derby, the Derby del Mole and others will have to play without fans in attendance setting a heartbreaking precedent. Sadly we’re just going to have to abide by these rules. One day football will be more or less back where it was a few months ago before all this stuff happened but that day unfortunately is not today.

Serie A will play its games with no fans in the stadium likely for the foreseeable future (image from Tumblr)

Serie A will play its games with no fans in the stadium likely for the foreseeable future (image from Tumblr)

The fall out of the virus long term is not only going to impact the fan support but it could impact the seasons of many teams in the league’s top flight.  Essentially when the year kicks off again it will be a fresh start or a new season. Teams like Inter Milan and Roma will greatly benefit from this because both teams have really struggled as of late. Inter seemed to bow out of the title race with a second loss to Juventus that has damaged their bid for a league title. Meanwhile Roma had won two in a row but prior to that lost three on the bounce. Neither have been experiencing their best moments of late. It will allow them to reset and chase down the Champions League spots. Juventus is a team I just feel will always figure it out and maybe in some way they’re going to benefit from the struggles the other teams may endure because of the virus. Juventus may not be the best team but they may end up winning the title despite that. Lazio and Atalanta will be the most affected. Before the break Lazio were unbeaten in their last 21 and Atalanta were in incredible form. They could suffer which will give an opportunity for Inter Milan to reset and find a way to fight back in the title race. The right decision is clearly opening the league up with safety precautions. If there is a way for them to play out the rest of the season they should exercise this option. If safety is at stake for the players and then they have no choice but to cancel it but as long as they can provide safety to the players the team and the league June 13th should go forward the open up the gates to Italian football.

Post by Eliot Ben-Ner, writer for the EverythingRoma blog.

Follow him on Twitter and Instagram now.

Talking Heads – Discussing the impact of the COVID 19 pandemic on football

With the world crippled by the COVID 19 pandemic, global football has come to a grinding halt as countries focus on trying to contain the disease. To date, 39,000 people have lost their lives and just over 800,000 have been affected by the virus; with those numbers unfortunately growing by the day. The hope is that with government driven measures being introduced at a country by country level, the spread of the disease can be slowed enough to give the health care workers on the front line enough time to support those who are currently sick and the medical community time to find a viable treatment.

Like most industries, the football world is feeling the effects of the global shutdown. Clubs who have stopped operating for now have had to make drastic cuts to stay afloat with many laying off ground and administrative staff in the process. At some of the larger clubs like Bayern Munich, Juventus and Barcelona, players have accepted temporary pay cuts in an attempt to help the club staff not on the pitch. But for other players who play in the lower divisions and operate on a pay check to pay check basis, its a more worrisome time with a very uncertain future ahead of them.

Former Scotland internationals Steven Caldwell, Rhys McCabe and Maurice Ross answered our questions on the pandemic and its effects on football

Former Scotland internationals Steven Caldwell, Maurice Ross and Rhys McCabe answered our questions on the pandemic and its effects on football

To get a better sense of how the situation is affecting the football world, we spoke to Steven Caldwell, Maurice Ross and Rhys McCabe. Caldwell is a former Scotland international defender who is the president of League1 Ontario club Oakville Blue Devils FC, as well as an assistant coach of the Canadian national team. Fellow internationalist Ross is working as first team coach at Motherwell in Scotland whilst former Rangers, Sheffield Wednesday and Scotland Under 21 midfielder Rhys McCabe currently plays for Brechin City in the Scottish League Two. We spoke to them about the current situation, how it’s affecting football and what the future holds.

BOTN: Let’s go to Rhys first. Tell is about the current situation regarding your existing contract and what the league suspension means for you.

McCabe: My current situation is that my short term contract is meant to finish at the end of May, start of June. But I can’t think about that for now. The (league) suspension I feel is right as 100% of the focus must be on the health and wellbeing of everyone. Until we get this pandemic under control, nothing else matters.

There are a lot of uncertainties at the moment. Are they finishing this season? Will delays mean more games and more into next season? Will there be a new league structure?. There are lots of components which will play a role. Already its been three weeks without sport and people are in a pickle with what to do. Sport is a huge part of our society and without that people feel lost.

BOTN: Maurice, as first team coach at SPL side Motherwell, how are you feeling about the current situation and the suspension of the league?

Ross: Like all football people we like to be outdoors and competing. This of course is not the case due to the virus. I’m so bored. Plenty long walks and lying in bed a bit longer is no substitute for getting up and going to work! I miss that so much! Planning sessions, correcting movements of players and just that feeling of achieving something each day. Sooner this is resolved the better.

BOTN: Is the club concerned about the uncertainty of the suspension and the financial implications?

Ross: The club are doing all the planning possible to forecast what the future looks like depending on when/if we get back to playing. We are lucky we are in a relatively good position financially just now but we know there will be challenges ahead, so we will rely on our fans to help us through joining the Well Society or buying season tickets soon.

What will be the financial implications of the COVID 19 pandemic?

What will be the financial implications of the COVID 19 pandemic?

BOTN: Steven, there are still a lot of unknowns in terms of what will happen to the existing league and cup campaigns in the various different countries. How would you resolve the league situations?

Caldwell: The leagues have to be finished in my opinion. There is no way you can start a new season until the previous one has been concluded. The knock on affect might be a modified 2020/21 season but it’s my belief the previous one has to be brought to a conclusion whenever that may be.

Ross: From our (Motherwell) prospective, we will follow the advice and decisions of government and football authorities. Obviously we are third and in a European position so we would want the season to be played to a completion if there was any way at all possible, but we will accept whatever people say because this is bigger than football – it’s people’s health!

BOTN: What impact do you think this enforced break will have on the players mentally and physically? If the league is to restart at a point in the future, will players be able to pick up from where they left off with ease?

Caldwell: I don’t think they will be able to pick up with ease. There is no doubt it will have an affect. Normally at this time of the season teams are in their peak and rhythm is at its optimal point. I think it may have a pre season feel when it resumes. The players will be affected mentally and physically however I don’t see this being a great problem when the season continues.

McCabe: This pandemic is and will have a huge impact on players as its almost like an off season schedule. To then come back into things fully committed and ready when your body on a normal basis would have a 5 week period to do a pre season and prepare for the demands of a season. The risk of injury will be higher and no matter how much you train and keep fit during this time there is nothing that compares to match sharpness. Nothing in a training format can replicate this . That’s just a fact.

On the mental side, I feel it will have an impact on players but not just players; society as a whole. For over 30+ years there has been a culture of “football Saturday” where people look forward to and live for the weekend of football, wherever that may be home or away or a simple match on the tv. It’s become more social every season with the media and Sky broadcasting live matches.

This all has a knock on effect as people will be lost with nothing to do or look forward to. Trying to fill that void will be very hard but the priority 100% is the health and safety and trying to get this under control.

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Footballer like Lionel Messi and Marcelo have been keeping themselves busy in home isolation by juggling toilet rolls

BOTN: The financial implications of this pandemic will be felt throughout all levels of football with several reports suggesting clubs could go bust as a result. Do you think this will happen or is it up to FIFA or local governing bodies to stop this?

Caldwell: There is an enormous money in the game of football. Now it’s up to those that have to provide that assistance to make sure all forms of the game are protected. I sincerely hope that this happens and this unprecedented crisis creates an understanding of what truly makes this game beautiful.

BOTN: Let’s focus on the players for a moment. There will be a lot of players who are looking towards this summer with much trepidation due to the need to move clubs or indeed find a new one if their contracts run out. Do you anticipate that players will be expected to make personal sacrifices as football gets back on its feet following this pandemic?

Caldwell: Yes I think players will make personal sacrifices. They will have to. The intricacies and knock on effect of this is wide reaching and it will certainly have an impact on those who are becoming a free agent in the summer. It’s hard to tell at this moment however I think it will have a detrimental impact financially for such players.

BOTN: Rhys, your contract is up at the end of the season. How concerned are you about this summer when your contract concludes especially as it’s still unknown when the football season will resume?

McCabe: Concerned may be the word for a lot of people out of contract with Bill’s to pay and no job to do so, but for me it’s more about the love for it and when it will actually commence and what exactly the structure and format is going to be?

ContractLaw

With many players out of contract, the fast approaching summer brings further uncertainty.

BOTN: Has your club (Brechin City) been one touch with you about renewing your contract or given you any reassurances?

McCabe: With what’s going on, it hasn’t been spoken about as I would imagine the list of to dos at the club are through the roof. I’m only contracted until the end of May regardless so I will see what my options are then.

BOTN: Maurice, Are Motherwell making contingency plans for the various different scenarios and what will happen to players and staff out of contract in the summer?

Ross: I can’t comment on the final question as I am not privy to the ins and outs of all contracts. However this football club always behaves in an ethical and professional manner so I’m sure whatever happens Motherwell will act accordingly.

BOTN: There is clearly a lot of unknowns about what will happen and what decisions will come as a result. This leads us to the question around communications. Let’s start with you Rhys. Have you had any communications from the PFA Scotland about what’s happening long term?

McCabe: The PFA Scotland have been updating the players on a regular basis with knowledge, advice, help and updates they hear through the governing body. Again it’s hard at the moment because there is no definite answer on how to treat this and until the government have a plan in place we have to wait. But they have been great with regular updates and support.

BOTN: Finally Steven do you think FIFA and UEFA have been vocal enough during this pandemic or do you think they are leaving the decisions primarily to the local federations?

Caldwell: I think there is so much uncertainty that Uefa and FIFA don’t know what to say at the moment. I think they are concerned about giving definitive details and then having to go back on them. By mid to late April we will have a better understanding of how long this realistically is going to take and that’s when both organizations have to step up and be decisive with their actions.

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