Sunday 3 May 2020

Kicking out COVID

In these unprecedented times, like most journalists I find myself without matches to report on. The Premier League has been put on hold and the initial plans to return after only two weeks proved to be extremely optimistic and unrealistic. While players are confined to trying to keep themselves physically and mentally fit, the world is eagerly awaiting the resumption of football as we know it, or even football as we don’t know it.

The reluctancy of several high-profile players to take a pay-cut has been meet with derision by some, but receiving a full salary would benefit the tax-office and hopefully in turn the NHS and also the players, who would be free to donate to their chosen charities, whereas the only beneficiary of a pay-cut would be the respective clubs. Richer clubs would do well to help the smaller clubs to pay their staff and stay afloat as a tumbling football pyramid would also affect the team at the top.  

Regarding the Premier League and also the lower leagues, several options are being considered including annulling the 2019-20 season. This would severely damage the integrity of the game. Every ball kicked, every goal scored and all the excitement of this season would have been in vain. It would not only be unfair on Liverpool who after 30 years were finally within touching distance of winning the league, but also on other teams and individual players who were close to reaching different achievements due to their hard work. This is not only true about the Premier League but also the lower leagues.

A “points per game” solution was also suggested. This would not change the current table much but could see Arsenal leapfrog Tottenham into a Europa League place, despite Tottenham having a home match against Arsenal remaining in their fixture list. This highlights the flaw with this system. Some teams have several difficult matches to negotiate while other teams may, at least on paper, have an easier path ahead. The relegated teams would argue that they would have been capable of escaping relegation, and for this reason relegation may be scrapped with Leeds United and West Bromwich Albion promoted to the Premier League making it 22 teams which would add to the congestion and lengthening the 2020-21 season in a year that the Euros will hopefully be played.  In such a case, my two-group league system could help. I invented this several years ago, but it has not yet been necessary. Teams would be placed into two equal groups based on the previous season’s league table, with the odd-numbered teams in group A and the even-numbered teams in group B. Each group would complete their fixtures home and away, which would take half a normal season. At the end of the mini season, the top half of each group would form a group of teams battling for the tittle and places in Europe while the bottom half would be in a group fighting to avoid relegation. The number of teams would ideally be divisible by 4, but in the case of 22 teams there would be 11 teams in each group which would mean 5 matches and one team resting every week. To save time, the resting teams could play each other but their points would only be added in the final group if they end up in the same group. All other points would be carried to the final groups and the matches already played would not be repeated. With 11 teams in each initial group the top 6 from each group would go to the top group and the bottom 5 would make up the 10-team relegation group. The final stage of the season would be much shorter as many of the teams would have already played one another.

I strongly believe that when it is safe to return, the current season should be played to its conclusion with 2 matches per week allowing 5 substitutions per match, and the following season should be played possibly using the above system that would shorten the season from 38 to 28 matchdays with the current 20 teams. Depending on when football returns, if a season is to be scrapped it should be the 2020-21 season that has not yet begun.

Defeating the virus is a top priority for everyone and the various opinions as to when or how football should return only reflects lack of data available at this moment. Important decisions should not be but probably will to some extent be based on guesswork.

It may be deemed necessary to play behind closed doors. Playing a match with no supporters or watching a match on television without the sound of the fans would reduce the enjoyment of the match considerably. My invention of an artificial sound system could help. It would be placed around the stadium and generated by a computer that would be programmed to emit the appropriate noise according to the position and movement of the ball. The score would affect the volume and there would also be artificial support placed in the away section based on their expected attendance. The system could be manually manipulated if needed. It is vital that echoing in an empty stadium should be taken into account and the volume should be tested before unleashing the system onto unsuspecting ears.

Whatever decisions are made, it is paramount that we all act responsibly to kick out COVID and once again enjoy the beautiful game.