When Will The 2019/20 Premier League Season Be Concluded?

Published on: March 20, 2020
Author: Daniel Hubert
When Will The 2019/20 Premier League Season Be Concluded?

Richard Masters (centre) managing director of the Premier league in the stands

When the Premier League announced last Friday that the 2019/20 season would be suspended until April 4, few expected the action to actually restart on that date. And so it has proved, with England’s top flight – together with the Championship, League One, League Two and the women’s game – now on hold until the end of next month at the earliest.

“We [the FA, Premier League, EFL and women’s professional game] are united in our commitment to finding ways of resuming the 2019/20 football season and ensuring all domestic and European club league and cup matches are played as soon as it is safe and possible to do so,” read a joint statement released on Thursday.

“We have collectively supported UEFA in postponing Euro 2020 to create space in the calendar to ensure domestic and European club league and cup matches have an increased opportunity to be played and, in doing so, maintain the integrity of each competition.

“The FA’s Rules and Regulations state that ‘the season shall terminate not later than the 1 June’ and ‘each competition shall, within the limit laid down by the FA, determine the length of its own playing season’.

“However, the FA’s board has agreed for this limit to be extended indefinitely for the 2019/20 season in relation to professional football. Additionally, we have collectively agreed that the professional game in England will be further postponed until no earlier than 30 April.”

The show must go on!

The news did not come as a surprise. The public’s safety must come first, and it would have been irresponsible in the extreme for football to have returned in two weeks’ time. The football authorities have afforded themselves a little more breathing space following Thursday’s announcement, but it is not clear what the picture will look like by the end of April. If the situation is brought under control in the coming weeks, perhaps the season will indeed be ready to return by May. However, it is still too early to say or whether or not that will be the case.

For the time being, then, key questions remained unanswered. There is a general desire among Premier League clubs for the season to be completed, one way or another. Each side in the division has at least nine games remaining, and there are plenty of prizes still up for grabs.

Liverpool may have built up an insurmountable 25-point lead at the summit of the standings, but they will be desperate to rubber-stamp their first title triumph since 1990. Leicester City, Chelsea, Manchester United, Wolves, Sheffield United, Tottenham Hotspur, Arsenal and Burnley are in contention for European qualification, so too are Manchester City if their two-season ban from continental competition is overturned by the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

At the other end of the table, six sides are desperately fighting to avoid relegation to the Championship. There are also promotion, play-off and relegation places up for grabs in the three divisions below the Premier League.

No ‘Get out of jail, free’ cards

West Ham vice-chairman Karren Brady was among the voices to call for the season to be declared null and void, but hers is a minority view. Thursday’s conference call reinforced the fact that there is a collective desire for all 760 Premier League matches to be completed. UEFA’s decision to push the European Championship back to 2021 has certainly aided that ambition, but several obstacles remain.

The first concerns fixture congestion, an issue exacerbated by the fact that clubs may have gone weeks without competitive action by the time the leagues are ready to reconvene. If the authorities want to complete the season in its entirety, that will not just involve nine or 10 Premier League games per club but also FA Cup, Champions League and Europa League matches. Even if the latter two competitions are slimmed down, perhaps to one-legged ties held at neutral venues, there remains an awful lot of football to be played.

Some leagues held games behind closed doors before the suspension, but that too is problematic. Crowds tend to gather away from the stadium even if they are not allowed inside it. And lower-league clubs, in particular, continue to rely heavily on matchday revenue; without it, their entire business model is drastically different.

Should I stay or should I go?

An even more complex issue surrounds players’ contracts, which typically run to June 30. Chelsea winger Willian told Esporte Interativo that he would be willing to play beyond that date despite the fact he will be a free agent on July 1. However, other players will not be willing to take that risk. Some, particularly in the lower leagues, may be fearful of picking up an injury that could affect their future employment prospects.

There is also the question of who exactly would pay for contracts that are extended beyond their current expiry dates. Premier League clubs may be rich enough to cover an additional few weeks of earnings, but that is not a luxury enjoyed by those outfits further down the pyramid – particularly as many such sides are expected to suffer financial difficulty given the drop in revenue induced by this unforeseen suspension.

A solution could be found by FIFA, which has announced that it is looking into the possibility of adapting the rules on player contracts and registrations. It is to be hoped that some sort of workaround can be identified, as the general feeling that ending the season before its natural conclusion would be unsatisfying and hugely problematic throughout the divisions. The likes of Liverpool, West Bromwich Albion and Leeds United, all occupying favourable positions in their respective tables, would justifiably feel hard done by were they denied what they appear to be on the verge of achieving.

For now, though, little has changed. Thursday’s announcement has provided a little further clarity and an insight into the authorities’ thinking, but the principal take-out from the meeting is that the Premier League and Football League have bought themselves more time.

Given that the crisis outside of the game is ongoing, that is sensible. Clubs throughout England must continue to work together – and with the governing bodies – to find a satisfactory solution to an extraordinary situation.