Eurosoccer has ended
As the COVID-19 pandemic has spread through Europe, soccer leagues all over the continent have paused their seasons indefinitely. The first major league to suspend matches was the Italian Serie A, which did so after playing a handful of matches behind closed doors. France’s Ligue 1, Spain’s La Liga and Germany’s Bundesliga also announced plans to postpone matches over the course of last week.
The English Premier League appeared determined to not only carry on playing, but to do so with fans in attendance until Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta and Chelsea winger Callum Hudson-Odoi tested positive for the coronavirus late last week. Arsenal was scheduled to face Manchester City on Wednesday, a match that was set to be played as normal until Arteta’s case had been announced. Still, the Premier League hesitated until Friday morning to officially postpone last weekend’s games. By that point, several more teams had players self-isolating after showing coronavirus symptoms.
The Union of European Football Associations Champions League played all four of its scheduled matches last week, but two of them took place with no fans in attendance. The UEFA Europa League played six of its eight scheduled matches on Thursday, though notably England’s Wolverhampton Wanderers had asked the governing body to postpone its match in Greece against Olympiacos, whose owner had previously tested positive for the coronavirus. Each of the postponed matches featured a team from both Spain and Italy, where travel restrictions would have complicated matters. Both continental leagues have since paused.
The state of European soccer competitions is now the subject of much speculation, especially since the structure of teams and leagues is far more complex than any American sports league.
For example, the status of 2020 UEFA European Championship, due to take place this summer between the best national teams across the continent, is now in doubt. UEFA’s 55 governing members met on Tuesday via video conference to discuss the status of the league’s competitions, which are now likely to come into conflict with each federation’s domestic leagues in terms of who gets priority to make up its postponements once games are deemed safe to play.
All of this leaves a plethora of questions regarding what may be canceled and how leagues will decide to conclude their seasons, if they are able to do so. In England, each Premier League team has either nine or 10 matches remaining, but Liverpool is on track to soon clinch its first-ever Premier League title. Until the season’s status was in doubt, Liverpool was the champion in all but name, needing six points out of nine remaining matches to claim the trophy. Now, it appears likely that the iconic club’s long-awaited title may come with an asterisk, if at all. It is hard to imagine Liverpool not being awarded the title even if the rest of the season is altered or canceled, but whatever happens will have direct implications for the other competitions and next season’s Premier League. If no more games are played, and the Premier League declares the season over and the table intact as is, Bournemouth, Aston Villa and Norwich City would be forced to play next season in the far less profitable second tier of England’s league pyramid, despite the fact that each club has a plausible chance of escaping relegation were the season played to its natural conclusion. The only certainty is uncertainty, and this unprecedented situation — both inside and outside of the sporting world — will undoubtedly lead to political wrangling and negotiations that may call into question the integrity of the competitions themselves.
In the meantime, followers of European soccer may find themselves scanning the archives for their favorite matches of yesteryear. Mine is Chelsea v. Spurs on May 2, 2016. As we try to maintain hope during the difficult weeks ahead, perhaps it may be prescient to remember that miracles do happen.