MARTIN SAMUEL: Liverpool’s season won’t come with an asterisk

Football is back but not everyone is happy. Here, our Chief Sports Writer MARTIN SAMUEL uses a Debate-style column to tackle readers’ comments over Project Restart… 

Toddys10, LiverpoolCommon sense has prevailed. To be in the position of Leeds United or West Bromwich Albion and then have to remain in that division for another season would have been a scandal. Likewise not to award the title to Liverpool.

MARTIN SAMUEL: Scandal, Toddy? I’m not sure it would be that. We’re dealing with unprecedented circumstances, don’t you think? Everyone is doing their best, even if it is only for their particular club.

Equally, I wouldn’t equate Liverpool’s position with that of Leeds or West Brom. Liverpool’s supremacy in the Premier League massively outweighs that of the Championship’s top two teams. Liverpool’s lead over second-placed Manchester City is greater than Leeds’ lead over Birmingham, who are 16th.

Liverpool's Premier League title was very much won before the coronavirus pandemic started

Liverpool's Premier League title was very much won before the coronavirus pandemic started

Liverpool’s Premier League title was very much won before the coronavirus pandemic started

Indeed, one of the most ridiculous aspects of the curtailment debate is the way Liverpool and Leeds, and all other league leaders and promotion candidates, have been equated.

Leeds are seven points clear of Fulham with nine games to go. In all likelihood, they will be promoted, but that outcome has nothing like the certainty of Liverpool’s title chances.

I think the real scandal, Toddy, is this idea that teams deserve promotion and relegation without completing the league programme. What might be about to happen to Tranmere in League One, or Stevenage in League Two — now that’s a scandal.

El Diablo, Manchester: There will be huge asterisks in the record books whatever happens.

MS: Again, not in Liverpool’s case. Their league title was very much won before coronavirus. Certainly there should be an asterisk against any team who were promoted without finishing the campaign. And two asterisks if they chose to vote for that method of completion rather than taking their chances by playing.

Aww3122, Cardiff: This is the fairest way to do it. Now, whoever goes down cannot blame anyone but themselves.

MS: Agreed. It’s not perfect but it was never going to be, and football outcomes should be decided on the field, not by votes cast in smoke-filled rooms by clubs with vested interests.

There should be an asterisk against any team who were promoted without finishing the season

There should be an asterisk against any team who were promoted without finishing the season

There should be an asterisk against any team who were promoted without finishing the season

Cup o Tea, London: The restart is absolute nonsense. It’s no longer the same season, because that will have ended three months prior to this new mini-league. So with the FA Cup final pencilled in for August 1, then what? No pre-season and straight into the next one? Why is the top four even important — can you really see the Champions League going ahead next season? Yes, a captive audience will watch the games on terrestrial TV but are we looking forward to it? I’m not, it will just be pointless and boring for all but a couple of teams, while those in relegation spots will feel hard done by in the circumstances.

MS: Yes, this does have a feel of a mini-league, and yes, relegated teams will feel unlucky and will always wonder what their fate would have been in any conventionally concluded season. And that’s very unfortunate.

But suspending the season was unavoidable and the restart is the best of many imperfect options. What happens after August 1 is the conclusion of UEFA competitions, meaning a rest for most, with the 2020-21 season beginning mid-September.

And I would certainly expect UEFA competitions to go ahead next year, so the Premier League will still need to put forward its four entrants, decided by the fairest way possible — a 38-game season, unfortunately to include some echoing, eerie fixtures near the end.

Again, not the ideal way, but still the most reasonable.

What happens after the FA Cup final on August 1 is the conclusion of UEFA competitions

What happens after the FA Cup final on August 1 is the conclusion of UEFA competitions

What happens after the FA Cup final on August 1 is the conclusion of UEFA competitions

Bizzibody, Manchester: What makes my blood boil is the stranglehold football has over other sports. Anyone would think it’s the only game people play. Cricket would have had its best start to the season this year. Yet even though only 13 players are on a pitch the size of a farmer’s field, football, with its 22 players on a pitch less than half the size, is allowed but not cricket. My four grandsons have had their summer ruined. One of them was due to have county trials. There’s no logic whatsoever.

MS: Yes there is. There is economic and commercial logic, which is why football’s return is prioritised, and then there is health and safety logic. I reckon the amount of time a slip cordon spends in proximity, or the batsman and a close fielder, exceeds the fleeting physical contact in football.

Set pieces are exceptions but the statistical research into football matches suggests minimal chance of infection.

The main reason football is starting ahead of cricket, however, is financial. Football generates wealth measured in millions, while Jimmy Anderson compared the sensation of playing behind closed doors to a typical County Championship game. Cricket is following the money, too, though. Why do you think the imperative is getting international games on?

And, of course, the demise of junior cricket this summer is sad, certainly having witnessed this gorgeous spring. But it is adults who get those games on and make the facilities ready, often club stalwarts of an older age. And that hasn’t been possible until recently.

That is perhaps the main reason grassroots cricket is slow to return.

Jimmy Anderson compared playing without fans to a typical County Championship game

Jimmy Anderson compared playing without fans to a typical County Championship game

Jimmy Anderson compared playing without fans to a typical County Championship game

Onanotherplanet, UK: The winners will never be considered true champions because the league wasn’t concluded on the same terms it began. Imagine suspending a horse race when the leader is clearly knackered and flagging and then, months later, resuming the race under completely different circumstances but giving the original leader the same distance advantage. Farcical.

MS: On another planet? Mate, you must be. Flagging? They lost one league game. Are you seriously trying to argue Liverpool were not going to win the Premier League?

JammyJamm, UK: I can’t go back to work. Most people can’t. People are dying and we are in the midst of a global pandemic. But the Premier League is going ahead anyway. Yeah, it’s all about the football.

MS: But people are always dying, whether in Minneapolis, London or sub-Saharan Africa. Terrible news is sadly ever-present.

If we’re talking globally, 400,000 people died of malaria in 2019; 770,000 died of AIDS in 2018. And those illnesses aren’t even the leading cause of mortality worldwide, which remains diarrhoea-related conditions.

So sport carries on despite tragedy. Life carries on, we all carry on.

I’m not belittling the extent of this crisis. My mother died six days into the London Olympics. I was waiting to interview Sir Bradley Wiggins, who had just won Great Britain’s first gold medal, when I got the text message that nobody with a seriously ill relative wants to read. The one that says get home soonest. So, for me, London 2012 does not contain the same happy-clappy memories that it does for many of you.

But I get that it was a fabulous experience for tens of millions and the fact we had not yet found a cure for some cancers — and still haven’t — doesn’t alter that.

So, yes, I am aware of every aspect of Covid-19, from death to painful recession. Yet football can get back to work, in its fashion. Just because a person welcomes that doesn’t mean he or she doesn’t understand the rest of it.

Chris Baker, Hampshire: Strange how the bottom six want the whole thing voided.

AdeAFCB, London: But they don’t. Eddie Howe of Bournemouth has said he is happy to restart if safe. Watford and Brighton have been the most vocal opponents — clubs rightly concerned that they could be relegated if neutral venues are used and with wider and more important worries regarding death rates. Fortunately those have dropped dramatically and the Bundesliga has shown it can play safely in the right conditions. The bottom six were widely condemned for being selfish but, funnily enough, there was not the same criticism when it came to the vote and teams like Arsenal, Liverpool and Chelsea pitched in over commercial concerns.

MS: I know. The clubs at the bottom say the Premier League weren’t interested in arguments against neutral venues until the elite piped up. So it’s funny the way selfishness is apportioned.

For instance, it is selfish of Mark Palios at Tranmere to oppose relegation unless the League One season is concluded, but not selfish of AFC Wimbledon to advocate moving straight to a points-per-game calculation that would save them at Tranmere’s expense, perhaps undeservedly.

And what is more selfish than those clubs mired in midtable mediocrity who do not want to play any more for financial reasons, then using their vote to relegate another club fighting for their life?

Maybe a vote for abandoning the season should be taken as volunteering for relegation. Any club that does not want to play forfeits its right to be in the competition. Everyone who wants to play can then play, everyone who wants to curtail is considered for demotion. And no clues how it’s going to be calculated, either. That way, we can find out who is truly selfish.

Bournemouth manager Eddie Howe has said he is happy to restart the campaign if safe

Bournemouth manager Eddie Howe has said he is happy to restart the campaign if safe

Bournemouth manager Eddie Howe has said he is happy to restart the campaign if safe

Tayop, London: The basic requirement for competition is fairness. The moment that is removed, integrity is compromised. Home advantage is assumed in football, mainly conferred by the presence of a home crowd. When the fans are absent, so is the advantage, meaning it will be unfair for teams who play at home now. I expect them to go to the courts.

MS: I don’t, Tay. I think there will be a consensus that if the league is played out, the disadvantage is spread evenly. It probably isn’t — small clubs will suffer disproportionately without a home crowd — but there is also an acceptance that the season has to be reconvened for commercial reasons.

It will be very unfortunate for three clubs but, provided the season is played, I don’t see courts being troubled; not least because clubs have unanimously agreed to return, so will be considered to have approved this framework.

Also, by your reckoning, what is surrendered in home advantage is regained when playing away.

Bob, UK: Pointless games now. The teams from seventh to 16th won’t be bothered. Liverpool will win the league within a couple of weeks and then they won’t care without their fans pushing them on. Norwich will be gone quickly and will give up. Leicester and Manchester City are nailed on for second or third. So we are all going through this for about five teams.

MS: Yes, mate. It’s called the end of the season. Same every year, even without coronavirus.

Matt, South Wales: Those advocating null and void had agendas. If other workers can resume, so can footballers. Look at France, where there is uproar that the season ended.

MS: There is and there isn’t, Matt. They’ve got a new and highly lucrative TV deal that the majority are very anxious to get started. The relegated clubs plus Lyon, who missed out on Europe, are the ones complaining.

But you’re right — it does seem to have been a premature call, as does Holland’s, giving their sole Champions League spot to Ajax, who were ahead of AZ Alkmaar on goal difference, having already lost to them home and away.

From the start, I advocated the Premier League playing the long game when others were calculating ways to hand Liverpool the title and relegate Aston Villa, despite the game in hand.

I think it has paid off. For all its flaws, it is better to decide issues with sporting meritocracy, not with random calculations and guesses.

Ajax have been given the sole Champions League spot in Holland after the season was ended

Ajax have been given the sole Champions League spot in Holland after the season was ended

Ajax have been given the sole Champions League spot in Holland after the season was ended

Eric the cat, London: Football without the crowd is just too nice. Get this bore wrapped up pronto.

MS: Maybe you could fashion a lightweight brick out of a bathroom sponge to throw at your television screen at opportune moments in a simulation of hopeless fury? Or a real brick — see if we care.

And on that bombshell, it’s over. Eric’s off to buy a new television and I’ll see you later this week. 

Deeney is a concerned father, not a coward 

Phil711, Raunds: The coward Troy Deeney needs to keep his mouth shut. His opinion is not important, especially to an NHS worker like me.

MARTIN SAMUEL: Now, we have no way of knowing if Phil is an NHS worker. Indeed, we have no way of knowing if Phil is really Phil — that’s the nature of online posts. However, my antenna is twitching because he does seem to be lacking the basic sense of empathy that is crucial to being a positive influence in care work.

Watford captain Troy Deeney's view does matter if he is talking football and football's return

Watford captain Troy Deeney's view does matter if he is talking football and football's return

Watford captain Troy Deeney’s view does matter if he is talking football and football’s return

Then again, not all NHS workers are frontline. Phil could be the sort who goes around putting tickets on your car when you’re visiting a sick relative and have run out of change. 

We won’t judge, except to say that Deeney’s view does matter if he is talking football and football’s return, particularly as he is balancing risk-reward with the health of his vulnerable son.

And he’s certainly not a coward, Phil, although if you ever plan on saying that to his face, let us know and we’ll come by with deckchairs and some popcorn. 

If you miss the old Debate format and wish to play out with music, I suggest Look Satisfied by The Nightingales. You’ll soon see why. 

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