Many are openly wondering whether the current situation is sustainable. One leading figure in the game privately told the Independent that “in order to protect football, international football needs to be suspended indefinitely”.
It’s at this point it should be stressed that the situation is nothing like the start of the pandemic, at least in terms of the game’s ability to play.
Back in March, all of this was utterly unprecedented. One major reason there was such a long pause was because football had to figure out how they could play safely.
The sport has illustrated it can do that, and any kind of similar pause in the game is highly unlikely – even in the event of a second lockdown. The government has no will for that, and sees ‘Project Restart’ as one of its successes. Elite sports are also working in such a genuine bubble that they would be able to coincide with the kind of tiered and flexible restrictions that are on the way.
The Uefa protocols are impressively thorough and, when followed, you can see how difficult it is for a cluster to spread.
But, if you wanted to test that to the limit, one way would be to take hundreds of players out of their club bubbles and send them in different directions all over the world across multiple national borders. That is how clusters can spread.
It is why, as cases rise again, this international break feels so misguided.
And it illustrates how, even if the game does not fully shut down again, it could be giving itself an awful lot of unnecessary problems and headaches.
One of those comes from the fundamental issue of these games even being played, that could have a lot of knock-on effects.
There is virtually no space in the football calendar for postponements.
If this international break does see about 50-60 players come back with positive tests, or cause a cluster at one club, the game will have to persist and find a way. This is the entirely self-inflicted problem it has given itself. They have tried to play too many games and too many competitions in too short a time.
You simply have to ask why, in a calendar that was already squeezed due to the late finish of the 2019-20 season, the sport tried to fully complete the 2020-21 season as normal; why it has insisted on playing out every normal fixture of every competition.
It always felt foolish, but now for many more reasons than the physical toll on the players from playing so much.
It is now just mind-boggling. It’s especially mind-boggling given the amount of forewarning football had, and the fact this virus had not gone away.
That it made sense in July or August doesn’t stack up. Contingency plans should obviously have been built into the calendar.
It points to a continued problem in football.
That is the lack of truly collective thinking. There are too many vested interests, all with their own fair argument as to why they should continue as normal.
You can, for example, at least see the initial logic in even these international friendlies taking place.
Stretched national federations badly need the extra money, in many cases to run their domestic games. There was also a feeling within Uefa that the international level had done the club level a huge favour by moving Euro 2020, to allow that space in the summer. It is why this break exists in the bloated manner it does, as a return.
It’s just there should have been more allowance for the evolution of this situation, more flexibility… more sense.
Ireland, for example, are this week playing in three different countries in the space of seven days. Is this really necessary now?
Is this not something that can be altered?
As with so much in the game right now, it feels like more compromises were necessary… but everyone felt it should be someone else that does that.
Everyone now may have compromises forced upon them. This is never truer than with the very make-up of teams.
If the integrity of the game was one argument put forward as to why 2019-20 competitions should have been completed, it is a concept that is being stretched for 2020-21 games.
Teams are suddenly having to accept being abruptly denied some of their best players, as was the case with Scotland and Kieran Tierney.
Chances of a lifetime, like a small nation getting to Euro 2020, could be greatly influenced by the effects of this once-a-lifetime epidemic.
And there’s then that question of whether Euro 2020 even takes place. It’s too far away, and thereby too hard to say.
A Europe-wide competition now seems a fantasy, but the game’s exact current “reality” is going to keep changing for some time.
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