French football ponders next steps after being told season cannot restart
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French football clubs are bracing themselves for a major financial hit after Tuesday's government announcement that the current season would not be allowed to restart, with the uncertainty leaving even all-powerful Paris Saint-Germain facing potentially serious consequences.
Clubs had been optimistic that the season -- suspended in mid-March with 10 games remaining -- would be allowed to resume in mid-June behind closed doors.
That would have guaranteed revenue from television, but Prime Minister Edouard Philippe delivered a hammer blow in an address to the National Assembly as he detailed plans to ease the strict lockdown introduced to curb the spread of the coronavirus.
"The 2019-2020 professional sports leagues, notably football, cannot restart," Philippe said, while adding that gatherings of over 5,000 people would remain outlawed until September.
The French league will now meet on Thursday "to analyse the sporting and economic consequences" of the government announcement. The season could in theory still be played to a conclusion, somehow. Jean-Michel Aulas, the president of Lyon, insists as much.
"I wonder if we can't come up with a format which would allow us to finish the season in July or maybe August," Aulas said.
However, it is worth remembering that Lyon were seventh when the season was suspended and so stand to miss out on European qualification for the first time in 24 years if no more games are played.
In contrast, Nice president Jean-Pierre Rivere said the government had made "a wise decision, very responsible".
- Will PSG get title? -
Assuming no more matches take place, the league must decide how to end the season. It is understood that France will not follow the lead of the Netherlands, who decided to void their season with no champion, relegation or promotion.
Final placings could be attributed based on the standings as they are, or using an average of points per game.
PSG were 12 points clear with a game in hand when the campaign stopped, with Marseille and Rennes in Champions League qualifying berths.
France had reported 23,660 deaths from Covid-19 by Tuesday, one of the highest totals worldwide. However, the determination to get football up and running again was an economic one.
With UEFA eager to start next season in good time, Ligue 1 appears in an impossible situation.
Sports daily L'Equipe calculates that the top two divisions could now miss out on 243 million euros ($264 million) from broadcasters Canal Plus and beIN Sports, plus 35 million euros for international rights. That is on top of lost gate receipts and sponsorship.
- What future for Neymar, Mbappe? -
PSG, whose wage bill last year pushed 350 million euros, are reportedly in discussions with their squad over pay cuts. They reportedly stand to lose up to 215 million euros in the crisis.
It raises the question of whether it will be sustainable for PSG to retain both Kylian Mbappe and Neymar going forward. The latter is spending lockdown back home in Brazil.
All French clubs will now be anxiously waiting to see what will happen to a record TV rights deal with Chinese-owned group Mediapro due to kick in next season. The four-year deal is worth 1.15 billion euros annually.
The group do not even have a channel in France as yet and it seems to be the worst possible timing for them to set up in a new market.
In the meantime, Europe's other leading leagues will be closely following developments.
Germany remains hopeful of restarting the Bundesliga in mid-May, and in England there is government support for the idea of getting the Premier League up and running again "as soon as possible".
Spanish football is hoping to return possibly in early June, with La Liga president Javier Tebas saying "football is an important economic driver that we need to reactivate like many others."
Nevertheless, Italian sports minister Vincenzo Spadafora has warned that Italy may now have to follow the lead of France and the Netherlands.
"The decisions being taken by other countries, like France... could push Italy to follow this line too, which would then become a European line," he said.
© 2020 AFP