With football authorities scrambling for both plausible, and idiotic, ideas for when and how football can return given the Coronavirus times we are now living in, one big topic of conversation has been a return that ‘protects the integrity of the game’.
Whether or not you feel that phrase applies to fans being able to attend and support and the effect that will have for those sides, like Aston Villa, who would want full home advantage if we renew our battle to avoid relegation in the campaign of 2019/20, it most certainly applies to the rules of the game with the blathering Gordon Taylor suggesting shorter halves recently. It most certainly applies to teams being able to field full strength sides, and not simply host friendlies to see out the season to please the broadcasters.
Whilst we can all debate whether injured players should return even if they aren’t now in the 25 man squad, or whether clubs should be barred from using players that have recovered during the postponement period and making them ineligible for matches they would’ve otherwise missed – a bigger question is whether players will feel safe playing given the bizarre social distancing plans off the pitch, whilst they’ll be grappling, spitting and hugging each other at corners.
Can Football Return Without A Vaccine?
Not A Chance
Head coach Dean Smith recently spoke to Sky Sports about player availability, and he admitted that we would have doubts over at least two players, and for good reason.
One has asthma and the other has a vulnerable mother-in-law living with them.
“Everybody wants to get back into training but they also want to see what the medical protocols are first. There’s a certain risk attached to the return to training for all players and I think they want to make sure they tick the boxes so it’s safe to do so. We’ve got a player who is asthmatic, we’ve got a player whose mother-in-law is in remission and living with the family. You have to be very careful, certainly the transmission knows no boundaries.”
Smith admits that Villa simply have to be ‘led by the government’ on this, and then once there is some proper guidance the right questions can be asked and answered, and we certainly won’t be alone in having players who are considered more at risk, whether themselves or their more immediate family.
“The players’ health and safety is paramount and if they’re not comfortable to return then you have to return without them, when it’s safe to do so. We have to listen to our players, we have to listen to their concerns. If the protocols say we can move forward then the ones who can do will do so.”
Whilst his last comment makes sense about a possible staged return given the circumstances of individual players, if a squad is weakened by that process, how is the ‘integrity of the competition’ protected in that sense?
And that’s on top of the many challenges the game faces if the moneymen get their wish and we do return sooner rather than later.
CEO Christian Purslow has made his thoughts clear on ‘neutral venues’ as a suggestion.
“Personally I’m against it. We’re a club that prides itself on home form. Two-thirds of our wins this season have come at home. We’ve got six home games left to play and I think any Villa fan would agree that giving up that advantage is a massive decision for somebody running Aston Villa and I certainly wouldn’t agree to that unless those circumstances are right.”
The pause in football, allied to the strange circumstances we now find ourselves in, has left plenty of fans reassessing the modern game.
Vital Villa’s Premier League Suspended (Coronavirus) thread contains some very lively language.