FanHub Content Writer Russ takes us through his personal thoughts of how Covid-19 and Brexit will affect football in the next calendar year.
2020 has been mad, horrific and deeply disturbing; some good things have been able to come out of the fire of misery that the change of the decade brought. To describe 2020 in a word, we’d have to put an explicit mark on this post, so we’ll go with ‘unpredictable’ instead.
Everyone’s lives got turned upside down and thrown about, and as shops, restaurants and loo roll all went missing from our lives, so did something that’s incredibly important to a lot of people. Football.
The beautiful game had a tough year. From league curtailing and cancelations, to leagues ending on PPG and fans not being able to get in and see their beloved boys. It’s been a rough one. As a fan of an EFL club that is never on TV, I can tell you that watching a stream is absolutely nothing like going to the stadium. But at least we have been able to watch them remotely. The EFL’s iFollow service has had some deep flaws, but it has at least brought some normalcy to these strange times. At 3 o’clock across the country, millions of people park themselves in their second favourite chair (second to the seat in the ground, obviously) and watch their team battle for the three points.
2020 was weird, but we just about managed it, and we should proud to have made it to 2021. But could these next 12 months be just as crazy?
The COVID-19 Effect
Boxing Day is a football tradition, but not all of us were even blessed with the inferior version of streamed football. SIX League One games were postponed due to COVID related reasonings. It isn’t a surprise at all as so many of us expected this to happen much earlier in the reason. Most clubs have had some sort of COVID outbreak that has caused postponement or lead to them fielding a weakened team.
Now, I’m no COVID expert – I’m not sure anyone, literally anyone, is – but it all seemed to be getting a lot rosier in early December. A couple of vaccines were headed our way and everyone seemed to be in higher spirits. But now with the understanding of a new strain’s outbreak in the South East, and the even newer South African strain, then we seem to be in an even darker place than before.
Many football fans got their moments in the stadiums, but now they’ve largely been dragged back away again. Frustrating.
Tier 4 is seemingly on the horizon for most of the country after London lead the way into the tighter restrictions.
So, What Does This Mean For Football?
Firstly, don’t expect fans back in the grounds any time soon. The government have made it excruciatingly clear that they don’t care about keeping the mental-health-saving sport accessible to fans, despite accepting the excellent social-distancing methods that have been used across the nation’s stadiums. If Tier 4 spreads or even, as rumoured, a national lockdown returns, then fans will have no chance of returning in the immediate-to-medium term future.
Secondly, expect more postponements. Footballers are humans at the end of the day. They can catch COVID as easily as everyone else. As the COVID numbers across the country increase, then it’ll be reflected in football too. Rochdale have their next two league games postponed, and Manchester City joined the ever-growing list when their ties against Everton, Chelsea and Manchester United were also postponed.
Thirdly, there is a rumour circulating around the football sphere – I don’t know how much truth is in it though. A circuit breaker is rumoured to be happening in English football that’ll last three weeks. I’m not entirely sure what good that will actually do though? Just get it out of the clubs systems?.
Lastly, don’t be massively surprised if this season is curtailed or finished up on PPG. A curtailment is more likely. If they end it in the coming weeks on PPG it would be ludicrous with still so much to play.
On the Pitch
At times this season the football on display has been crazy! The Premier League started in chaotic fashion with goals flying in in every direction. We all thought that we were in for one hell of a viewing experience (then they put the games behind PPV). The goal-frenzy has largely chilled out, but we are still getting some mad games – just watch Leeds United for them ones.
In the EFL we didn’t see that same trend. In a lot of games we’ve noticed the obvious need for fans and atmosphere to make the games more entertaining. To liven them up a bit. So, I suppose we can expect more of the same – some drab affairs and some wild ones.
One thing that has been noticed this season: are away leads easier to hang on to this year? Without that home roar pushing the home side on, have away teams found it easier?
COVID-19 has certainly hit the pockets of every club in England. From multi-billionaire clubs at the top level applying for furlough, to League Two club’s supporter groups raising tens of thousands of pounds to help their club navigate these times. I know who I have more sympathy for.
Despite the financial impact that happened to the Premier League clubs, they still went on to spend millions upon millions in the summer transfer window. Over £1 billion was spent by Premier League clubs in the summer… but Arsenal couldn’t afford to pay Gunnersaurus.
When it comes to Premier League transfers, you can sort of expect more of the same. Inflated prices, and over-paying galore.
2020 wasn’t just the year that ruined the name of a popular lager, whilst simultaneously growing it’s market ten-fold. No, the UK also finally got its ‘oven-ready’ Brexit deal over the line. A 90th minute consolation goal. 2020 364 vs 1 England. A valiant fightback? Hardly.
COVID’s financial implications aren’t the only thing that’ll come into play for the transfers of 2021. Brexit’s new employment terms will have a massive effect too.
So, Premier League clubs now can’t signed U18 foreign players, they can also only sign three foreign U21 players per window and all foreign players will have to go through a points-based system. You get points for things you’ve done, for example, if you represent your country, then come on in! But only if you’ve featured in over half of their international games over the past two years. And only if they’re from a country that are particularly good at football. You have to achieve 15 points to get a GBE (I don’t know what that stands for either), then you can be signed by a British club.
EU players will also have to go through the same work-permit hurdles that non-EU players already had to do.
What Does This Mean Then?
Well, the likes of younger Paul Pogbas wouldn’t have been able to join academies here in England. It’ll also mean that only really the top English teams can sign foreign players. A player who’s played over 50% of their international games in the past two years, for FIFA top-10 ranked nation, aren’t going to sign for Sheffield United, are they? No offence to you Blades, but no, no they’re not.
Surely, this’ll just lead to an expanding gap between the top Premier League clubs and everyone else? Literally no one wants that.
Also, it means the Championship – which has been a great breeding ground for young foreign talent – will seriously struggle to sign any foreign players again. The likes of N’Golo Kante, Neal Maupay, Said Benrahma, and Ruben Neves – to literally just name a few off the top of my head – would never have got their chance in England.
There are some great names in the Championship at the moment too that would never have been able to come. The likes of Bryan Mbeumo and Jeremie Bela.
The landscape of transfers in England has massively changed.
Will More Clubs Go Bust?
Everyone was seriously worried that we would lose a lot of EFL clubs by this time of year. The huge match-day revenue loss has fundamentally set every club’s business model on fire. It’s somewhat of a miracle that we haven’t lost anyone yet.
The rescue package that has/will be lent by the Premier League will certainly help a lot of clubs make ends meet for a short while. But whilst fans are away then money will continue to be lost. Crewe Alexandra director, Charles Grant, recently stated that when they had two thousand fans back in the stands it actually cost the club more money than the previous empty-stadiumed weekend. All two thousand were season ticket holders, thus meaning no new ticket money came in. The bars and food stands also closed due to COVID regulations. So no one actually spend any money that hadn’t already been spent. The cost of added stewards and security, etc, meant that the day cost Crewe financially. It would have been the same for 99% of clubs were able to welcome back fans in December.
It wouldn’t surprise anyone if the L1&2 48, became 47 or 46 by June.
All In All
All in all we can expect the Premier League clubs to still be spending money at a crazy rate. We can also suspect that some of that money will stay in England though. As lots of top clubs will be desperate for English talent. You can expect less lowly Premier League and upper Championship clubs to be spending wedges on foreign imports too. Young talents in L1&2 might go up the pyramid due to these Brexit changes, but also might not, because of the financial issues for the potential buyers. Expect crowdless and soulless football to continue, and expect postponements galore. Don’t be surprised if it all ends, temporarily or medium-term.
Whatever you do, expect it to be truly unpredictable.