NO escaping the fact now, football in England has entered its most devastating period in 75 years.
The news that Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta (which came in a phone call to me from the Arsenal CEO late Thursday) and Chelsea forward Callum Hudson-Odoi tested positive for coronavirus brought forward the inevitable day the Premier League would need to be suspended, pending possible cancellation.
⚠️ Read our Coronavirus in Sport live blog for the latest news, updates and cancellations
And that is the optimistic way of looking at it.
If the Prime Minister’s ‘sombrero’ graph is anywhere near an accurate forecast then suspension might need to be extended until June-July. Or, worst scenario, that the start of next season will be delayed.
I have no doubts the Premier League will survive. The task for all football is to limit the damage.
The mortals in the Health Ministry were reminded this week that they do not have god-like gifts to shape the spread of the disease.
Their wishful plan to hold off on cancelling big sporting events for a while was destroyed by one verdict — that Arteta had caught the virus.
The house of hope collapsed because once the contagion was in the brickwork, dry rot took over.
Arsenal’s matches had to be called off and all of Arteta’s dozens of contacts had to be placed in isolation.
NULL AND VOID
Arsenal hosted West Ham just over a week ago and our manager David Moyes is also in self-isolation although that is a sensible precaution as he is showing no symptoms at all.
The same was true of Hudson-Odoi. The masonry was falling fast.
Such is the potency of the disease that no one is safe.
We do not even know if it can be caught twice. Fundamentally, it has to be eradicated and not until there is an effective vaccine — a year ahead at least — big sport will be at its mercy.
The only antidote at present is care in human contact and unrelenting pursuit of hygiene.
Suspension or cancellation of the league was always a certainty.
There is no dodging the possibility that all levels in the EFL as well as the Premier League will have to be cancelled and this season declared null and void because if the players can’t play the games can’t go ahead.
The PL hopes that an interlude of three weeks from today will enable it to restart but that may well be dreamland.
Perhaps scrubbing the European Championship could provide more time to complete the season into the summer but that is also a giant ‘if’.
The issue is that medical advice is that for every day a player is in isolation he needs a day to recover his fitness.
This on top of the issue that Covid-19 is so highly contagious the thought that everyone will be in and out of isolation and fit to play on April 4 seems so unlikely.
So what if the league cannot be finished?
As games in both the PL and in the EFL are affected, the only fair and reasonable thing to do is declare the whole season null and void.
Who knows who would have gone down or come up if the games have not actually been played in full?
A huge blow to Liverpool who might be robbed of their first title in 30 years.
This will be discussed between the PL and the clubs next week at an emergency meeting.
There are, of course, financial implications, wages and transfer debts must be paid and there is lost broadcast revenue, lost matchday income but this pales into insignificance as the health and well-being of everyone must come first.
Further down the EFL, right down to the pyramid, the greater the threat to future existence. But I suspect that by hook or by crook most will survive.
The virus has a long way to travel yet. Last Monday all games were going ahead and by Friday all 20 Premier League clubs had voted in an emergency shareholder meeting call to suspend the league. A week is a long time at the moment.