Brace yourselves for a summer of football like you have never known before.
Plans are underway to restart the football season across Europe, and it will feel strange when the beautiful game does return.
These are complicated times for any business as the impact of the coronavirus is felt across the globe.
But football seems to have become particularly central to the overall narrative, as players’ salaries have come into focus and the public, quarantined in their homes, now seek escapism and hope.
In daily meetings and briefings between club and league officials, there are attempts to break down ways play can safely resume. And we are heading towards an intense period of games that will decide the winners and losers of 2019/20.
We can expect domestic leagues to be decided over a period of five to six weeks.
We should prepare ourselves for a new-look UEFA Champions League schedule, with European fixtures played almost daily and possibly games even taking place on weekends.
All games are almost certain to be played behind closed doors—for the remainder of this season and maybe even the start of next.
Let’s start by looking at the English scene and how, in our last article on this subject on March 27, we revealed how neutral venues were being considered as a way to complete the fixture programme. Those venues could host more than one match per day, and minimal matchday staff would be on call. It is a complicated idea, but ferrying the teams in and out of the stadiums and retaining core workers might be a solution.
It is tricky to find suitable locations, as hotels, kitchens and training facilities are also needed if teams are going to hole up and play up to three matches in the space of a week. But it has emerged that Wembley Stadium and St. George’s Park—England’s training HQ in Burton upon Trent, 111 miles from London—are now two prime areas being explored.
There are 92 Premier League matches remaining, and the plan is to race through them between mid-June to July 31, when the domestic season is now expected to end.
Sources told B/R that some clubs are already concerned about the impact of this on their players, who will not have played any games since the early part of March.
Clubs are expected to have players available to train from mid-May, and in theory will have around three to four weeks to get the squad back to full fitness and ready to face the most intense season run-in of their careers.
Officials in England are paying close attention to matters in other countries in Europe to study how they are dealing with the situation—and the scene in Germany is becoming particularly intriguing.
Players have been returning to training in small groups recently, and sources there told B/R that the Bundesliga is targeting a return to domestic action in the second week of May, which is likely to make it the first major league to get going again.
The objective is to get the German domestic season completed by June 30, which is ahead of other top divisions on the continent.
In France, there is a tentative target of June 17 for games to resume, while Italy is looking to return to training in May and then get Serie A running by June. Spain have set three tentative dates of May 28, June 6 and June 28.
Whenever football does return, no fans will be allowed inside stadiums, and that will be the case everywhere—at least to start.