We're no closer to knowing when soccer might return to action given the global reaction to slowing the coronavirus outbreak, but there's still a lot happening in the broader soccer world. Gab Marcotti reacts to the main talking points in the latest Monday Musings.
More substitutions, please!
As a response to the coronavirus pandemic, leagues are considering applying for permission to make five substitutions per match rather than the usual three. The motivation behind it is preserving players from injury as they'll necessarily need to play a very congested schedule when the 2019-20 season resumes, but it's the sort of change that ought to be considered on a permanent basis for the simple reason that it reduces footballers' minutes on the pitch.
It's not just about reducing fatigue, either. It doesn't take a genius to work out that if you reduce minutes by, say, 10%, then you reduce the likelihood of injury by 10% too.
We're not talking about the sort of continuous substitutions you often see in preseason friendlies, either. One obvious rule to put in place would be that you can have your five subs, but you can only sub on three occasions, which means you'd have more double or triple changes. It's a minor thing perhaps, but a legacy that ought to stick around after this terrible public health crisis is over.
The flaws in Germany, Italy's plans to restart the season
After the German Bundesliga comes Italy's plan to restart the football season. We'll know more after Wednesday's summit with government officials -- obviously, by video conference -- but the Italian FA meanwhile unveiled their conditions for a restart. And the more you hear about this, the more skeptical you become.
There are plenty of similarities with the German plan. Players, coaches, staff, kit men, physios and others will be sequestered away at their club's training grounds. They'll be heavily screened and tested, both for COVID-19 and for antibodies. Of course, that's just the protocol for training to resume: there will be a whole new one for actually playing the games.
That said, there are myriad issues in simply trying to get the training regimen off the ground. Like the fact that half the Serie A clubs don't have adequate facilities at their training grounds to accommodate everyone who will need room and board for nearly three months, particularly since they all need to stay in single rooms. Or the fact that while Italy has developed an extensive coronavirus testing program, performing some 60,000 tests per day, using it on footballers may not be a great move in a PR sense. Or that physios giving post-workout massages in full PPE for the first two weeks of training camp -- as mandated -- seems unnecessary at a time when there are legitimate shortages.
Once you get into games, it only gets more complicated.
Serie A is hoping to cram 123 games -- that's how many are left in the 2019-20 season -- plus the return legs of the Coppa Italia semifinals and the finals into less than two months. Then, there's the ever-present (and ever-unresolved) June 30 "cliff edge," when nearly a quarter of Serie A players become free agents or their loan deals expire and they return to their parent clubs. FIFA's plan is nice and all, but it's subordinate to national employment law, which basically means nobody knows what will happen.
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It's not surprising that, according to reports, at least six Serie A clubs are against any form of a restart. (Among them, Brescia, who are last in the table, with owner Massimo Cellino saying he'd rather get relegated than participate in what he considers to be a pointless charade.) As for clubs in Serie B and the third division, forget about it: there's no way they can sustain the expense or meet the logistical requirements. Like an increasing number of clubs in the English lower leagues, they also realize it's simply not viable.
UEFA's desires to finish season remain improbable
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As you'd expect, UEFA President Aleksander Ceferin would like play to resume. He told Italian daily Corriere della Sera that while public health remained the priority, he was "an optimist" who believed there were solutions to restart leagues and cups and end the domestic seasons.
"It will probably be without spectators, but the most important thing is playing games," he said. "In these tough times we could bring some happiness and a sense of normality, even if they are only on TV. It's too early to say we have to abandon the seasons."
Ceferin is saying what his constituents -- clubs and leagues -- want him to say, and fair enough. Those for whom there is money at stake -- not just TV money, but sponsor contracts -- have a major vested interest to continue. Of course, that applies to UEFA competitions like the Champions League and Europa League too. In fact, were we to make predictions -- a hugely risky thing to do, admittedly -- you'd bet that the only football we'll see in the foreseeable future is at the very highest level, where broadcast contracts and those super-clubs with the biggest revenues move the needle. And even that remains a very big question mark.
Ex-Barca president Rosell speaks to media
This weekend, former Barcelona president Sandro Rosell gave his first interview since 2014. He spent more than two of the intervening six years in custody awaiting trial after being accused of money laundering and financial irregularities, the same accusation that forced him to leave the club. He was ultimately fully cleared, which may explain why he'd have a legitimate chip on his shoulder about those two years behind bars.
Rosell remains a figure that looms large at Barcelona, so his words matter. After all, Jose Maria Bartomeu, the current president, was his right-hand man. Rosell said he wouldn't run for president again "as long as my mother is alive, it's a promise I made her," but he's bound to have a strong influence on the club's presidential elections next summer, and he made it clear he's ready to take sides.
For now though, he's urging Barcelona to bring back Neymar, which is understandable given that he signed him in the first place.