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Stephen Craigan

Calling an early end to the football season may be the only realistic option and it won't please everyone

Stephen Craigan


 

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Unclear solution: Old Firm rivals Steven Gerrard and Neil Lennon

Unclear solution: Old Firm rivals Steven Gerrard and Neil Lennon

SPFL chief Neil Doncaster

SPFL chief Neil Doncaster

Michael O'Neill

Michael O'Neill

Unclear solution: Old Firm rivals Steven Gerrard and Neil Lennon

The coronavirus, as we know, is affecting all walks of life and in sporting terms Scottish football has not been immune.

With all football being stopped until further notice, this week has been non-stop with rumours, statements and possibilities of how the season will pan out at senior level. Add to that clubs creating dedicated pages for supporters to donate money due to their shortfall and it's a really concerning time for everyone.

The biggest questions being posed are how the league is going to be finished - or if it's going to be finished - and what's going to happen with regards the prizes being handed out. Promotion/relegation is also on the agenda and as yet no one seems to be in agreement, which shouldn't surprise us.

In my mind, three things can happen and should be taken into consideration.

1. Null and void: This has been mentioned by more than a few but this move would be disastrous for our game because sponsors and broadcasters would surely be demanding at least some of their money back for a campaign that basically didn't happen. Supporters would also be well within their rights to ask for their season ticket money to be reimbursed.

This is a no go for me and it would be financially irresponsible of everyone to go down this route.

2. Attempt to play the season out if and when possible: This is the key one for me as I've yet to speak to anyone or hear anyone say they don't want the season to be played to a natural finish. In an ideal world the remaining matches will be played, simple.

However, the catch here is that no one has any idea how long the virus is going to be around, meaning we've no idea when the season could be concluded. This brings further stress to vulnerable clubs and, although the SFA paid out a combined £1.5m to their member clubs this week, the long-term future of the game has to come into everyone's thought process.

Prolonging the financial agony could see Scottish football lose clubs that have been around for many years. I keep hearing that what is currently happening is unprecedented; well, in an unprecedented situation maybe unprecedented decisions have to be made for the greater good of the game.

There has been a bit of self-preservation from clubs this week. They are under scrutiny and, not surprisingly, under pressure.

3. End the season now and current positions stand: I can't help but think the longer the uncertainty goes on, the more likely this could be the outcome. I can't imagine that the league governing body, the SPFL, would want this season to run into September or October. I think there has to be a cut-off point and a decision has to be made or it will simply rumble on.

Will it please everyone? No, but strong leadership is required to get the game back on track and bringing a premature but forced end to this season may be the only choice.

On top of all that, Uefa have said in the last few days that they are committed to finishing all domestic leagues by June 30 but crucially won't interfere. Medical experts in Scotland are expecting the peak of the virus to be here in June, so you can make up your own mind on whether the SPFL will finish within Uefa's time frame.

This is potentially one of the biggest decisions ever to be made by the football authorities in Scotland. Pleasing everyone is, and always will be, impossible. Neil Doncaster, the SPFL chief executive, has been vocal on other aspects this week so I will wait to see if his leadership is what he thinks it is or whether he will be remembered for all the wrong reasons.

Right time to wave goodbye to O'Neill and plan Northern Ireland's future

The postponement of Northern Ireland's European Championship play-off semi-final against Bosnia this week will surely bring an end to Michael O'Neill's incredible reign.

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Michael O'Neill

Michael O'Neill

Michael O'Neill

 

It's obviously not the way Michael would have wanted to bow out but with such a big job to do at Stoke City, it's the best time for both parties to shake hands and move on.

I doubt if the rearranged qualifying game will go ahead in June, so now seems the best time for the Irish FA to start the recruitment process.

Michael will be a hard act to follow and his journey with the players has been nothing short of sensational. The position he leaves our national team in is encouraging, however the job is ready for someone to commit to as we aim for Euro 2021 as it's now known.

The job is attractive; we have some terrific seasoned professionals and some really good up and coming young talent. The new manager has a lot to work with and carrying on what Michael did will be difficult but it is something that is achievable.

Michael will always occupy a special place in the hearts of Northern Ireland fans, and rightly so. Let's hope his successor can follow his lead.

Belfast Telegraph