London (AFP) – Drastic measures to help curb the spread of the coronavirus have plunged football into crisis, with leagues across Europe suspended and uncertainty over when play will resume.
A UEFA meeting on Tuesday bringing together Europe’s 55 member associations is widely expected to delay Euro 2020, which was due to start in June.
That could free up some space in the calendar for national leagues and European club competitions to be completed in the summer months.
The approach favoured by officials, players and pundits is to finish the league seasons whenever it is safe to do so.
“For the European leagues it is most essential that domestic competitions can be completed this season, to limit the negative impact for the entire football ecosystem,” said the European Leagues, which represents more than 950 clubs from 29 countries.
La Liga president Javier Tebas said on Sunday he was “convinced” the Spanish domestic league season would be played to a finish despite a state of emergency in the country.
However, there are extra complications with extending the season beyond its traditional end point in May for every layer of the football pyramid.
– Out of contract? –
Player contracts and loan deals are a major stumbling block should the season be postponed into July or beyond as many expire in May and June.
Among the big names in the Premier League whose deals expire at the end of June are Chelsea trio Olivier Giroud, Willian and Pedro Rodriguez and Jan Vertonghen of Tottenham.
However, it is further down the leagues where the impact could be more drastic.
Football League clubs, many of whom will struggle to survive a couple of months without gate receipts, have far greater numbers of players out of contract.
In extreme cases, some would even struggle to field a team with players still under contract come July.
Short-term extensions have been proposed should this scenario come to pass but clubs may not even get to June with enough money to pay players and staff.
“The main issue for those clubs is cash flow,” said football finance expert Kieran Maguire.
“Many clubs are surviving on a match-to-match basis and are reliant on the loyal few thousand turning up.
“Even if matches are postponed we have a three-week gap for certain so how will clubs pay wages and their suppliers?”
Even before the virus caused chaos across the globe, the finances of many Football League clubs were perilous.
Bury went bust in August after 125 years in the Football League and only a last-minute takeover prevented Bolton from going the same way.
“We could definitely see casualties here,” said former banker Fausto Zanetton, who runs a crowdfunding platform for clubs to acquire investment with former Italy international and Chelsea manager Gianluca Vialli.
Stevenage are one of the clubs to have entered into an agreement with Zanetton and Vialli’s Tifosy platform.
The League Two side, rooted to the foot of the table, face relegation even if the season recommences, and chairman Phil Wallace admitted on Monday they could be forced to the brink by an extended lay-off.
“We have no idea how the club can survive whilst paying players and staff with no income,” said Wallace.
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