As European leagues plan for restart, will France regret stopping football season?
With the German Bundesliga resuming next week and other leagues around Europe making preparations to restart after the coronavirus-induced suspension, could France end up regretting the decision to call an early end to its football season?
That is the fear of Jean-Michel Aulas, the outspoken president of Lyon who had hoped Ligue 1 could still be played to a conclusion despite last week's announcement by the French Prime Minister that it "cannot restart" any time soon.
"Why rush into saying it's difficult to play before August, when we don't know if other countries are going to have the same judgement," he told sports daily L'Equipe. "We should have done the political rounds of the other four major leagues."
Instead, the French league ended the season with 10 rounds of matches unplayed, crowning Paris Saint-Germain champions, relegating the bottom two, Amiens and Toulouse, and leaving Lyon seventh, denying them European qualification.
France is not alone. The Dutch season was abandoned, and Belgium is unlikely to restart.
In contrast, the Bundesliga will return on May 16, while Turkey, Hungary, Croatia and Serbia have set out resumption dates.
Portugal is on track to resume, and Spain hopes to restart next month. The Premier League is committed to finishing the season too, although the situation in Italy is less clear even if clubs have been given the green light to train again.
"The return of the Bundesliga is great news for the football industry," said Javier Tebas, the president of Spain's La Liga.
Speaking to L'Equipe, Aulas suggested that, in contrast, French clubs now stood to lose almost 700 million euros ($755m) from ending the season early.
"I have noted almost 10 European countries where they have restarted training. So it really makes you wonder. By adapting our methods, we probably could have finished the season," he said.
- Problem of Champions League return -
Ligue 1's revenue in 2018 was barely half the Bundesliga's 3.2 billion euros according to UEFA. Nor does France compare favourably with its neighbour when it comes to the coronavirus, with nearly 26,000 confirmed deaths against 7,000 -- although deaths in the UK, Italy and Spain are all higher.
Nevertheless, it is understandable that France might measure itself against Germany. They are the two largest economies in the European Union, with the largest populations.
There have been reports that French President Emmanuel Macron wanted Europe's other leading leagues to follow France's example, but German Chancellor Angela Merkel emphatically denied that any conversations took place.
In Germany they are aware of football's importance to the economy, with the sector employing 56,000 people. "The clubs don't want to risk everything. But it's also important to get back on track for the economic survival of the clubs," Freiburg player Jonathan Schmid told AFP.
Lyon and Amiens have hinted at legal action to try to overturn the French league's decision, which may in any case have been money-motivated -- Ligue 1 has a record new television deal starting next season, so needed as much certainty as possible about when the 2020-21 campaign might begin.
UEFA is determined to reduce delays to the start of next season too, but still hopes to complete the Champions League in August. That leaves Lyon and PSG in a bind, as both risk being badly underprepared having not played since March.
PSG are into the quarter-finals, while Lyon lead Juventus 1-0 after their last 16 first leg. The Lyon women's team are also still hoping to retain their Champions League crown.
The Parisian club's president, Nasser al-Khelaifi, has even suggested a novel solution if the French government does not allow their matches to be staged on home soil.
"We will play our matches abroad subject to the best conditions for our players and the safety of all our staff," he said, but that would hardly be ideal.
© 2020 AFP