The Magnificent Trivia
The great Scottish writer Hugh McIlvanney once described sport as “magnificent trivia”. Those words have never rung more true than in these disturbing and difficult times.
Football , of course, pales into insignificance set aside the life and death matter of a global pandemic which has changed all our lives in the space of a few days.
Suddenly it hardly matters whether the European Championships are postponed, who goes up and down , who wins the Champions League, whether VAR works properly, and what Jose Mourinho or Pep Guardiola has to say.
The only thing we all care about is the health and well-being of our nearest and dearest, especially the elderly and frail.
The heros now are not Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo or Bruno Fernandes, but the wonderful doctors, nurses and health workers who are risking their own lives in a tireless effort to combat this deadly coronavirus.
And yet, perhaps with a tinge of guilt, we yearn already for a time when we can revel in the daily dramas served up by the game we all love.
Football will eventually resume, though nobody can be sure when and how much the landscape will have changed.
Players who were out with long-term injuries might well be back for the delayed climax of what will be the longest ever European season.
Obvious examples in the English Premier League are Tottenham’s Harry Kane and Son Heung Min and Manchester United’s Marcus Rashford.
Kane, the England captain and talisman, was on course to return in time for the originally scheduled Euros , but would he have been properly fit and sharp? Doubtful.
Rashford’s back injury is reportedly “ more severe than originally thought”. So he was unlikely to have been available for selection in Gareth Southgate’s squad.
Now, with the tournament delayed for a full year, both players can look forward to playing a major role.
Similarly the delay, if not the awful reasons for it, may be to the benefit of emerging young players like Phil Foden of Manchester City, Bukayo Saka at Arsenal, Chelsea’s Reece James and Dominic Calvert-Lewin, who has enjoyed a breakthrough season leading the line at Everton.
Euro 2020 would probably have come too soon for them, but now all four and possibly others like Manchester United’s teenage striker Mason Greenwood have another 12 months to state their case.
Against that, the delay might mean the Euros come too late for a few players for whom this summer would have been a last hurrah in international football (though you would fully expect a 36-year-old Ronaldo to still be starring for Portugal).
Whenever the action resumes – and it could well be behind closed doors – there is no doubt that Liverpool will deservedly be crowned champions. It will be a shame if the Anfield fans who have waited so long for the moment will not be there to see it.
There are, of course, huge logistical problems connected with the restart, especially if it proves impossible to complete the fixtures by June 30.
After that date, 67 Premier League players will be out of contract. David Silva of Manchester City and Jan Vertonghen at Spurs are just a couple of notable examples.
Perhaps emergency deals can be put in place for them to stay on – but what if they pick up a bad injury during the extension which scuppers a lucrative move? Complicated.
All season-long loans would have ended in late June too – a particular problem for smaller clubs all over Europe who might lose several key players in their team.
After such a long gap without competitive action, the players would normally need a pre-season fitness regime and some warm-up friendlies to get themselves ready to play.
But there surely will not be time, leading to an increased injury risk for possibly under-cooked players asked to play every three days to get the season finished.
Spurs, with the return of Kane, Son and possibly Moussa Sissoko, might be the big beneficiaries in the top four equation. Wolves, who have had to play more matches than anyone, will be rested for the run-in. Chelsea could have Mateo Kovacic, Ngolo Kante, Tammy Abraham and Christian Pulisic fit and firing.
Plus, with large gatherings banned, there may not be time for the Court of Arbitration for Sport to hear Manchester City’s appeal against their two-year European ban, raising the possibility of the suspension being delayed.
At the bottom, Aston Villa might be significantly boosted the return of key man John McGinn, while Bournemouth could at last be able to call on their excellent striker David Brooks, who is yet to play in this campaign.
It will feel like a new season, but it won’t be. Just a strange hectic finish to the old one under summer skies.
Teams who were flying might have lost their mojo after months of inactivity. Others who were struggling might be mentally refreshed and find some form.
It is exactly the right decision to soldier on and complete this season, however long that might take. Any other way would be submerged in cries of injustice, not to mention law suits. The only place to settle football arguments is on the pitch.
When the time comes, the resumption will be very emotional. We can but hope that time is not too distant and that things can be back to normal quicker than we all fear.
The 2019-20 season is destined to go down in history with an asterisk alongside it, explaining the tragic reasons of why it took so long to complete.
Stay safe, everyone.
Image taken from Football 365