A return to football in Europe could be moving into clearer view as countries show signs of recovery from the coronavirus at different rates, with Germany appearing at the head of the pack.
Uncertainty still reigns across the continent as national organisations respond to the severity of the pandemic in their respective countries, and we examine the latest reports on a potential comeback.
Bundesliga: Returned May 16
Germany looks likely to reap the benefits from putting into place a clear and responsible lockdown protocol early on, with a potential return of May 9 tabled by several politicians.
Bild referred to comments made by Markus Soder and Armin Laschet—Prime Ministers of Bavaria and North Rhine-Westphalia, respectively—who said that date should be realistic (via Roger Gonzalez of CBS Sports):
"The prerequisite is that there is a well thought-out concept. What the DFL has presented these days shows that protective measures are in place. I could imagine that we can go back to the state of the games with no fans,” said Laschet.
It was stressed these games should take place behind closed doors. Defending champions Bayern Munich lead Borussia Dortmund by four points, and 16 of the 18 teams have nine games remaining (Eintracht Frankfurt and Werder Bremen have 10 still to play).
Commentator Derek Rae empathised with lower-league clubs who don’t have as much to gain from a restart:
A meeting of the DFL (Germany’s Football League) was rescheduled for Thursday, April 23, after which the immediate future of the Bundesliga could become clearer.
La Liga: Early June
Spain is the second worst-affected country in Europe after seeing almost 22,000 coronavirus-related deaths, per the Center for Systems Science and Engineering (CSSE) at Johns Hopkins University.
Progress was made in regards to a return date after AS reported on Monday that the three sports bodies—La Liga, the National Sports Council (CSD) and the Royal Spanish Football Federation (RFEF)—agreed teams can return to training as long as they follow specific protocols.
A hopeful return date of early June has been mooted in the country, and the report suggested La Liga could still be on course to be back around then.
English Premier League: Late June
It’s been widely reported the Premier League has the most to lose in the event the 2019-20 season is cancelled; the sacrifice of broadcast and sponsorship revenue means clubs could miss out on £1.137 billion in that event, wrote Sam Wallace and James Ducker of the Telegraph.
European football’s governing body, UEFA, said in statement on Wednesday that there was a “strong recommendation given to finish domestic top division and cup competitions.” It was also suggested exceptions could be made in the event a domestic league has to be cancelled.
Reports indicated in late March that a ‘World Cup-style’ format could be one viable route to finish the campaign in quarantined locations. That would see all 92 remaining Premier League fixtures televised, and it’s since been put forth that many of those games could be free to air:
Tashan Deniran-Alleyne of Football.London speculated on recent reports the Champions League spots could be decided on current UEFA coefficient if the season is voided. That would see Arsenal—currently ninth in the table—controversially regain their spot in the continent’s top competition at the expense of Chelsea, Leicester City and Tottenham Hotspur.
The United Kingdom reported a 24-hour jump in coronavirus-related deaths of 759 on Wednesday (April 22), per ITV News. That brings the overall death toll to 18,100, although a Financial Times study released on Tuesday (April 21) suggested the actual number could be around 41,000.
If true, that would make the UK the worst-affected European country by a margin of more than 15,000 deaths—and the Premier League return a much lower priority as a result.
Serie A: Mid June
Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said it was a “reasonable forecast” to expect the country to begin easing its lockdown measures as of May 4, per Bloomberg’s Tommaso Ebhardt.
The nation was the worst-affected in the world until COVID-19 hit the United States in earnest, though the death total of a little more than 25,000 remains the highest in Europe.
Italy’s sports minister, Vincenzo Spadafora, told reporters on April 17 he hoped May 4 will also be the date Serie A clubs are allowed to return to training, with rumours games could then pick back up at the end of May or beginning of June.
There has been a unified belief that the 2019-20 season should be finished, and two-time Italy manager Marcello Lippi has remained adamant about completing the campaign by normal means:
Champions League/Europa League: To Be Determined
UEFA has been wary of heeding specific deadlines by which the Champions League or Europa League could resume and finish by, and details remain hazy on the subject.
It appears the focus will remain on completing domestic seasons in as sensible a manner as possible, though a meeting of UEFA’s Executive Committee on Thursday should provide further details.
Ligue 1: Season Suspended
Ligue 1 was one of the few major European divisions with a specific (but tentative) return date in mind. The Ligue de Football Professionnel (LFP) had released a statement confirming it hoped to resume competition on June 17 and finish the 2019-20 campaign by July 25 (via Goal’s James Westwood):
"The bureau of the board of directors unanimously voted on April 10 for] the resumption of the Ligue 1 and Ligue 2 championships to finish by July 25, and a commencement on August 22 and 23, 2020 of the 2020/2021 season. This provides for a restart of the 2019/2020 season on June 17, 2020.
"The LFP is now awaiting the deconfinement procedures that the government will announce at the end of April, and in particular the conditions under which the matches could be played behind closed doors.”
However, French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe has ruled that Ligue Un will not return until September:
"The 2019-2020 professional sports leagues, notably football, cannot yet restart. I would like to be precise here, no large sports gathering or any gathering of 5,000 people or more, needing the permission of the local police and long prior arrangements, will be allowed before September.”
This comes after La Repubblica (via French football writer Rich Allen) reported the table could end as is and European qualification is decided via UEFA coefficient: