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Uefa set to grant extension for Irish League to finish 19/20 season



The European governing body will give the Irish League extra time to finish the 19/20 season.

The European governing body will give the Irish League extra time to finish the 19/20 season.

New plan: Patrick Nelson

New plan: Patrick Nelson

�William Cherry / Presseye

The European governing body will give the Irish League extra time to finish the 19/20 season.

Uefa is expected to allow the Irish FA an extension to the 2019-20 season so that its leagues can be concluded but significant doubts remain over whether football will be possible in Northern Ireland this summer.

Unable to finish the current season ahead of the July 20 deadline, football chiefs will be relieved to learn that the European governing body will be flexible and understanding but time is running out and Irish League clubs have accepted that playing behind closed doors is not a realistic option.

Given that Covid-19 test kits are £145 each, the estimated cost of £10,000 per game for testing at matches could well be a conservative figure.

With seven rounds of fixtures remaining in the Danske Bank Premiership and clubs needing a few weeks to prepare for a resumption, football does not look set to return soon, particularly as it was listed in stage five of the NI Executive's recovery plan.

Irish FA chief executive Patrick Nelson is hoping to move the sport into stage four at least but time is racing on and Uefa president Aleksander Cerefin said leagues which do not complete the season "will still have to play qualifiers if they want to participate in Uefa competition" next season.

He added: "I think the majority of leagues will finish the season. The ones who will not, it's their decision."

Cerefin continued: “I can say that the European season will be finished, if everything is as it is now, in August. As things look now, I’m sure... that we can finish the European season and this means Uefa competition. 

“The national leagues are a separate thing and they will decide separately how they want to proceed. But I think at least 80 per cent will finish the season.”

The NI Football League said in a statement on Friday that clubs wanted to play the remaining games of the campaign, and that includes the Irish Cup semi-finals and final.

For that to happen, the health crisis would need to fade rapidly and reach the point where games could resume, with a limited crowd in attendance.

The unwillingness to abandon the season is understandable and Uefa chief Ceferin believes most European leagues will be able to finish the campaign, albeit without supporters.

The German Bundesliga is the first major league to resume, while plans are afoot for June resumptions in Spain, Italy and England. 

France and Holland are the two major leagues who have opted to cancel their seasons. 

Uefa has a plan in place, wanting to end the 2019-20 campaign with the Champions League final at the end of August, and Ceferin thinks that will be possible. 

“We have a concrete plan of finishing the European season,” he said. “Of course, this summer we will have to play without spectators at the stadiums.” 

Ceferin hailed the German league and government for the Bundesliga’s resumption. 

“We trust Germans, their authorities are very serious... It’s not only about football,” Ceferin said. “It’s about people being depressed because we are locked down, because there is so much uncertainty, and football brings life to a usual level. 

“Football brings positive energy. It’s easier to be home if you can watch sports! 

“So I think it’s a great [example of] cooperation between the German league and the German government. I hope, and think, they will be very successful.”

LaLiga will step up its preparations for a return to action, with group training of up to 10 players allowed from today. 

Spain’s top two leagues are hoping to resume on June 12 and this marks a significant moment of progression.

Barcelona said in a statement: “From Monday 18 May, the clubs in La Liga will enter into phase three of training. In this phase training sessions of up to 10 players is allowed as the club have been informed by La Liga. 

“The players during the first week of training have worked out individually in sessions of endurance and precision.”

Belfast Telegraph