Uefa talks may clarify Celtic, Hearts and Premiership situation

Video conference of 19-strong executive committee

Uefa president Aleksander Ceferin will chair today's video conference. Picture: Fabrice Coffrini/AFP

A World Cup Golden Boot winner, a former Hamilton Accies defender and one of Sir Alex Ferguson’s closest confidants.

Those are just three members of the 19-strong Uefa Executive Committee whose meeting this morning might – just might – bring greater clarity to how European football can conclude its 2019-20 season.

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Following their video-conference with all 55 national members associations on Tuesday, Uefa appeared to accept that its previous hope of implementing a one-size-fits-all approach to the problem is simply not feasible.

The Scottish Professional Football League, one of the potential “special cases” Uefa may consider granting dispensation to call time on the domestic campaign, will be on tenterhooks awaiting the outcome of the all-powerful ExCo’s deliberations.

But the video-conference, chaired by Uefa president Aleksander Ceferin and scheduled to start at 9am, will hear voices of its representatives from countries and associations where the differing approaches to the coronavirus pandemic underline the almost unfathomable complexity of the issue from football’s perspective.

For example, the SPFL might hope for a sympathetic and like-minded approach to the situation from ExCo member Davor Suker, the president of the Croatian Football Association, who lifted that World Cup Golden Boot back in 1998.

A nation of similar population size to Scotland, Croatia also had a dominant and established champion leading their top flight when football was suspended last month. Dinamo Zagreb are 18 points clear at the top with ten games left to play, a position reasonably comparable to Celtic’s 13-point advantage in the Premiership with eight games remaining.

But unlike the SPFL, who last week passed the resolution which will allow them to end the Premiership and decide on points-per-game as the table stands, Suker’s Croatian FA remain committed to finishing their season on the pitch with potential restart dates of 30 May and 13 June on the table.

That kind of timescale has already been ruled out in Scotland, of course, with the Scottish FA suspending clubs from even training until at least 10 June, while the majority view of the SPFL board is that it will not be possible to play fixtures again until September at the earliest.

Yet in Germany, where clubs have been back in socially-distanced training sessions for over two weeks now, the Bundesliga has announced its intention to resume the season with closed door fixtures on 9 May.

That is subject to approval from a government meeting on 30 April.

With outstanding payments worth around £260 million from broadcasting contracts riding on the 2019-20 campaign being concluded on the pitch, it’s easy to understand why the Bundesliga are so anxious to get their show back on the road.

The same approach applies to the other “big five” leagues in England, Italy, France and Spain.

Spanish FA president Luis Rubiales, whose journeyman playing career included four appearances for Hamilton Accies back in 2009, is another Uefa ExCo member who will have the financial implications of failure to complete the season at the forefront of his contribution to Thursday’s meeting.

Likewise David Gill, the former Manchester United chief executive whose 16 years at Old Trafford saw him form a formidable working relationship with Sir Alex Ferguson in the most successful era of the club’s history. Now serving as treasurer on Uefa’s ExCo, overseeing cash reserves of over £500m as reported in its latest accounts, Gill will be mindful of the repercussions for the English Premier League which would be due to pay a reported rebate of £762m to its broadcasting partners if the current campaign does not resume.

It won’t only be the agendas of the biggest leagues which will be pushed at the ExCo meeting, it will be those of the biggest clubs themselves.

The European Club Association (of which Aberdeen, Celtic, Hearts, Motherwell and Rangers are members) has become increasingly influential in recent years and now has two representatives on the Uefa ExCo.

Andrea Agnelli, the owner and chairman of Juventus, will reflect the view from Italy, one of the countries worst-hit by Covid-19 and where all 20 Serie A clubs unanimously agreed this week to resume training on 4 May with a view to completing the season.

Nasser Al-Khelaifi, president of Paris Saint-Germain whose defence of their French domestic title has been pencilled in for 17 June by Ligue 1 bosses, can also bring a commercial perspective to the crisis as chairman of beIN Sports who have multiple multi-million pound TV contracts with leagues across Europe.

Ahead of Thursday’s meeting, a working group composed of representatives from Uefa, the ECA and the European Leagues (of which the SPFL is a founder member) compiled a number of possible options for rescheduling both the rest of this season and the 2020-21 campaign.

One of the biggest issues from Uefa’s standpoint is maintaining the sporting integrity of deciding which clubs qualify for the Champions League and Europa League next season if they come from countries who find themselves either unwilling or unable to resume their current domestic campaign.

That’s why the SPFL are holding fire on making a call on the Premiership in line with their decision to wrap up the Championship, League 1 and League 2 on a points-per-game basis. But with Belgium having already made clear their intention to end the top flight season and the Netherlands poised to follow suit on Friday, after Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte announced a ban on public gatherings will remain in force until 1 September, Uefa’s hand is now being forced in terms of finding a compromise solution for smaller leagues.

While an update will be issued by Uefa after the ExCo meeting, there is no guarantee of a definitive position being declared just yet. But against such an unprecedented and unpredictable backdrop, there may just be agreement for the kind of flexible approach which allows the SPFL to resolve its Premiership conundrum.


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