As football has finally returned to our screens after what seems an eternity, it is not the same as we know it. The entire landscape of football has changed and how teams prepare to face each other. Without fans, it is just 22 players facing each other to the echoes of their own voices. It is like watching a pre-season friendly, yet the stakes have never been higher, so why does it not seem like that? Let us take a look at the current impact Covid-19 is having on football and the potential everlasting effects that it could still have for the future.
The Premier League made its return to our screens and never before have so many people sat down to watch matches between bottom table clubs. The thrill and pure entertainment of watching football again are all we care about, regardless of the quality of the matches. It has been over 100 days since we last watched live action from the best league in the world and boy did it feel good to end that. The opening match was a stalemate 0-0 draw between Aston Villa and Sheffield United, but we didn’t care, because football was back. With multiple games on almost every day, it felt like our lives were back to normality. But this was just a distraction from the problems outside of the bubble we were in.
Watching the matches had an entirely different feel to them. With no crowd in the stadium, it was hard to take it seriously as a competitive match with no crowd noise, even with the crowd noise option. It felt like we were watching a friendly match with added water breaks, extra subs and slow build-up play from the off. It was clear that teams went out to feel their way back into the sport and get some game time under their belt. The high pressing, counter-attacking football that we are so used to was almost non-existent bar the odd glimpse. The cutting edge was missing, no team wanted to take too many chances or make too many dashing runs in fear of an injury occurring, which many did. It was a mediocre return to action, to say the least, but a return that we should be grateful for and can’t criticise too much.
While we will cut them some slack as it is only the first few games back, you have to question just how much of an impact the absence of fans has. It was clear that it affected each team in their own way, some teams thrive off fans as it boosts their adrenaline and eagerness to impress. Manchester City seemed to be the one team that it had no effect on whatsoever as they are after cruising through their two games back, racking up an impressive eight goals while conceding none. Compare this to Liverpool, who rely on their fans and the atmosphere they bring, as they seemed to struggle a lot against Everton. They were slow and never looked like posing a threat on the opposition’s goal which was worrying to see. We can make jokes about the “Emptihad” and how City are used to this atmosphere, but if we compare the two performances, Liverpool should be worried when they make the trip there July 2nd.
With the absence of fans clearly having an impact on the game, how long is this going to last? There is no indication on when fans will be allowed back into stadiums, not in the same capacity that we are used to seeing, which could take some time. Can the players get used to this new way of playing or will they continue to struggle without that atmosphere in the grounds? This is a question that only time can answer, but it no doubt will play its part. The players themselves have already discussed how strange it is to play like this, but they are still as committed as ever as they know their fans are watching them from home. Everton v Liverpool became the most viewed Premier League game ever in the UK, with 5.5 million viewers tuning in. This is very promising to see as people are still dedicated to supporting their teams and watching football matches despite the changes that have occurred. The next couple of weeks will be very telling as to how football will go on in the future.
With the transfer market each year seeming to spiral further into the abyss and away from common sense with outrageous figures, have we seen it reach its peak before the outbreak of the Coronavirus? Without football, there is little money coming into clubs with the majority of the money going in the opposite way. There are no ticket sales, in fact, clubs will now be paying out refunds on their season tickets. Broadcasters have suffered from nothing to show live for almost three months, which in turn impacts the clubs who now owe money to them. Have we seen the highest point money in football can go? If so, what happens next?
First of all, to even discuss transfers of over £100 million for one player should be thrown out the window and forgotten, no club in their right mind will take that risk. The only way clubs will be able to afford these transfers is if they see an equally good player going in the opposite direction to pave funds for the deals. Although the one club who seem to be at the forefront of transfer news is Chelsea. They are set to sign Timo Werner and potentially Kai Havertz, which would bring the fees to well over $100 million, good ol’ Roman Abramovic. How many other clubs will even consider paying these prices for players anymore, not to mention the wages which are an entirely different issue altogether? The future of the transfer market and club funding, in general, is up in the air due to a lack of income in certain areas. The last thing any club should be thinking about is making big money transfers at a time where money is going towards saving lives.
For the last decade, we have seen transfer fees rise to figures we never would have imagined, on players who really aren’t worth that calibre of money. Clubs have been consistently overpaying for players because there is that much money in football, so it is just seen as the norm. Liverpool seemingly pulling out of the Werner deal after him being their number one target for months is the first example of clubs being wary of spending during this time. Staff and players at all levels are having to take pay cuts to help ease the burden on clubs, but will the monstrous wages of £300,000 per week still exist when we are back to normal? It is very unlikely. Clubs are going to be a lot more money-conscious which will mean a reduction in spending in the market and reduced wage packages. If football was to keep going the way it was with the money in the game, it would just lose track of reality, so this may be a blessing in disguise for certain clubs.
I personally think it will be a long time before we get back to the same transfer fees and wages that we have become accustomed to. We won’t have money coming back into the game properly until fans are back fully and who knows when that may be. Any team who spends money now will be at risk, so I can’t see many transfers happening. You may see clubs selling their high earners to ease financial stress or to bring in new talent. Loan options over buying outright may well be a popular option for a lot of clubs. The future of the transfer market is up in the air, but it is unlikely that it will ever be the same as it was, although anything is possible in football. Could this put an end to the super-wealthy in football and restore us to an equal playing field like before the boom?
Clubs will no doubt be already feeling the effects financially from the Coronavirus outbreak. The sudden stoppage of football was something that nobody planned for. Each club will have suffered losses across the board which is why we are seeing so many cuts. The wealthiest league in the world, whether we like it or not is going through a financial crisis, something that could take years to amend. Clubs now also have to pay a broadcasting bill due to the restart of the league on our screens. With no income from ticket sales, this is a loss right away. Even the biggest clubs, who are in a good position for this are suffering major financial losses like never before. Revenues are falling by the millions, so no club will be coming out of this year with a profit. There is optimism for the long-term however due to sponsorship deals and other major forms of income.
While there is so much uncertainty around just about everything, do you think there are many positives to come from this? The fact that money is drying up, this might slow down the big spenders adding to their squads and maybe give other teams the chance to catch up with them. The distance between the top clubs and the bottom clubs is the biggest it has ever been and money has played the biggest role in this. Smaller clubs simply can’t compete with the big spenders and the gap shows. Could we see a closer playing field with clubs sticking to their squads or is the damage already done? It really is hard to guess but only time will tell. “At the end of a storm, there’s a golden sky.”
We may see a lot more teams thrive under these new conditions in the future and we may see some struggle. There is definitely the opportunity for smaller clubs to take a step forward without a hostile environment in place. The home advantage seems to be gone across the leagues with away teams coming out on top. Players will fade into the background of games without fans as they normally get their motivation from them. The mental side of things is going to play a bigger part than ever, self-motivation is going to need to be at an all-time high. Some players need fans to perform, others may perform better without them, it is a strange time and one where we will see who is cut out for it or not. In two or three years, we could have an entirely different landscape in football, we just don’t know, anything is possible.
Football as we know it will take some time to recover from this worldwide crisis. It is going to be a slow process but it will one day be back to normal, if not better. How we go to a stadium could completely change and the atmosphere could almost be better due to a long absence. The love for football will be stronger than ever before because we won’t take it for granted again. The money side of football is going to take a hit and we may see clubs going under as well as a lack of major spending across clubs and divisions. The effects of Covid-19 will be felt for quite some time, but football will come back stronger because it’s more than just a game.