Stephen Halliday: I’ll have whatever Uefa president is on

Aleksander Ceferin seems to be in fantasy land over return of fans

Saturday, 12th September 2020, 7:30 am
Uefa president Aleksander Ceferin wants a crowd of 20,000 for the Super Cup between Bayern Munich and Sevilla. Picture: Paolo Bruno/Getty

Aleksander Ceferin is clearly a glass half-full kind of guy.

Speaking to the European Club Association’s annual general assembly earlier this week – remotely, of course, as it was held via videoconference – the Uefa president declared: “We cannot say everything is normal but it will be normal soon.”

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If Ceferin is to be admired for his unfailing optimism amid the Covid-19 crisis, it’s safe to say it is not widely shared among those hoping to facilitate the return of supporters to stadiums sooner rather than later.

The financial unsustainability of professional football if fixtures continue to be played behind closed doors is obvious and was starkly outlined by ECA chairman and Juventus owner Andrea Agnelli who predicts a drop in Champions League and Europa League income of over £500 million for Uefa.

Stating that clubs across the continent are all now in ‘crisis management’ mode, Agnelli claimed the ‘vast majority will bear deep scars from this crisis’.

From a Scottish perspective, the situation is as bleak as ever. Notwithstanding today’s facile test events in the Premiership, where 300 home fans will be admitted to the matches in Aberdeen and Dingwall, there is no immediate prospect of spectators coming back regularly in numbers significant enough to even begin compensating for the loss of revenue through the turnstiles which is the lifeblood of our clubs.

The Scottish Government’s ultra-cautious approach to coronavirus leaves the Scottish Professional Football League hamstrung. This week’s postponement of the return of fans to sporting events announced by Nicola Sturgeon was delivered in a manner which suggested the First Minister doesn’t expect to change her tune when the situation is next reviewed on 1 October.

It’s a scenario which means Scotland’s play-off semi-final against Israel at Hampden on 8 October, which should have been the SFA’s most lucrative fixture in many years, would go ahead at an empty national stadium.

The same fate awaits the first Old Firm game of the season on 17 October, the same day the shortened campaigns in the Championship, League 1 and League 2 are due to begin.

The SFA must also fear for the rescheduled 2019-20 Scottish Cup semi-finals on the weekend of 31 October and 1 November.

Uefa are hoping to set a more positive trend by hosting a crowd of 20,000 inside the 67,000-capacity Puskas Arena in Budapest for the Super Cup Final between Bayern Munich and Sevilla later this month.

Some countries are embracing a more ambitious approach to getting bums back on seats – Switzerland believe they can be at 65 percent of capacity in their top flight stadiums soon, while crowds of up to 10,000 are expected to attend some of the first round matches in the German Cup this weekend.

But even in a nation as libertarian as Sweden, where their herd immunity policy for Covid-19 stood them apart from the rest of Europe, it’s not a simple equation. While crowds of 500 are due to return to Allsvenskan matches next month, clubs’ requests for higher numbers were rejected by the Swedish health authority on the basis it may lead to overcrowding on public transport.

There is no one-size-fits-all solution to this crisis for football, which makes next summer’s delayed Euro 2020 finals in 12 host cities across Europe appear more impractical than ever. Not according to the bold Uefa president, mind you.

“It looks like we will play the same system in 12 countries and I’m confident that that we will do it next year,” was his most recent take on the logistical challenges his organisation’s flagship event faces. In these trying times, perhaps we should all have a glass of what he’s drinking.

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