With uncertainty reigning and national football associations making their own judgement call on the 2019-20 campaign, UEFA chiefs convened on Thursday to set the record straight.
Chaired by president Aleksander Ceferin, European football’s governing body determined that leagues will not be banned from the Champions League or Europa League if they make a call to cancel their seasons – but final seedings must be ‘based on sporting merit’ if games are not able to be played out as normal.
Coronavirus has spread rapidly across the globe, shutting down European football with titles, Champions League and relegation spots still to be decided with every league still incomplete following the March lockdown.
Premier League action has been suspended for weeks due to the scale of the coronavirus crisis
Club Brugge have already been crowned Belgian champions after the season was cancelled
UEFA President Aleksander Ceferin held a videoconference on Thursday to lay out guidelines
What the new guidelines have done is explain to member countries that in exceptional circumstances, no punishment will lay at the door if seasons are cancelled with games still remaining.
In a statement UEFA said: ‘The ideal scenario, should the pandemic situation permit it, is to have the currently suspended domestic competitions completed … in their original format.
‘Should this outcome not be possible, it would be preferable that suspended domestic competitions would restart with a different format in a manner which would still facilitate clubs to qualify on sporting merit.’
The statement went on to add that, if means do not permit a return, termination is a viable option provided two key rules are met.
It read: ‘While using best efforts to complete the domestic competitions, national associations and/or leagues might have legitimate reasons to prematurely terminate their domestic competitions.’
It marks a shift in tone from UEFA, even if their main recommendation is to finish the season as normal or, alternatively, in a different format that could see one-off play-off games used to determined vital league positions.
And so with Belgium, Holland and Scotland appearing ready to get their 2019-20 cancellations ratified, progress is being made in finding resolutions after more than a month of uncertainty.
Sportsmail looks at top-flight leagues across Europe, their current status, and how they have adapted to UEFA’s new guidelines on Thursday.
Premier League – England
Status: PLAN TO RETURN JUNE 8
One of the first things to make clear is that the Premier League is determined to return to action and see out the campaign.
Hours after UEFA’s meeting, it was reported that the Premier League ‘would reject’ any plans to use play-offs as a way to determine key league positions.
As Sportsmail revealed last week, the plan appears to be for teams to return to training by the end of May, with a date of June 8 tentatively pencilled in to return to action, but that remains, as it does for many countries, flexible.
What UEFA’s meeting on Thursday has done has lay out clearly what and when teams have to finish games and the deadline of August 2 is clear for all concerned now.
While there is a desire to make a return to action, even with games behind closed doors and broadcast on TV for supporters, another proposal that has been offered up is for leagues to make a decision based on points-per-game ratio.
It is claimed that is the preferred approach of Premier League executives and they are willing to go against UEFA if they must if it transpires the season cannot reach a conclusion in time.
There remains plenty to play for with Chelsea and Manchester United fighting for the top four
Here’s how the Premier League table would look based on points won per game played
The points-per-game method would secure a Champions League spot next season for the Premier League’s current top four of Liverpool, Manchester City, Leicester and Chelsea.
Manchester United and Sheffield United would take the Europa League places, while Arsenal and Tottenham would miss out on European football entirely if the current Premier League season is unable to be completed.
The UK government recently extended lockdown measures to May 11 and with a need for players to return to training before matches could resume, an immediate return would appear some way off.
Another health factor to consider is the safety of players, even behind closed doors, and Premier League doctors are set to present a dossier to club officials for consideration at the next shareholders’ meeting a week on Friday.
Recommendations being put forward include:
- To stagger medical tests for around four days prior to a return to training and regular testing for at least seven days after the resumption.
- Asking players to arrive to sessions in their training gear and, to ensure social distancing, no use of communal showers.
- For the opening days, players to be divided into small groups, with each allocated a time slot to arrive at the training ground.
- To close, for a period, all cafeterias, with players asked to eat on their own away from team-mates.
- Medical staff and physios to wear protective gear when in direct contact with players.
Liverpool’s wait for their first title in 30 years has been halted with stadiums in lockdown
In England, June 8 has been mooted as the pencilled-in return date for the top flight provided the government and health professionals deem it safe to do so, which would allow plenty of time to conclude prior to UEFA’s August deadline.
The Premier League has been looking at staging games in hubs – using one venue for several fixtures to reduce the risk of spreading the virus.
While there are still concerns held by clubs over forcing an end to the season – with some worried about the number of obstacles to overcome in order to get matches played behind closed doors – there is a determination to ensure the season takes its natural course.
LaLiga – Spain
Status: PLAN TO RETURN ON MAY 28
LaLiga president Javier Tebas recently estimated that clubs could lose €1billion (£874m) if the current campaign is cancelled – and so UEFA were always likely to see LaLiga push to resume action.
Spain has been one of the worst affected countries in the world by coronavirus but they are now beginning to look to a brighter future, and one which includes top-flight football again.
‘The most probable (return dates) are May 28, June 6 or June 28,’ Tebas said in a recent briefing.
‘We can’t say an exact date. This will be given to us by the authorities in Spain. But we still have time to get back to training before that.’
There was major backlash when the Spanish FA proposed to end the season with the current standings.
Spain has been one of the worst affected countries and LaLiga is taking no decision lightly
Barcelona, Real Madrid, Sevilla and Real Sociedad are the sides currently in the top four of LaLiga and they were proposed by Spanish football’s governing body to compete in the Champions League next season if the division fails to restart.
Although there would have been little complaint about the inclusion of the top two, awarding spots to Sevilla and Real Sociedad was seen as farcical, sparking fury from Getafe – who are level on points with fourth – and Atletico Madrid below them in the table.
UEFA announced that they want European spots for next season awarded on sporting merit if seasons are left incomplete and with so little to split teams in current standings, LaLiga are keen to avoid an ugly legal battle by resuming action – in a best case scenario – by the end of May.
As for the title, Barcelona are two points clear of Real Madrid with 27 games played and that would cause major friction if Spanish authorities declared the season shutdown.
Any return is almost certain to include no fans with suggestions on Friday that teams in Spain have been warned that they need to face the prospect of empty stadiums until 2021 as society gets a grip of the virus.
Getafe are level on points with Real Sociedad in fourth and would likely undertake a legal battle if LaLiga determined to end the 2019-20 season based solely on the current standings
Bundesliga – Germany
Status: PLAN TO RETURN ON MAY 9
Germany are attempting to lead European football back to some sense of normality as plans are afoot to bring about their return to action in a matter of weeks – but it has not gone down well with some fans.
While neighbouring countries bring down the barriers and look ahead to 2020-21, Germany’s Bundesliga is set to be the first major European league to resume amid the coronavirus pandemic after the 36 clubs in the top two divisions decided on a May 9 restart.
Matches will take place behind closed doors with a maximum of 322 people allowed in and around stadiums for top-flight Bundesliga matches and 270 for second-tier games.
Dependent on guidelines by the German government – they will ultimately determined when players can return – the league will get back underway, as Bayern Munich look to stave off competition to retain their Bundesliga crown.
Germany’s Bundesliga would be the first league in Europe to resume during the coronavirus pandemic, with the 36 clubs of the top two divisions signing off on a May 9 resumption
The plans to return has been met with criticism in some quarters with some fans wary that a premature return represents a public health risk.
In a bid to be a jewel in UEFA’s crown to see leagues continue, major changes are needed to make it happen with the German football league (DFL) estimating that 25,000 coronavirus tests at around £90 each will be needed to check each player on at least a weekly basis.
There had been 14 positive COVID-19 cases among 1,100 licensed players and all have since recovered.
Bayern Munich are currently top, four points clear of Borussia Dortmund in second, while two points separates Borussia Monchengladbach in fourth and Bayer Leverkusen in fifth in the race for a Champions League spot.
Ligue 1 – France
Status: PLAN TO RETURN ON JUNE 17
Like the rest of Europe’s top leagues, the Ligue de Football Professional – French football’s governing body – voted to resume the Ligue 1 season at a meeting on April 10.
The plan as things stand is to be up and running on June 17, with the season running its course by July 25 – prior to UEFA’s August deadline.
The idea to play matches every three days would allow for promotion and relegation play-off matches to go ahead as normal and still fall inside the August 2 deadline with the focus then shifting onto European cup competitions.
There are 10 rounds of matches left to play but any decisions rest with prime minister Emmanuel Macron and the rest of the national government.
Ligue 1 plans to return in mid-June and then play every three days to conclude the campaign
Lockdown in the country – which has suffered the third most deaths by coronavirus in Europe – has been extended to May 11 and so a return as swift as the Bundesliga is unfeasible.
As for cup competitions, UEFA announced that they could go ahead in August or they could take place simultaneously and it appears France is keen to get it done with tournaments at the final stages anyway.
The French Cup final between PSG and St Etienne has been slated for June 27, according to reports, while the French League Cup final between PSG and Lyon had is down for July 11.
Serie A – Italy
Status: PLAN TO FINISH SEASON BY AUGUST 2
Italy has been devastated by the coronavirus pandemic with 190,000 positive cases and more than 25,000 people have died.
Serie A was among the first leagues to shutdown as players began to test positive for COVID-19.
Following UEFA’s announcements on Thursday, the Italian Football Federation (FIGC) instantly looked to adapt their calendar to comply, with all 20 teams signing off an agreement to see the season to its conclusion.
UEFA decided that they want all national leagues to have finished by August 2 so that the focus in that month can go towards cup competitions, namely finishing the Champions League and Europa League.
All 20 Serie A teams unanimously agreed that the 2019-20 season should be played out
The first option is to try and play all the remaining games – there are still 12 rounds of fixtures left in Serie A – and then conclude the Coppa Italia – which is at the semi-final stage – in August, alongside the Champions League and Europa League, of which Juventus, Atalanta, Inter Milan, Napoli and Roma are still involved.
UEFA’s new guidelines also opened up the possibility that, should Serie A not manage to navigate through all the remaining league fixtures, play-off games could be used to determine key league positions, such as league title, European spots and relegation positions.
Juventus are currently leading the league, one point ahead of Lazio, while at the other end, Lecce are in the relegation zone on goal difference, level on points with Genoa and a point behind Sampdoria.
Eredivisie – Holland
Status: SET TO BE CANCELLED
Dutch football was thrown into all sorts of chaos on Tuesday when prime minister Mark Rutte announced that games cannot be played before September.
That bombshell looks to have curtailed any lingering hopes that the Eredivisie will successfully end the 2019-20 campaign on the pitch.
UEFA’s general meeting instructed that divisions needed to have reached a conclusion by the start of August or another format – hence talk of play-offs – was needed to determine key positions.
Failing that, leagues can award positions based ‘on sporting method’ or, in special circumstances, end the season as it currently stands, and that appears the route the Eredivisie may now take following Rutte’s comments.
But that latter option comes with pieces of red-tape, it is not as easy as simply making the call.
It was announced this week that the end of the Dutch season will not be played out on the pitch
In UEFA’s statement they wrote that to cancel the season and not jeopardise European spots, leagues need to prove ‘the existence of an official order prohibiting sports events so that the domestic competitions cannot be completed before a date that would make it possible to complete the current season in good time before the next season to start’.
Alternatively, leagues keen to terminate would need to show ‘insurmountable economic problems which make finishing the season impossible because it would put at risk the long-term financial stability of the domestic competition and/or clubs’.
UEFA outlined that terminated leagues are finalised ‘based on sporting merit’, with final positions determined ‘on objective, transparent and non-discriminatory principles’.
An incomplete league table could also organised on a points-per-game basis as an alternative to sticking with current standings.
Dutch football chiefs are meeting on Friday to come to an agreement about how they proceed. The Dutch FA – the KNVB – are holding a meeting where the consequences of the season stopping so abruptly will be thrashed out.
They will have to decide whether: the league is written off and declared null and void; if the present standings are set in stone with prize money distributed accordingly; and who takes the nation’s places for the next season of European competition. UEFA have left that call in the hands of each country and their respective governing body.
Dutch PM Mark Rutte (pictured) said organised events would remain banned until September 1
It seems impossible that a decision can be made without sparking fury and, in all likelihood, major legal battles.
Nine games were left to play in the Dutch league for most teams, although some sides had played less matches, with leaders Ajax in first place on goal difference, level on 56 points with AZ Alkmaar.
If Holland follow Belgium, and the current standings are frozen and taken as final, Ajax will contentiously retain the league title on goal difference.
Friday is a massive day for how Dutch football emerges from the coronavirus crisis.
Jupiler Pro League – Belgium
While Germany are trying to lead the way with getting the show back on the road, Belgium looked to be trendsetters when they were the first major league to cancel and crown their champion.
But much like Holland, Belgium will need to prove their reasoning to UEFA to ensure European positions for 2020-21 are not compromised.
Club Brugge were 15 points clear of second-placed Genk when the season was called off for health reasons.
They broke ranks from the rest of Europe and called an immediate end to the 2019-20 campaign with just one game of the regular season to go before the play-offs, which usually determine the championship winner and the Europa League places.
The league, which comprises 26 teams, usually ends after 30 games before the top six enter a play-off system. Their points tally is halved, and rounded up, for the play-offs before they face each other again home and away.
Brugge were 15 points clear of second-placed Gent before the season was called off
‘The Board of Directors took note of the recommendations of Dr Van Ranst and the government that it is highly unlikely that games with the public will be played before June 30’, the league said in a statement.
‘The current situation also makes it very unclear whether and when a resumption of collective training courses can be foreseen at all.
UEFA were initially keen to ward off others following suit but Thursday’s meeting established that in certain cases, cancellation is inevitable and punishing teams qualifying for Europe would be unjust on those grounds.
While there are question marks over the Eredivisie in Holland and the Scottish Premiership in Scotland, Europe’s top five leagues have not followed suit and look determined to play out their seasons.
Scottish Premiership – Scotland
Status: JURY’S OUT
Having already agreed to end the Scottish Championship, League One and League Two seasons, declaring teams champions and relegating others, all eyes now go to a resolution for the Scottish Premiership.
Rangers and Hearts – who are bottom of the table – were the two sides in the top-flight to vote AGAINST the recent Scottish Professional Football League (SPFL) motion asking whether teams wanted the 2019-20 season cancelled.
There had previously been fears that any early cancellation would put the league’s European spots at risk, but Ceferin and UEFA now appear to have relaxed that stance based on the two rules mentioned earlier regarding public health or irreparable economic damage.
The relaxation of UEFA’s stance is music to the ears of the SPFL and the 10 clubs who voted in favour of early cancellation, with many teams reliant on the end-of-season prize money to cover up the holes that have appeared in their accounts with no matches to generate revenue.
Rangers were one of two Premiership teams to vote against ending the season prematurely
That concern over economic collapse of a number of member teams could ensure a cancellation order is successful in the eyes of UEFA.
The SPFL hope to kick off the 2020-21 Premiership season in early August – which would see Rangers in 2019-20 Europa League action at the same time as the 2020-21 league campaign. All very confusing.
Having already held a vote, and achieved a 10-2 vote in favour, the SPFL know that with UEFA’s latest comments, and Belgium and Holland set to confirm cancellations, they have a mandate that could bring the curtain down on this season as soon as possible.
UEFA spoke of ‘special cases’ and while that was deliberately left vague, Scottish football chiefs will have grown confident they can draw a line under this campaign after Thursday’s meeting with the 55 member nations.