Project Restart Stop Start.
Updated: Jun 16
Football fans have had nothing but questions for almost three months, and since the pitch is where football does its talking, they haven’t been given any clear answers. Should the season be called off? What does that mean for the title? Or relegation? Or European spots? As the return of football nears, these questions have been replaced with others. Will there be fans? Is football the same without them? Will the players keep a social distance, and if so, will that make any difference to David Luiz? What will it mean for the new season, already under pressure to finish for the rescheduled European Championships and the Qatar World Cup forced fixture carnage of 2022? But for now, with the promise of summer evening kick offs and a packed TV schedule that even the World Cup couldn’t match, there’s only one question that counts. Do you really care?
The challenges, heartbreaks and frontline heroics of recent months have been well documented in forms more eloquent and meaningful than a football website can muster. When football returns, all those so sadly lost, those saved, and those workers tested beyond our collective imaginations, will I’m sure, be acknowledged in whatever way the game can manage. For a sport so ridden with wealth, addressing social issues has always been a difficult balance to strike for those in power. But whatever approach they take, the game itself will always work its magic in a different way. Even for those who watch the modern game through cynical eyes and remember how things were back in their day, football, and sport in general, allows an escape, if only for as long as it takes to watch your team let you down. So for now, after all that’s happened, just allow yourself to enjoy it, for however long it lasts.
To do so, you might want to become familiar with some changes outlined by Project Restart, the name given to the plans to restart the season, before we all null and void our hopes of ever seeing a ball kicked again.
Firstly, you’re unlikely to see any pre match handshakes and very likely to see empty stands, although some Premier League clubs are in talks over big screens and cardboard cut-outs.
Balls, corner flags and nets will be the most sterile the league has ever seen. On the benches, coaches and substitutes will be socially distancing, and as well as now being allowed to make five substitutions per game, a manager can also name nine substitutes. Phil Foden might even find himself getting some minutes. One thing he will be getting is a coronavirus test, with Premier League clubs reaching a deal with Hong Kong supplier Prenetics for 40,000 home tests. It would have been 50,000 if football’s chief hypochondriacs; Darren Anderton, Louis Saha and Owen Hargreaves were still plying their trade.
Cardboard football supporters seen across the rest of Europe may be a familiar sight in English football whilst football is played behind closed doors.
Karren Brady, vice-chairwoman at West Ham and death glaring assistant to Lord Sugar on The Apprentice, recently wrote about how things will work within stadiums. Thankfully, with all games being televised, all you have to do is find somewhere comfortable to watch. Brady explained that stadiums will be divided into red zones – severely restricted areas where only people with a recently negative test can enter. This includes players, referees and medical support. Amber areas are for media and broadcasters, the people needed to make this mammoth television schedule happen, and green areas are the lower risks sites outside the stadium.
Like all things these days, even this triumphant return of football is something that should be welcomed with the wariness of a Trojan horse. Should we see the dreaded ‘second wave’ or evidence that justifies tightening of restrictions again there is every possibility we will see things further delayed, or even cancelled. If the worst happens, clubs have yet to decide on a framework for how to deal with it and will likely lead to more chaos than the Arsenal penalty area when the Gunners are defending a corner.
There are of course, the sporting questions. The title to be settled, with Liverpool a sure thing and the only question being how many different ways Man United fans will be able to add an asterisk to the record books.
The battle for Champions League places is as tight as ever with Leicester, Man City, Chelsea, Tottenham, Man United, Wolves, Sheffield United all remaining in the mix. Sorry Arsenal fans. Did the break come at the perfect time for Brendan Rodgers’ Leicester City, who seemed to be showing real signs of slowing down after their fantastic first half of the season? Did it come at the wrong time for Man United, who were building up their first proper head of steam since Solskjaer’s initial honeymoon period? Don’t forget that there is still the potential for the 5thplace finisher getting a Champions League spot depending on the outcome of Man City’s appeal against suspension from the competition.
At the other end, six sides are battling for survival, with only Norwich looking in something close to hopeless trouble. But even Norwich may find themselves beneficiaries of the break, having had the rare opportunity to step away from the relentless pressure and morale crusher of staring relegation in the face. With only 6 points between them and West Ham, in 16th, it is likely Daniel Farke will have spent the break motivating his side to come back stronger than ever, with the soft-spoken German recently telling of the challenge he gave his players to return in the best shape of their lives.
After so long predicting if we would see another game this season, it is refreshing to be able to make predictions about what will happen on the pitch again. At the risk of embarrassing the good people here at Well Done Michael, He’s Thirteen, here are my predictions for the crunch questions.
Liverpool can win the Premier League title as early as the 21st of June should results go in their favour.
I’m going to put my neck on the line and say Liverpool will clinch it. Pushing the boat out a little I’m going to say they will do it on Wednesday the 24thagainst Crystal Palace, earning the Merseysider’s first title* in 30 years. I predict exactly 100 points.
Champions League and European Spots:
2nd - Manchester City
3rd - Leicester City
4th - Manchester United
5th - Chelsea
6th - Tottenham
7th - Wolves
Look out for the final day clash between Leicester and Man United, every chance it could decide a final Champions League Spot, not to mention the United vs Spurs clash in the first round back, which also includes Man City vs Arsenal and the Merseyside derby. Enjoy.
Watford, Norwich, Brighton. Norwich have some favourable home fixtures that might see a gambling person tempted to back their survival from here.
And finally, here are five things we wouldn’t have seen happen if the post Covid regulations were in place in years of football past.
1. Eric Cantona’s Kung Fu kick. Not only would there be no fan in a pleather jacket to shout vile abuse, if Cantona fancied launching over the barriers for any other reason, he would quite likely have been putting his studs through cardboard or a screen.
2. Frank Rijkard’s spit in Rudi Voller’s mullet. In one of the game’s most disgusting ever moments, Rijkards lobbing of phlegm at the back of Vollers head was always against the rules, but spitting of any kind is now strictly out.
3. Handshake Controversy. Without pre match handshakes fans would have missed the shenanigans of Evra vs Suarez, Terry vs Bridge, Terry vs Ferdinand, Terry vs……
4. Outfielders in goal. Other than the rare occasions when there was no keeper on the bench, most times we’ve seen outfielders don the gloves have been the result of all three substitutes being used. With five available, they days of John O’Shea or Lucas Radebe between the sticks will seem like a distant memory.
5. Mourinho running the touchline. Jose Mourinho piling on top of his last-minute Porto heroes would not have happened, with group pile on celebrations out of the question.
Damn it. Is it just me or does it suddenly feel like it won’t be the same at all? Get involved in the discussion on Twitter and Instagram, tell me what I’ve gotten wrong, add your own predictions and moments from the past that wouldn’t have happened in a post Covid world.
Well Done Michael He's 13