Opinion: Why the Premier League season needs to be avoided

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Daniel Levy
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Firstly, this is only if the season cannot be finished. Just get that out there straight away. If the season can be finished, it should be finished. This is regardless of fan attendance. Fans are an ancillary part to the game. Matches can and do take place without them. No, it might not be ideal, but lest we forget, football is a business. It’s the players job to play. It’s the same as a TV panel quiz show going ahead without a studio audience. It might not be ideal, but the production of the show is larger than simply serving those members of the public lucky enough to attend and view it in person. 

There have been various ideas touted to achieve this: playing behind closed doors being the idea which appears to have the most traction. Other countries have adopted various approaches, with Germany seemingly keen to resume their season, to the Netherlands and France which have cancelled it. 

Some other nations- Spain, Italy for example; appear to be in the same boat as the UK. They want to finish their seasons, but having been hit harder by the coronavirus pandemic, are (quite rightly) reluctant to commit to a course of action while the future of the pandemic is still so uncertain.

If certainty is demanded however, there is only one way right now to achieve that: cancel the season. Stop talk of any further games. Just cancel it. This brings certainty to all. Clubs will know what is happening. Players will know what is happening. This nation’s media and football fans will know what is happening. 

So, what happens if the season can’t finish? Again, there appear to be various approaches being adopted. These range from declarations based on existing league positions, to determining final positions on a formulaic “expected points per game” ratio. 

The problem is, neither of these is fair. In fact, only one outcome is fair, and that is to avoid the season. 

Now what exactly does that mean? Well, firstly, to ‘avoid’ is a legal term, and essentially it is predicated on a contractual basis. Discussed in a very basic way here, it effectively means that something which was once possible is no longer possible. For instance, if you enter into a contract for one person to sell you bananas, the contract would be avoided if, after you entered into it, the government declares it illegal to buy and sell bananas. 

To apply that here, the Premier League season which the clubs all enter into was once possible, but no longer would be. As such, it is impossible to complete and should be ‘avoided’. 

This is pretty standard in the legal world, and I would be surprised if the Premier League does not have some contingency for impossibility to fulfil the season. The Premier League is, after all, based on contracts, and a clause which factors in impossibility is, as I say, pretty much boilerplate. If there is no such clause, serious questions needs to be asked about why, but that is a matter for another article. The important point for this article, is what it means when a contract is avoided- read what it means if the Premier League season is avoided, and consequently, Football League seasons too- as the consequences are what matter. 

If a contract is avoided, everything stops. This isn’t a shock since the contract is already impossible to perform. But what happens next? Well the key is that in an avoided contract, things stop, but if there is a competition based on that contract, where possible things would likely go back to where they were at the beginning. The competition would be cancelled. The next stage would be holding the completion again. Usually this would be straightforward as a competition is held with no pre-existing foundations. Think of a darts or tennis tournament- there is no pre-existing foundation to it. It doesn’t matter who wins or loses. Football and other league based formats are different in this respect. So if you cannot finish one round / season, you revert to the pre-existing foundations which were there at the beginning.

In the context of the Premier League and Football Leagues, this means the record of the 2019/2020 season would be expunged. No champion. No relegation. Simply, the records are wiped and everything reverts to where it was at the beginning of the season. 

That means that no promotions or relegations will take place. There are obviously winners and losers in this scenario. Liverpool would clearly be the biggest casualty of avoiding the season, and in many respects, I am loath to suggest this as an option as it would deprive them of a title that so rightfully belongs to them, not to mention their first for such a long time. But there would be other casualties in other divisions- clubs deprived of championships and or promotion- but there would be winners too. The Champions League entrants would be the same as for this season, as would the Europa League entrants. In that sense, clubs which have had good seasons would be deprived, but clubs whose seasons have faltered somewhat- like Tottenham and Manchester Utd- would benefit. 

I appreciate that there will doubtless be financial issues arising out of money already paid etc, and I do not have these details. However, they do not change the fundamentals of avoiding the season. 

Am I biased? Well, I’m a lifelong Tottenham supporter writing an article for a Spurs website, but I am also a lawyer and professionally, this is the outcome which rings truest to what would legally happen. 

It is harsh on Liverpool, and it is harsh on those clubs like Leicester, Sheffield Utd and Wolves who may well have secured a prized Champions League berth. It is harsh on those clubs in lower leagues denied financially advantageous promotions. But harsh is not the same as unfair, and unfairness is to be avoided. That is why the season needs to be avoided. Because doing so is fairest outcome for all. 

This distinction might seem small, but it is crucial. It is the difference between everyone being treated the same, and everyone being subjected to some degree of variable interpretation. The latter is the reality of “expected points per game”: It is open to interpretation and variability, and thus is open to error and unfairness.

There is one critical point which underpins this, and that is the understanding that no-one knows what will happen. Yes, Liverpool are virtually certain to win the title, but the rest is up in the air. Would Manchester Utd beat Brighton away, a fixture they still have to play? Logic says yes, but it’s a fixture they lost last season. The margins for both are slim. Manchester Utd are in a six-way battle for the Champions League; Brighton are in a six-way battle against relegation. We don’t know the outcome of that fixture, nor any of them. Watford beat Liverpool. Norwich beat Manchester City. The point and beauty about the Premier League is that there is no predetermination of results. There can be no “expected points” total, because anyone can beat anyone, and we see that they do so season after season.

So when faced with a choice between imperfect outcomes, I would argue that avoiding the season provides the fair outcome. A clean slate for all, and in that sense, equal opportunity to achieve next season. Legally sound and theoretically immune from further legal challenge, if the season is impossible to complete, the season is impossible to complete. That is a question of fact, rather than interpretation. While it isn’t necessarily the outcome everyone would prefer, I would argue it is the fairest outcome for all because when actions are subject to facts, they are applied evenly and fairly regardless of whom they affect and how. Whereas, when actions are subject to interpretations, invariably some with be dealt with unfairly, and it is far harder to justify and accept. 

The fact it puts Spurs back into the Champions League is, in this respect, irrelevant. However, I’d be lying if I didn’t say it would be a bonus I’d be grateful for.

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