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Champions League on hold over coronavirus measures

The Parc des Princes empty at the start of PSG-Dortmund, in the knockout stages of the Champions League.
The Parc des Princes empty at the start of PSG-Dortmund, in the knockout stages of the Champions League. – / AFP

The paranormal being the norm for Paris Saint-Germain in the Champions League, it is necessary to prepare for this eventuality: that the club has found the quarter-finals of the competition the year when it will not end.

Let’s reassure Parisian supporters straight away: there is no evidence to date to support this hypothesis. But the traffic jams in sight on the football calendar augur for power struggles between UEFA (organizer of the Champions League and the Euro), the national leagues and the governments to bring the competitions to a conclusion.

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The detection of a coronavirus case in the workforce of Juventus Turin – the Italian defender Daniele Rugani – added Wednesday evening March 11, to the surrounding uncertainty. Juventus is slated to host Olympique Lyonnais for its round of 16 return Tuesday, March 18, behind closed doors, as permitted by a provision in the Italian government’s decree. Will the club wish to line up if group training is impossible and other players are positive in the coming days?

In a week, everything changed

Since the arrival of the coronavirus epidemic in Europe, UEFA has first sought to reassure and save what could be. On March 3, its president, Aleksander Ceferin, professed not to overreact, neither concerning its flagship competition nor concerning the Euro supposed to start in three months. “The schedule is busy and each postponement [de match] could be problematic “, said UEFA general secretary Theodore Theodoridis.

But at the time, no competition was affected in Europe. Since then, three of the five championships represented in the round of 16 have been played behind closed doors (Ligue 1, Serie A, Liga), a measure that the other two should not take long to take. Two knockout stages have already taken place behind closed doors, in a setting that greatly devalues ​​the product sold two billion euros a year to televisions around the world. At least three more will follow next week, if matches are held.

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Within a week, UEFA had seen deterioration in the health situation in four of the five countries still represented. Two already qualified clubs, Atalanta Bergamo and Atlético Madrid, are in two centers of the epidemic in Europe.

UEFA is dependent on government measures and club decisions, as we can already see in the Europa League: Madrid’s Getafe club refused to go to Milan to face Inter on Thursday – which the Milanese club announced anyway his temporary withdrawal from competition – and Roma were unable to travel to Seville under the ban on flights from Italy, announced by the Spanish government.

In this context, the pursuit of the Champions League on the scheduled dates appears more hypothetical every day. It would create a break in equality between the clubs that can still play in front of their supporters and the others, and between those for whom the championship continues and the others. It would appear out of step with the radical measures already taken by Italy and foreseeable in other European countries. It would lose its intensity in the absence of an audience in the stadiums.

A calendar constrained by the Euro

The quarter-finals are officially scheduled to take place between April 7 and 15. The Italian championship would have just started again, if the situation had improved on the other side of the Alps. A quarter-final at the Parc des Princes, and possibly in Lyon, should be played behind closed doors. Without even mentioning the measures taken with our neighbors.

There is no good year to manage a global epidemic, but it is a really bad one: the Euro requires the club to end the season on the weekend of May 30 and 31. Between early April and May 30, the day scheduled for the Champions League final in Istanbul, four midweek dates are supposedly free in the club calendar. But they will be vied for by the national federations for cutting rounds, which concern Paris, Lyon, Bayern Munich, Chelsea, Manchester City, Juventus and Naples. Italy must also find a way to finish its championship, which will be considerably behind schedule, and Spain has scheduled two championship days midweek.

If the coronavirus epidemic decreases by mid-April, tight programming will likely allow UEFA to finish its competition on schedule. But this hypothesis appears optimistic, insofar as contingency plans are already under study concerning the European Nations Championship.

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