Just as the nation began to accept football in 2020 would look like empty stadiums, disinfected training pitches and neutral grounds, the Premier League has reached murky territory in its furious quest for the competition to return.
Fresh protocols have been sent to top flight players and managers in a bid to coax full squads back into the wild to perform for strangers watching from their living rooms.
Among the measures reported by The Telegraph, a directive to ‘turn your face away when tackled’ – presumably this guidance is also necessary for the tackler. This is where we’re at with Project Restart. We’re literally rewriting the rule book to get the show on the road. Are you comfortable with that?
Ahead of writing this piece, a quick straw poll of football fanatic friends about the prospect of no-look tackles was simply met with laughter, actual out-loud laughter.
It’s not that fans are scoffing safety precautions, they understand measures must be in place for the resumption of their game in the new world. Instead, the ire is directed squarely at league officials who appear intent on trying to kid themselves that changing aspects of the sport – no matter how minor – are actually going to result in a safe environment to proceed.
What of the situation at corner kicks with approximately 16 men congregated in side a few-metre cluster? Free-kick walls? Standing face-to-face jostling for the ball without going to ground? For every ‘no look tackle’ directive from officials who will enjoy the games – and the money they retain – from a socially-distanced state miles away from the ground, there are surely countless more that will distort the game we know.
Before a ball has even been kicked in front of the expectant glare of the TV cameras, training sessions will last just 75 minutes. If this seemingly arbitrary time limit of exposure to team-mates holds scientific weight, what happens in the final 15 minutes of a full match? Are players expected to play through a risk-zone or is it the manager’s responsibility to substitute players away from exposure, cool them off until plunging them back into it for the next game?
Well, shorten the games of course! Football has somehow determined that shorter halves – still presumably over half an hour apiece – will remedy the problem. PFA chief Gordan Taylor put the option on the table, and however unlikely that scenario may be, the very fact it has even been floated is absurd.
The Premier League machine has adopted a risky ‘by any means necessary’ approach to completing the 2019/20 season, an endgame that must surely be a cause for alarm among even the most hardcore Liverpool fans.
The determination to restart the season was admirable, but there comes a point when determination becomes desperation. If changes to the very rules of the beautiful game are required to safely resume football, then it’s not football making a comeback; it’s more transparent than ever that the sport itself is secondary to the cash-grabbing product on tap for TV broadcasters and fans to lap up.
It may seem like a reach, an overreaction, to claim that ‘no-look tackles’ bring the integrity of the world’s most dominant sport into question, but oh, what a slippery slope the game is teetering on the edge of. All manner of further tweaks and adjustments will be weaved into the fabric of the game before a bastardised lockdown brand of ‘football’ can come back.
Minor changes will add up and goalposts will be shifted (not literally, yet) from where they rested prior to lockdown, the conditions of the league will have changed. It won’t be the same competition when it returns.
Do we really want that?