Football will eventually return following the coronavirus pandemic, but it could look a little different.
The sport’s leading competitions have been suspended amid the global crisis, and FIFA president Gianni Infantino this week suggested the pause represented an opportunity to “reform football”.
“Perhaps we can reform football by taking a step backwards,” Infantino told Gazzetta dello Sport. “[There would be] fewer but more interesting competitions, maybe fewer teams but for a better balance, fewer but more competitive matches to preserve players’ health.”
But what could post-coronavirus football look like? What must remain? What should disappear?
Five Stats Perform writers have put forward their suggestions for how the sport can move forward.
NO MORE GROUP STAGES – Ben Spratt
Those seemingly most frustrated by football’s packed schedule are the coaches of leading European clubs. Therefore, there is a simple way to lose four games a season.
— UEFA Champions League (@ChampionsLeague) February 25, 2020
The most exciting Champions League and Europa League matches – with greater scope for shocks – tend to occur in the knockout stages anyway, so why not play two tense legs instead of six pool fixtures to advance?
A return to the format used in the European Cup and UEFA Cup might mean renaming the continental ‘Leagues’, but it is a price worth paying. Just keep the Champions League anthem!
DITCH FA CUP REPLAYS – Chris Myson
Even before the coronavirus pandemic caused a host of postponements and cancellations, fixture schedules were a particularly significant issue in England.
The FA Cup initially got rid of replays from the quarter-finals onwards and has since extended that to the fifth round. But now they should go all the way.
This would impact the one or two lower-league clubs each year who earn a dream replay against a top team in round three or four, but the competition has lost some of its lustre with big teams often resting their star names in the early rounds anyway.
Often the additional fixture is an inconvenience, while a one-off tie increases the drama and actually boosts the chance of a lower-tier club achieving an upset.
GET RID OF THE EFL CUP – Peter Hanson
Another sure-fire way to ease pressure on the calendar in England is to ditch the EFL Cup.
Your 2020 @Carabao_Cup winners
— E F L (@EFL) March 1, 2020
French football is ending the Coupe de la Ligue after this season, meaning English football will be the only one of the top-five European nations to have a second domestic cup competition.
With early rounds dominated by second-string XIs and fringe players, and the ‘bigger’ clubs largely utilising the cup as a means to give minutes to expensive benches, there is little clamour for the continuation of the EFL Cup.
AXE THE NATIONS LEAGUE – Liam Blackburn
If we’re looking to cut back, how about axing the newest competition, the one that has no history and remains a mystery to your Average Joe?
The thought process behind UEFA’s Nations League – to have more relevant fixtures and allow countries to play those they are more closely aligned with in the rankings – is commendable, yet it was undermined by the eventual absence of relegation from the inaugural edition.
The format and its relationship with qualifying for the Euros continues to be something of a Rubik’s Cube unless you’re a rocket scientist.
If something needs to go, can the convoluted.
CUT THE CLUB WORLD CUP – Patric Ridge
Infantino’s calls to trim a bloated calendar are sensible, but actions speak louder than words. Perhaps proof of his desire for “reform” would come with an early end to an expanded Club World Cup.
Although the new 24-team format would see the finals held every four years in lieu of the Confederation Cup, it still seems an unnecessary hindrance.
— Liverpool FC (@LFC) December 21, 2019
The competition has been won by the Champions League holders on all but four occasions since its 2000 inception and provides little in the way of entertainment.
Given the first new-look Club World Cup was due to take place in 2021 and now the Euros, Copa America and Olympics have each been pushed back to next year, Infantino has the opportunity to disregard this particular folly once and for all.
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