On the 28th of April, French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe announced that the 2019/20 sporting season would be over, a decision that came as a shock to the clubs in France as well as the Ligue de Football Professional (LFP), the governing body of professional football in the country. With Paris Saint-Germain topping the table with a 12 point lead (and a game in hand), they were declared champions shortly after, their 7th title in 8 seasons.
The decision to abruptly end Ligue 1 (and Ligue 2) was met with scepticism, not least from Aleksander Čeferin, the current President of UEFA, who spoke to beIN SPORTS this week about what he thought of the ruling, but also how he felt for the clubs that were affected.
“For us, the important thing is that we know who is the Champion, who is second, who is third, and fourth. My personal opinion is that you cancel a season super early..” he shrugs, taking a moment to formulate the right words.
"It’s not an ideal thing because things can improve a lot and everybody can play except a few leagues. But again, if it’s the decision of the government, what can the clubs do? Or the league? They cannot do anything. But for me the decision was premature. But it doesn’t affect UEFA, so it’s their decision.”
The development was made more complex by the fact that two French clubs remain in the Champions League, with Paris Saint-Germain having already qualified for the Quarter-finals after eliminating Borussia Dortmund, while Lyon has yet to play the second leg of the Round of 16 tie against Juventus, being up 1-0 after the first leg at home.
“We have two French clubs playing in the Champions League and now they will not play till August. I don’t know if it’s good for them, not to play and then go (and play) tough and important matches. But this is not my decision, and we respect it."
"We have to respect it and of course the clubs have to respect the decision of the government. We are not going to deal with the situation because it’s up to different bodies in France to deal with."
"For us, we sent clear guidelines (on the) sporting reasons can be the formula for qualifying for the Champions League and Europa League,” Čeferin says, before addressing the elephant in the room; Lyon, who were fifth less than a week before the season was halted but have since been placed seventh on points per game (0.03 points behind both Nice and Reims) have threatened legal action against the LFP. “
I heard about some, let’s say ‘problems’ about that but I will leave it up to the French league and to the French authorities.”
Lyon are now out of the running for even the Europa League, though they could yet qualify for next season’s Champions League, if they manage to win the entire competition, though the difficulty of that task could be heightened by the measures put in place by the French government and how that would affect the Champions League when it resumes.
“If we play two legs, then Paris Saint-Germain and Lyon, if they qualify, will have to organize it in France. If it’s not possible they will have to organize it in a neutral ground. If we have a two-legged competition, everybody has to play. And if you cannot play in your country then you have to organize it on neutral ground and that’s it.”
Aside from the prestige that European competition offers, prize money and TV revenue are also at stake, with the riches of the Champions League in the balance. Almost every league and club will also be hit hard by being unable to fulfil contractual obligations of broadcasters, sponsors, and commercial partners, even if competitions do resume, and in an age where Financial Fair Play looms large, Čeferin understands that the rules may have to be adjusted.
“The situation is extraordinary. And we will not pretend it’s not. We will adapt the Financial Fair Play system, but the final decision, in which direction we will do it is not (decided) yet. So yes, we will adapt it. We think it’s important to adapt it, because the situation for the clubs is not easy and we are all in the same boat here.”
But supporters of Manchester City aside, the average fan of European football is not focused on the financial aspect of the game, and only wants to know when they can watch elite football again.
Atalanta’s fairytale run could yet continue, while Leipzig has impressed and conquered all put before them. Four ties remain in the balance, including Real Madrid and Chelsea having to come back from the first leg defeats to Manchester City and Bayern Munich respectively, while Barcelona and Juventus are far from assured progress against Napoli and Lyon. Čeferin is sure we will see it all play out, one way or another, though he is unsure about the fate of each domestic competition.
“We have a concrete plan of finishing the European season. I think the majority of the leagues will finish the season. The ones who will not, it’s their decision, but they will still have to play qualifiers if they want to participate in UEFA competitions,” Čeferin, the seventh President of UEFA says, before elaborating further.
“We have to wait for the executive committee of UEFA to confirm the dates but I can say that the European season will be finished if everything is like it looks now in August. As things look now, I’m sure we can finish the European season and that means UEFA Competitions. The national leagues are a separate thing and they will decide separately how they want to proceed but as I said before I think at least 80% will finish the season.”
The Netherlands and Scotland have also formally announced their seasons have concluded, though the season was voided in the Netherlands, where Ajax and AZ were tied for the top spot, while Celtic was declared winners of the Scottish Premiership, Dundee relegated to the Championship.
With every league competition being treated differently and so much football yet to be played, many have wondered how this will affect the start of the 2020/21 season, especially as Champions League and Europa League qualifiers usually start in late June or early July. Čeferin, though, is confident it will still come together nicely.
“For now, it looks like the calendar will not be much affected, especially the calendar of UEFA competitions. The calendar is very dense and we don’t have much space to change things and my opinion is that it will stay the same. About the national leagues, it’s hard to say now."
"Some say they are thinking of starting a bit later, some will start normally, it’s too far. For European Competition, for Europa League and Champions League, we are of the view that it should stay the same,” the 52-year old Slovenian says.
“Maybe a day or two difference, but in principle it should and I think it will stay the same.”