The Coronavirus Has Infected European Soccer: Here Are Its Symptoms
In the buildup to one of the most anticipated summers in European soccer and one of the closest battles for the championships in Germany, Spain, and Italy that we have seen in recent years, the Coronavirus has struck. Originally only affecting Italy, in the past week it has spread to affect Spain and France and is likely going to affect continent-wide competitions in the coming weeks. Before getting into the potential consequences it may have in the future for European soccer, let's discuss what has already happened.
It all began with certain players getting detained. Following his transfer to Manchester United from the Chinese Super League, Odion Ighalo was detained and quarantined for Manchester United's winter break training sessions, forced to join the team late and only able to break into the starting 11 in the past couple of weeks due to the risk of his exposure to the disease. Similarly, Tottenham Hotspurs' star, Son Heung-Min, was quarantined after a visit home to South Korea for surgery. Luckily, Son was already injured so it had little effect on his club, only on his ability to recover from the injury with the team's staff.
However, the real devastating symptoms of this illness were discovered recently and are exponentially worsening by the day. It all began with Italy. A few weeks ago, Italy announced that all of its games would be played without fans in the stadiums. Following countless postponed games and outbreaks of the illness throughout the country, this precautionary measure was much needed. After scoring yesterday in an empty stadium in what ended up being the last game before Italy took further precautions, Sassuolo's Francesco Caputo celebrated with a sign, pictured below, that reads "It'll all be fine. Stay at home."
Unfortunately, following this past weekend's games, the Italian Olympic Committee announced that all sporting events in the country, including the Serie A, Italy's top tier of soccer, would be postponed indefinitely due to the disease. At this point in time, no one knows if the Serie A season will even finish. The league is considering adopting a new playoff format similar to that of the MLS and other American sports leagues to decide its winner.
The only other option the league has considered is ending the season with the current standings. In a league that has been dominated solely by Juventus, this season was a breath of fresh air for Italian soccer fans as Lazio and Inter Milan have both been keeping up with their bigger brother from Turin. Sadly, if the league season ended today, Juventus would win the league by 1 point and we would never get to see the title race that was set for the coming months.
After all of these issues in Italy, other countries have begun to follow suit. Recently, the French league, Ligue 1, and the Spanish league, La Liga, have announced that all of their games will indefinitely be played behind closed doors or limited to 1000 fans or less.
Overall, due to the issues in these three countries and throughout the majority of Europe, the entire continent is being affected. For instance, the round of 16 matches of the Champions League are now all being played behind closed doors as well as the remaining matches of the Europa League. In fact, the Coronavirus's effect on the competition has been so immense that a reporter from the Valencia versus Atalanta game on February 19th contracted the disease while covering the match. In a competition that spurs so much passion from its fans and actually has a rule that benefits teams who score away goals because it is so hard to score in front of a crazy crowd of fans cheering for the other team, the loss of revenue will be immense.
While all of these symptoms have already occurred, the potential losses for soccer that may follow would be far more devastating. The governing body of soccer in Europe, UEFA, is currently considering ending both of these competitions after their current rounds and also cancelling the upcoming European championships, the most illustrious and competitive national team competition in the world besides the World Cup.
All of these issues revolving around the Coronavirus will surely tank the ratings, revenue, and future of these European competitions, leaving a large and irremovable asterisk in the record books. For now, all we can do as fans is hope that the disease is contained so competitions can resume and cheer for our favorite teams from the comfort of our homes rather than the seats in the stadiums.