How a Summer of Club Football Could See Every Major European Competition Decided

Dean Jones@DeanJonesBRFootball Insider at Bleacher ReportApril 15, 2020

Security with face masks stand in front of the Signal Iduna Park, Germany's biggest stadium of Bundesliga soccer club Borussia Dortmund, where a temporary coronavirus treatment center opened today in Dortmund, Germany, Saturday, April 4, 2020. Instead of the originally scheduled today football clash between Dortmund and Bayern, parts of the stadium were turned into a medical center for outpatient treatment and consultation. The new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms for most people, but for some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness or death. (AP Photo/Martin Meissner)
Martin Meissner/Associated Press

Brace yourselves for a summer of football like you have never known before.

Plans are underway to restart the 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 pandemic 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, 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. It will not be easy, but there are attempts being made to kick off an intense period of games that will decide the winners and losers of the 2019/20 campaign. 

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 matches are almost certain to be played behind closed doors—for the remainder of this season and maybe even the start of next.

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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 expected to end—though this will be discussed further in a meeting on Friday.

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 European countries 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.

For some supporters, it could be a long time before they watch their team live again, as crowd restrictions may stay in place until next season and even run towards 2021.

One Premier League club insider told B/R: "We are not getting much guidance on that side of things yet, because this whole scenario is so unpredictable. But we are not expecting any fans at matches that are played this season and are unsure whether that will change when a new campaign begins later in the year. In a worst-case scenario, fans might not be allowed in until next year."

In Germany, it's a similar case—though slightly more complicated. 

Each of the different states has been making its own decisions with regard to ending lockdown—and the laws in each already vary.

As one insider explained to B/R: "For instance, some states let people to go out and sit in the park, whereas others only allow an hour of exercise. Some also have different rules on group gatherings, so it could get very complicated.

"One major research institute here is recommending that no games with fans should happen until next year, but let's hope that is being overly cautious." On Wednesday, it was determined that no big gatherings will happen before August.

One further complication with Germany planning to finish ahead of everyone else is that it could open them up to starting the 2020/21 season before any other league—and that the 2019/20 Champions League might not even be completed by that point.

Initially, some figures in the game thought this year's European competitions might be canceled, but that is not now looking to be the case. European football is being planned for August.

It will be strange to see the Champions League and Europa League concluded in front of empty seats, but that is starting to look likely.

Domestic leagues and cups are taking priority, but a UEFA meeting planned for April 23 is expected to begin to outline how the organisation can complete its two major club tournaments.

Various sources at elite clubs back up reports, like this one from the Associated Press (h/t USA Today), that there is an aim to get both competitions completed.

B/R understands viewers could be in for a treat on their TV screens as part of this, though, as one insider explained that the Champions League and Europa League knockout matches could be spread across three weeks, with games taking place almost every day—including weekends.

The dramatic plan would be a fascinating way to make up for the lack of an international tournament, with UEFA Euro 2020 postponed for a year.

Once all football from 2019/20 is finally complete, attention will turn towards another season.

An international break is scheduled for the beginning of September, which muddles matters even more in terms of players getting time to rest, but it is thought that all domestic leagues for 2020/21 will be up and running by October.

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