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Lower-division clubs among hardest hit by pandemic

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MADRID — A Spanish third-division soccer team had just started selling a special membership package for the decisive portion of the season, hoping to bring in some extra income.

Another was counting on the boost from revenue on the back of ticket sales for the upcoming derby against a regional rival, one of its biggest matches of the season.

They were not expecting the coronavirus outbreak, nor to see soccer come to a halt.

The suspension of competitions across the globe has taken a toll on top teams everywhere, but it will be for the smaller clubs that the financial impact may cause the most damage.

While the stoppage has already forced some teams in the major leagues to cut players’ salaries, the effect of the crisis on lower-division clubs may be even more dire, lasting longer and possibly leading to financial collapse.

“Every team in the third division will suffer serious consequences,” Franco Caselli, president of Spanish third-division club Burgos, told The Associated Press. “Some more than others, depending on their economic situation.”

In most countries, there are no lucrative television broadcast deals for teams outside the first and second divisions. Their income comes mostly from ticket sales, small sponsors, team merchandising, season memberships and youth academy memberships – most of which have been affected by the suspension of games.

Caselli said Burgos, one of the bigger clubs in Spain’s third division, is doing well financially and should be able to withstand the crisis, but not without losses.

“We had put on sale a special membership package for the last matches of the league, and more than 1,000 had already been sold,” he said. “That was a 20 percent increase in new memberships at this stage, so the losses will be important.”

Mérida, also in Spain’s third tier, was looking to pack its 14,600-capacity stadium for the derby against Badajoz just before it was suspended because of the outbreak, jeopardizing one of its biggest revenue sources of the season.

Fourth-division club Sant Andreu, which plays in a Barcelona neighborhood at a small stadium where players’ errant shots can go over the stands and onto the nearby streets, estimated a 30 percent deficit from the current stoppage of play.

“We are facing the unknown,” Manuel Camino, president and owner of the club, told the AP. “We don’t know how long this will last.”

Camino said he also doesn’t fear for the club’s future, but others elsewhere were not so optimistic.

Italian third-division club Casertana was one of several lower-league teams to announce it can no longer pay players’ wages.

Casertana President Giuseppe D’Agostino said the financial strain on his cheese company – which specializes in buffalo mozzarella – combined with the lack of matches, became too much to handle.

“Unfortunately, the state of emergency created by the coronavirus represented an enormous blow to all commercial enterprises … and did not spare my company,” D’Agostino said. “That has made it impossible to respect (a) deadline for players’ wages.”

English clubs also struggled to withstand the crisis. Fifth-tier Barnet had to place all non-playing staff on notice in “emergency measures to preserve the club.”

“We have to consider the impact that COVID-19 will have in the immediate and long-term future,” the club said in a statement.

Club chairman Tony Kleanthous said it was his “responsibility to ensure Barnet FC continues to survive and remains financially stable and therefore, I have had to make difficult decisions.”

In Spain, the Spanish soccer federation, which oversees the lower divisions, said it has been able to guarantee the money destined to smaller clubs thanks in part to the extra revenue it generated by taking the Spanish Super Cup to Saudi Arabia.

“We have guaranteed 100 percent of the help this year and also for next year,” federation President Luis Rubiales said.

Top-division teams in Europe had already shown signs of struggle, with some in Germany making salary cuts. Players for German title challenger Borussia Mönchengladbach this week approached the club with an offer to take reduced salaries, while Scottish club Hearts asked all of its players and other full-time employees to accept a 50 percent pay cut or contract termination.

Clubs in Switzerland and France also took measures to try to reduce the losses caused by the pandemic, which has infected more than 275,000 people and killed more than 11,400 worldwide.

Bundesliga CEO Christian Seifert said recently that he hoped the leagues could resume as soon as possible, even if the matches are played in empty stadiums.

“If someone says they’re ruling out ghost games (empty stadium games), then they don’t need to think any more about whether we’ll be playing with 18 or 20 pro clubs,” he said, referring to the debate about promotion and relegation for next season. “Because then we won’t have 20 pro clubs anymore.”

For most people, the virus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia. The vast majority of people recover.

Report: Serie A could resume training May 2, games late in month

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Blanket testing for players and a 14-day quarantine for foreign players are on the menu as Serie A reportedly looks to resume in May.

Football Italia cites a report from Italian news outlet Adnkronos that discusses a May 2 return to training with matches resuming late in the month.

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Vincenzo Spadafora is Italy’s minister for sport, and is hopeful that the worst of the coronavirus is behind the country.

According to the report, any player returning to Italy from abroad would be quarantined for two weeks before returning to training.

After an initial round of testing for all players, more would follow:

More tests would be made weekly to maintain that level of certainty all the way to the end of the season. Clubs are believed to be stocking up on COVID-19 tests, in accordance with medical structures in their cities, ensuring everyone has enough to go around.

The plan may be met with resistance, as combustible Brescia owner Massimo Cellino says his club will not play and has accepted that it earned relegation.

European bodies implore member associations to wait to abandon seasons

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UEFA is speaking up regarding its hope to finish club seasons once the environment is safer.

Sky Sports reports that UEFA has sent a letter to its 55 members associations imploring them not to cancel their competitions early and that they exhaust all options “until the last possibility exists.”

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The letter is signed by UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin, European Club Association chairman Andrea Agnelli and European Leagues president Lars-Christer Olsson.

The report comes as the Belgian Super League reportedly prepares to award its league title to Club Brugge on April 15. The league would be the first to see its season abandoned due to the coronavirus pandemic.

From Sky Sports:

“We are confident that football can restart in the months to come – with conditions that will be dictated by public authorities – and believe that any decision of abandoning domestic competitions is, at this stage, premature and not justified.”

Many leagues, such as the Premier League, continue to suspend their seasons indefinitely as they wait for improvements with the coronavirus pandemic.

Although UEFA have relaxed their previous stance that domestic seasons should be finished by June 30, it is looking more likely that the 2019-20 season would need until August or September.

Burning question: Which clubs have the best crest, look in soccer?

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This week at ProSoccerTalk we will be asking some burning questions we have when it comes to the beautiful game and the next one focuses on something we all have: a team we like that we don’t want to admit.

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Each day we will release a burning question, as now seems like a good time to take stock of where the game is at and take a look at what we love and what we’d like to change as we await its return following the suspension due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Next question: Which clubs have the best crest and uniform combination?

It’s a difficult one, as some are great on the former and others on the latter. Look at the Premier League alone. Liverpool and Chelsea have terrific crests, iconic even, but the Reds and Blues’ traditional uniforms are not altogether different from several big clubs in the world. It’s difficult to lay claim to red.

We’re not kicking either of the above clubs out of the house party, but here are five looks that are inevitably theirs.

That said, you might argue the case of either club and we’d encourage you to do so in the comments.

Without further ado…

Pele won three World Cups with Brazil during their golden era.

Brazil

The yellow shirt with a dosing of green around the neck is instantly associated with Brazil, though the more green on the collar the better. The blue shorts matter here, too, completing a look worn by some of the greatest players of all-time. That helps the brand.

Celtic

The green and white hoops are unmistakable, as is the four-leaf clover. Celtic actually wore green-and-white horizontal stripes for the early part of their existence, but the hoops were the proper switch.

Barcelona

The Blaugranas — blue and dark red, don’t you know? — striped-top has met the stripes in its crest, which also is topped by the red-and-white cross and red and gold stripes of the Barcelona coat of arms. Many say the stripes were brought to Spain by its Swiss leader, Joan Gamper.

Arsenal

The Gunners moved white sleeves onto their red tops in the 1930s, and the look is one of the most iconic in the world. While the crest has changed more than a few times, the addition of a cannon from the middle of the last century onward has been everpresent.

(Photo by IAN KINGTON/AFP via Getty Images)

 

Also considered:
Ajax
River Plate
Real Madrid
England
Argentina
AC Milan
Inter Milan
The Netherlands
Mexico
Dozens more…

PFA explains position as players urged to take pay cuts

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The Professional Footballers Association is explaining why it has not yet accepted deferred pay cuts during the coronavirus suspension, and the English government is not withholding its opinion.

As non-playing staff accept furloughs or worse across the tiers of English football and players in other European nations accept pay cuts, the PFA has not found an arrangement to its liking.

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Health secretary Matthew Hancock addressed the situation in his daily public briefing.

From Sky Sports:

“Given the sacrifices people are making, including some of my colleagues in the NHS, who have made the ultimate sacrifice and gone into work and caught the disease and have sadly died, I think the first thing Premier League footballers can do is make a contribution; take a pay cut and play their part.”

That’s a heavy statement, one that surely resonates with all.

The PFA issued a post on its site that runs up nearly 1000 words on its position, stating that a big part of its concern is representing League One and League Two players. Those members do not receive the massive pay packets of PL stars.

Basically, what the PFA is requesting is time to make an educated decision considering the books and futures of every club are different. They’d like to see those books to make sure that if players are making a sacrifice that shareholders are as well.

From ThePFA.com:

We fully accept that players will have to be flexible and share the financial burden of the COVID-19 outbreak in order to secure the long-term future of their own club and indeed the wider game. Our advice going out to players at this point reflects that expectation.

In addition, the PFA is also expecting to contribute financially to any solutions agreed upon.

Like everyone else in the country, we are trying to deal with a situation that has never been faced. Our spirits have been lifted seeing communities come together to support each other. We have been proud to see many of our own members and clubs step up to support the NHS, to help children who would usually benefit from free school meals, donating to food banks and other charitable donations to those affected by this crisis. Much of this has been done privately and without publicity.

Obviously there will be a resolution to this soon, but it’s a complex and layered situation. Bournemouth manager Eddie Howe became the first PL boss to take a voluntary pay cut on Wednesday, with Brighton’s Graham Potter following suit.