Euro play-offs postponed indefinitely to allow space for domestic completion
THE latest video conference of Uefa’s 55 member associations has created further uncertainty for soccer – and even the few new certainties are unwelcome.
The Euro 2021 play-offs involving Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland have been postponed again and will not take place in June, with autumn the earliest likely option.
What that means for the future of international bosses Michael O’Neill and Mick McCarthy remains to be seen, with the latter contracted with the FAI until the end of June 2020. The scheduled handover date to his successor Stephen Kenny now remains up for discussion.
O’Neill’s day job with Stoke City may have allowed him to take charge of a June play-off but it’s unlikely that his double-jobbing scenario will stretch on into September. As with the neighbours to the south, the U21 boss – Ian Baraclough in this case – is the most likely man to take over.
The 2020 European U19 Championship, which was due to be held in Northern Ireland this July, was postponed as part of the decisions made by Uefa yesterday.
UEFA also announced that Women's Euro qualifiers and other international friendlies scheduled for June had also been postponed, leaving the path clear for 2019-20 domestic league matches to be played if conditions allow by then.
It is understood that the associations want to complete their domestic leagues at least, but when that may be possible is unknown.
All UEFA competitions, including the Champions League and Europa League, are indefinitely postponed but that comes as no surprise with the finals of both competitions called off and no new dates yet allocated.
Irish Football Association chief executive Patrick Nelson said of the latest postponement: "It would have been good to get the Euro 2020 play-off semi-final match against Bosnia and Herzegovina played in June, and to have played the Women's Euro qualifiers, however we are mindful that many European countries are struggling to deal with Covid-19 as are numerous countries around the world.
"This move is not surprising. It is a sensible decision by UEFA in the midst of a global health crisis which has already claimed many, many lives."
The Euro 2020 play-off ties featuring the two Irish teams have been indefinitely postponed. The semi-final and final ties – with the Path B version due to be in Belfast if Northern Ireland won their first match - were originally due to be played last month but had been pushed back until June due to the devastating impact of the coronavirus pandemic on Europe.
However, with the situation still worsening in many parts of the continent the decision has been taken to delay the matches indefinitely. The play-offs will determine the final four participants at ‘Euro 2020’, which will now not start until June 11, 2021.
It is understood that the national associations were presented with a variety of options for the resumption of domestic league action by a fixtures working group during the call, but no decision was made because it remains very difficult to predict how long the disruption will last.
In the event that the resumption of domestic football is severely delayed it is thought it would take precedence over European competition.
The UEFA executive committee has also decided to suspend certain aspects of club licensing provisions due to the "increasing uncertainty generated by the ongoing extraordinary events".
On the subject of finances, IFA chief executive Nelson has written to the Northern Ireland Executive asking for financial support for Northern Ireland’s senior football clubs.
Nelson wants clubs to be included in the Business Support Grant Schemes, arguing:
““Together the 37 stakeholder clubs of the Northern Ireland Football League (NIFL) show that football not only delivers a huge community benefit but also a substantial financial contribution to the local economy.
“The 12-team Premiership alone employs approximately 350 people across the country, ranging from players to coaches to physios to ground staff, generating around £3m in annual salaries.
“The boost to the economy in resulting direct taxes from their operations is close to £1m a year in terms of ER NI and VAT. And that’s not even accounting for the multiplier effect of that wage bill being spent in our shops, restaurants and other businesses.
“These clubs generate a significant social, cultural and economic impact that is felt far beyond any match-day.
“And added to this are the scores of grassroots clubs and leagues right across Northern Ireland who are often the lifeblood of their own communities, creating playing opportunities for youngsters, volunteering opportunities for adults as well as focal points for people to come together, using their facilities either by watching the game or enjoying some leisure time in the clubhouse afterwards.”