The absurdity of ever asking EPL managers about the bigger pictures that confront the game were brought powerfully home within a couple of hours on Tuesday night when a question about whether football needs a Covid circuit break was put out to Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Sam Allardyce.
2021 Brings Unique Challenges To The Premier League
Solskjaer’s Manchester United are on a nine game unbeaten run in the Premier League, are second behind Liverpool, three points back and with a game in hand. Momentum is with them so it was no great surprise when Solskjaer said he could see no point.
By Dave Bowler
Sam Allardyce, on the other hand, had just seen his West Brom side humiliated at home to Leeds, losing 5-0 and conceding the kind of comedy own goal that Mr Bean would have thrown out as being too slapstick.
“I’m 66,” said Sam, though whether that his age or his weight in stones was unclear. “The last thing I want is to get Covid. We need a circuit break.” Which is odd given that I’m pretty sure that when he took the Albion job, just two weeks earlier, Covid was already being reasonably well publicised in the news and that if he was really that concerned, learning how to wear a mask properly would be a good idea.
Putting his words through a translator, what he meant to say was probably along the lines of, “Look, my team is absolutely rancid and completely out of its depth. If we can all stop playing for three weeks while I get in some new players, I might have a chance.”
Naked self interest is no basis for making far reaching decisions of any kind – politics on either side of the Atlantic has been demonstrating that to us for quite some time now. Instead, those decisions need to be made by someone above the fray and, at present, the Premier League’s bosses have got it right by saying that we press on with football regardless.
For starters, we have the European Championships coming up in the summer when, we are promised, the vaccine will have returned us to something like normality, if you choose to believe that. For the Euros to start, the domestic seasons have to finish. If you stop playing for two or three weeks, how do you fit those games in, especially if more get postponed for bad weather, positive tests etc when we get back?
Are we saying players and club staff will be locked down for those two weeks, no training, no leaving the house? Will they then by ok to come back and play games from day one, or will they need a week of training first? Two weeks without playing can very quickly become four, as we have seen with all the wider promises on lockdowns etc and then where do we stand?
The truth is that, for all the challenges of not being allowed fans in the ground – an issue which barely impacts on the Premier League clubs, most of whose directors would be happy if they never saw or heard from another fan ever again – football has occupied a very privileged position since it came back in June, allowed to continue to operate when so many other businesses have been shut down and left to go to the wall.
Even then, many have behaved poorly, furloughing staff, making redundancies etc, all, for some reason, without the fanfare they gave to making a few phone calls to the elderly in their community.
So it isn’t too much to ask football to put a bit back is it? To demand that players and staff behave properly, isolate and distance as much as they can and so minimise their risks of infection. Not really an onerous demand is it, given. Everybody else has to do it, without the comfort of an affluent lifestyle.
Where the Premier League might need to act though is in preventing clubs calling for postponements when players are down with the virus. Clubs cant hoover up all the footballing talent in the country and then sit them on the bench or in the stands, only to complain if a few players aren’t available.
Do what clubs have always done – play the reserves, play the kids, get through the game like you’re supposed to, lest we jump to the conclusion that they might just be playing the situation for their own ends. In the Premier League edition of “Cluedo”, who had Big Sam, in the West Brom dressing room, with a test tube of Covid?
From football’s perspective, what matters is that the game gets through this, not who wins what, or who goes down, not this year. Football simply has to complete the season. If that means playing the kids, if it means playing four games in eight days, these are all things that football clubs have done before now in circumstances nothing like as extreme as these.
For the good of the game, and for the good of its finances – you think the TV companies are going to be so understanding this time if the season gets called after 25 games? – this season needs to get to its conclusion, and the Premier League should be taking steps to ensure to does, not just among its clubs but by financing whatever testing support the Football League needs too. Just get it done, and then look towards the reset in the sunlit days of August.
Dave Bowler is the author of “The Magic of the Cup 1973/74”, telling the story of Liverpool’s FA Cup win in 1974. Available here: https://www.curtis-sport.com/books –
Follow the magic of the cup on Twitter: @MagicOfFACup