Like almost every sport in the world, soccer is on hold at the moment. In every major league in Europe, competition has been paused with championships undecided, fixtures unfulfilled, and players and fans waiting with bated breath. The focus is, quite rightly, on ensuring that conditions are safe before anyone can set foot in a football stadium again, but that hasn’t stopped fans from asking when they might be likely to see the current campaign resolved – if any resolution is possible at all.
One team that has more reason to be anxious than any other is Liverpool in the English Premier League. The Anfield side has been almost unstoppable this season, racking up win after win to the point where they’re 25 points ahead of Manchester City with only 27 points left to play for. City have one game in hand on their rivals, and so to be absolutely sure of lifting the trophy, Liverpool needs just six more points from nine games. In soccer terms, that’s as certain as anything could possibly be. It would seem wrong to rob them of their inevitable victory, but if the season is declared to be null and void – as some Premier League bosses believe to be the only way forward – that’s precisely what would happen.
The situation in soccer when it comes to cancellations is a little more complicated than it is with most American sports. If the English Premier League season is declared to be canceled and voided then not only are Liverpool denied their championship, but the three teams at the bottom of the table – currently Bournemouth, Aston Villa, and Norwich City, are rescued from dropping into the division beneath the Premier League via relegation. That would be a lucky break for them, but it would also deny promotion to the three highest-achieving teams in the division below. Those teams are currently Leeds United, West Bromwich Albion, and Fulham.
The amount of money that’s involved in promotion and relegation in the English Premier League is astronomical. Teams who enter the league via promotion receive a massive influx of cash from sponsorship and television money. Teams who are relegated lose out on it. That’s why the race to stay in the division is always as exciting as the race to win it. It’s like a constantly-spinning game fishing frenzy mobile slot, played with the highest stakes imaginable, with sometimes unforeseen consequences. This season it looks like it could be more like online slots than any season before it because the ultimate winners and losers could have no more control over their fate than an online slots player has over the next spin of the wheel – and it’s hard to imagine the teams vying for promotion accepting the cancellation of the season without a legal battle.
As unappetizing as a legal challenge from the teams denied promotion might be for the country’s football authorities, the reverse could be just as true if the season is allowed to stand. Should Liverpool be awarded the championship based on their current position, the bottom three clubs would also have to be relegated. As none of them are mathematically beyond salvation, they would be unlikely to accept that position. If the fixtures were fulfilled, all three of them could play their way out of danger with a few victories. Condemning the teams to relegation – with all the financial consequences that come along with it – would be a brutal way to treat them and their supporters.
As nobody knows when or if the current season can be resumed, all of the major European competitions have been watching and waiting to see who blinks first, and how they handle the situation. After a long wait, Scotland has been the first significant country to blink. Following consultation with their clubs and a vote on the matter, every Scottish division below the country’s top-flight has declared its season over, and awarded championship trophies to the teams currently sitting on top of the pile. Relegations have also been ordered. Partick Thistle, who were bottom of the Championship but only two points behind Queen of the South with a game in hand, have already indicated that they’re prepared to take legal action to protect their status. The battle may not be over, but the ball has started rolling. With every league below the Scottish Premiership declared, the Scottish Premiership must now decide its own fate. It’s hard to imagine how it could do anything other than follow suit.
The winners of the Scottish Premiership are entered into the qualification rounds of the European Champions League. So far, Champions League organizers UEFA have refused to be drawn on the issue of whether they’ll allow teams into the competition from leagues that have been declared early rather than played to completion. If the Scottish Premiership declares early, UEFA would be forced into making a decision on the matter. That, in turn, would probably inform the decisions of every other significant European league – from the English Premier League to Italy’s Serie A, Spain’s La Liga, and Germany’s Bundesliga. If one of the leagues says that carrying on is out of the question, it’s only a matter of time before the rest of them followed suit.
If the Scottish trend is followed, it’s actually good news for Liverpool. It would mean that their league position would be cemented, and they would be declared champions of their domestic league for the first time in thirty years. For some fans, though, that may not be enough. Their victory would always be marked by an asterisk, and it would have come at the expense of three teams being relegated from the competition who may not have been relegated if they’d been allowed to resume playing in July or August. These are huge, consequential decisions for the European heads of football to be taking, and there are no easy answers. With seemingly no realistic prospect of football being played between now and the end of summer, the window of opportunity for the season to be finished via normal means is closing rapidly. The choice is between letting results stand, or voiding them completely. It’s going to be a very interesting few weeks in football.