The English football season was drawing towards its close, but nobody seems to have any idea when the season will actually end now.
COVID-19 has reached England in a major way, and with cases rising by the day, it was inevitable that the football season would be suspended – and that’s exactly what happened on Thursday.
With Arsenal boss Mikel Arteta and Chelsea winger Callum Hudson-Odoi both testing positive for the coronavirus, English football has been shut down until April – but even that seems ambitious.
The reason it’s such a qualm for the football authorities is that we’re so close to the end of the season. Had this happened back in, say, September, it would have been a little easier to shut down the season as limited games would have been played.
Yet now, we’re in the final stretch of the season. It’s hard to axe the season now, because what happens with teams in the relegation zone? What about the teams in the promotion places? Finding an answer won’t be easy.
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Now, Brighton chief executive Paul Barber has told Football Focus of his idea, which unsurprisingly features Leeds United and West Bromwich Albion being granted permission to the Premier League even if the season is voided.
Yet after that, Barber thinks ‘radical’ solutions have to be put forward, which would see the Championship playoffs scrapped and a 22-team Premier League season, before eventually relegating four teams. Barber admitted he would feel sorry for teams like Preston if they had to miss out on a playoff spot, but he seemingly feels a hard-hitting approach is required.
“It would be unjust if Leeds and West Brom were not promoted because we know how hard it is to get out of the Championship. We know how hard it is to get even to this stage of the season in the top two. It would be very cruel,” said Barber. “(An expanded Premier League) is a possible option, to leave the 20 teams in the Premier League as it is, would help us and help others and the top two of the Championship would give us a larger league next season and perhaps four relegation places next season then two up again the next season to get us back to 20. It has some merit.
“If I was in that position I would really feel for them. But we are all in a situation where, with seven, eight or nine games to go, we could all end up in a better place than we are. If we can’t complete the season, we have to look at quite radical solutions to get over the short-term ‘hump’ as it is. We could find ourselves delaying the season but then we would impact another season if we were to delay for too long, so there’s a whole range of different issues,” he added.
This is all well and good, but relegating four Premier League teams down the line means more teams with parachute payments, which is already something of a problem in the Championship – a league of haves and have-nots. Preston would no doubt contest something like this, as it’s the first time we’ve been in with a real shot of the Championship playoffs in more than a decade – and Barber’s comments may not go down too well at Deepdale.