There are far more pressing concerns than football at the moment, as Jurgen Klopp so eloquently pointed out, but nevertheless the unprecedented impact of coronavirus on the football calendar is something the Premier League, FA, UEFA, and FIFA must attempt to navigate over the coming weeks and months.
The sheer number of moving parts in all this - from the potential clash between season end dates to legal challenges to the rapidly unfolding unknown of the pandemic itself - means we cannot anticipate concrete plans to emerge this week.
For now, Thursday’s emergency Premier League meeting will most likely tell us only that the delay will be longer than the original 4 April deadline. With government policy shifting at breakneck speed, it would be naïve to expect answers anytime soon. Football is highly unlikely to resume before June.
But on Thursday various options for what to do about the Premier League’s suspended 2019/20 season are up for discussion. If 14 out of 20 clubs vote for a policy, it will be enacted upon.
Here’s a brief look at what might be on the table.
Finish the 19/20 season either behind closed doors or with fans
The option with the fewest potential legal challenges, and with the fewest long-term complications, would be to get the final nine rounds of the Premier League done as soon as it is deemed safe to do so. Whether that’s June, September or later, this potential solution could mean playing games every couple of days to simply thrash through what’s needed.
This could be done in front of empty stadiums ahead of the relaxation of the ban on mass gatherings, but it appears the favoured route to wait until fans can attend to ensure the season ends in the most normal environment possible.
Any other option, as detailed below, may be viewed as unfair on individual clubs and potentially lead to further crisis. However, there are multiple reasons why playing the remaining games might be unfeasible.
For starters, player contracts, European participation, and UEFA policy dictates that the season must finish by the end of June. Unless all countries in Europe can synchronise their calendars this option may not be possible, even if the postponement of Euro 2020 to 2021 clears the summer schedule and even if behind-closed-doors football is deemed safe during these months.
There is also the problem of quarantined squads – the virus will be around for many months to come - and fitness issues. Manchester United are the latest club to suspend training.
End the season now, declare Liverpool champions, promote Championship clubs
The Premier League could decide to end the campaign now and give Liverpool the title, taking all current league positions as final. That might not be a problem as far as the Premier League championship is concerned – Klopp’s side are only two games away from being crowned – but it poses serious issues further down.
It is unlikely many clubs will opt to vote for this, given that it runs counter to the logic and fairness of a 38-game season in which everyone plays each other home and away. What’s more, this option probably means promoting the top two from the Championship, West Brom and Leeds, and trying to fit a 42-game season into the truncated space of whenever 2020/21 can play out.
Fulham, who still have both of these clubs to play and are only just outside the top two, would have something to say about that, as would the Premier League clubs currently chasing down a European spot.
Null and void the 2019/20 season
This plan, infamously floated by West Ham vice-chair Karren Brady, would see the season voided in its entirety, denying Liverpool their first title in 30 years and saving the current bottom three from relegation.
Although a complicated option, the fact that only 14 out of 20 need to vote in order for it to happen means the ‘null and void’ route should not be overlooked just yet. Money talks: it is possible that all clubs that would benefit from their European qualification spots being maintained from 2018/19 would like this idea, as would those currently in the bottom three and several others who, like West Ham, haven’t enjoyed a good campaign. That would get you pretty close to the 14.
However, the vast majority of public statements from clubs suggests they are looking for solutions that avoid this option.