The Coronavirus pandemic has affected the world like something we could never have imagined and of course this means that football has suffered as a result too. Players being tested twice a week and no fans at grounds for almost a year bar in very rare instances it has been an odd time for the game we all love.
The biggest European competitions have been affected too, especially the Champions League. And this season the most elite club competition of them all feels like it has been tarnished, and simply feels very unfair.
The games affected have all involved English teams, Liverpool, Chelsea and Manchester City. Some EU countries have said that persons from England cannot travel to Germany and Spain because of the new variant, which means in effect that the football clubs cannot travel to these countries to play their first legs.
This in itself is a real head scratcher given that players and coaches are tested twice a week and they will be the only personnel entering the countries. We are not talking about fans being present, so one has to wonder where the problem lies? Of course the other side of the argument would be, why would football players be given special access and not members of the public?
So for English clubs playing in Europe their first leg matches were directed to Budapest, Hungary. But this is wholly unfair on the likes of Atletico Madrid, RB Leipzig and Borussia Monchengladbach. It is unfair because the 2nd legs will all take place in England at the respective clubs grounds. What happens in that instant is the most elite competition loses its integrity and gamesmanship- and no sport should be losing either of those.
Of course there will be arguments against and that at the end of the day it is not the clubs fault that England are allowing German and Spanish nationals into the country and it isn’t like this in the opposite direction. But it is unfair on the clubs.
Some will say that Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester City will give up their home advantage anyway because the 12th man- the fans- will not be allowed to attend the games. But hang on one second. What about the extra travel time for the away sides having to arrange drives to the airport and planes, hotels etc. What about the familiarity of the home teams ground, players have a connection to that even without the fans. When Atletico visit Chelsea they are not in Madrid anymore.
It is odd to think that UEFA have not stepped in. If English based players cannot play in Germany and Spain then there is nothing wrong with playing in Budapest as a neutral venue. But why not also have the 2nd legs take place in the country too. Why change and have one team have an advantage by playing in their backyard so to speak, even if the advantage is decreased by a lack of fans, there is still some there.
Fans of the clubs will care little of course, and probably won’t see the argument either. But surely if you’re in love with the game and value fairness within it, this way of playing this seasons Champions League could feel like the soul just got ripped out of it.
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