Coronavirus is the biggest problem facing world football at the moment – but it could provide the sport with its greatest opportunity. Most importantly it gives the game the chance to do the right thing and end competitive football across the world right now – for a long enough period for governments to get to grips with a problem that is not going to go away on its own.
The key to all this the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.
Football still has not fully worked out how to cope with playing a full World Cup competition in the middle of the European winter.
Nor is it on top of the current fast-developing crisis
Some games go ahead; others are cancelled. Matches in close proximity can be played in full stadiums or behind closed doors.
There is only one sensible solution: Stop all competitive football NOW – and don’t start again until August.
Nobody wants some teams burdened with fixture congestion because they are in isolation while their rivals carry on. Moreover, how could titles and trophies be handed out in empty grounds – it just kills the whole nature of football as a spectacle.
Mass congregations are a big part of the problem. Football can take a responsible lead in fighting the disease by postponing games rather than hiding them away and fans won’t be missing out on anything.
Broadcasters will still have an appetite for football and hopefully as the virus is controlled there will be opportunities over the summer for money-spinning games that the club owners love, subject to local government approval, ahead of a more controlled resumption.
# Finish the season properly in the autumn.
Nine games to go, the players refreshed, plenty to play for on an even keel in front of packed terraces. Domestic leagues and cups and the last rounds of the European competition could all be wrapped up before the middle of November – with time even to sprinkle in some international football.
# Euro 2020 would take place once all that is done, culminating in a Wembley final before Christmas.
All the while coronavirus grips the globe, chances are as least one of the 12 venues will be a viral hot-spot over the summer. That could lead to ad hoc venue changes or more behind-closed-door matches and all the travel chaos that would cause. Better to delay. Football needs to get used to having its international showpiece at the end of the year.
# European football becomes a summer sport for two years, with seasons running from February to November.
No postponed matches in the depths of winter. No festive season travel chaos. All European leagues brought into line. Even scope to play the African Nations Cup out of season. Many of the problems of the modern global calendar solved in one fell swoop.
# World Cup 2022 takes place at the end of a European season rather than right in the middle it.
Football’s next big headache – how to squeeze the Qatar winter tournament into the current calendar – cured automatically.
The beauty is the new scheme can help football even if the consensus is that it should return to being a winter sport.
To get back to the current calendar, a shorter season could then run from January to July. Smaller leagues, fewer teams in each division.
Was not that one of the things Greg Dyke’s infamous commission was supposed to find to give our players a better chance internationally?
Moving forward, we would then be entering a world where fixture congestion is a thing of the past.
There is proper time for a winter break, the FA Cup can live again and nobody boots the League Cup out into touch.
UEFA can even have all three of its blessed competitions while international football is allowed to thrive.
There may be no cure yet for coronavirus, but football could be saved.
All it takes is two things.
1. Selfless understanding from players and agents over contracts which are generally fixed to expire on June 30 of each year to maintain squad stability over the new periods.
2. Strong forward-thinking leadership from within the game.
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