We weren’t aware that the last Serie A action for some time would be on the 9th of March as the referee signalled the end of the match between Sassuolo and Brescia. Things had not been straightforward in round 2 anyway with matches spread over different weeks and only took place after never-ending discussions among the clubs. That same night the Italian government would announce a lockdown of the entire country in order stem the Coronavirus epidemic. All sporting events would be canceled including Serie A.
This sudden and abrupt stop could be extended well beyond the 3rd of April deadline decided by the government. The question as far as top flight football in Italy goes, is: how is the Serie A season eventually going to end?
A series of hypotheses
1) A normal conclusion
This is definitely the solution everybody would prefer, particularly given that the current edition of Serie A is the most intriguing in over a decade. One of 3 teams could win the Scudetto in Juventus, Lazio and Inter. With the end of the lockdown at the beginning of April, football would start again. If the UEFA European Championship 2020 was postponed from June to July, or even to 2021 Serie A would be allowed to resume its regular course with a normal conclusion. This would most likely make everybody from clubs to players and supporters happy, but this remains an outside possibility.
The truth is that Italy’s lockdown could well go beyond the 3rd of April with the spread of Coronavirus yet to reach its peak. Further complications come from the fact that Juventus and Inter, 2 of the most powerful clubs in Italian football are now facing a quarantine since Daniele Rugani of the Old Lady was found to have contracted the virus.
2) The Solomon decision
An alternative to a normal end to the season could be to end it now, play no further games and decide not to assign the title. This way there would be no winners and no losers. The sides who are currently sitting in the European spots would make the UEFA competitions next season, whilest the league might also opt for no relegations.
A similar outcome has occurred twice in the Serie A history to date, albeit in completely different contexts.
In 1926-1927, Torino saw what might have been their first title ever revoked due to a match-fixing attempt made by the Bulls themselves: second-placed Bologna were not assigned the title either and Torino fans still claim the title as theirs. In 2017, some 90 years later, President Cairo asked for a review of the original decision by the Italian football authority. His requests would go unheeded.
In 2006, following the Calciopoli scandal which impacted Italian football across the board, Juventus would pay a higher price than any other club. Punishment for their involvement saw them stripped of 2 Scudetto cowns. The 2005-2006 title was hastily assigned to Inter, whilst the 2004-2005 title remained unassigned despite attempts by the Old Lady to reverse the decision.
A side thought. Should the 19/20 season be stopped at this stage there could be a long lasting impact. An increase to 22 clubs is a real possibility as the top two in Serie B, Benevento and Crotone, would expect to be promoted regardless.
3) A cause for dissatisfaction
This really seems to be the most unlikely outcome given that many teams (Juventus aside) would feel hard done by. Think only of Lazio and Inter who have succeeded in challenging the ‘bianconeri’ in a way few predicted at the start of the campaign.
Relegated clubs would also feel rightly aggrieved adding to the feeling that this approach, although not impossible, makes little sense.
4) Playoffs and playouts
Last but not least, the Lega could decide for the adoption of playoffs to decide the Scudetto. This would see the top 4, Juventus, Lazio, Inter and Atalanta fight it out for the biggest prize. Meanhwhile playouts would be required in order to decide what teams would be relegated to Serie B.
There has been plenty of talk about playoffs and playouts for Serie A in the past, but they were never really considered a real option by the powers that be.
There is a precedent for this approach with a Scudetto needing a tie-breaker in order to be assigned. Bologna became champions twice through such means defeating Torino in 1928-1929 and Inter in 1963-1964. Milan and Inter also needed tie-breakers once each to win a title in the pioneers’ days, in 1906 and 1909-1910 respectively.
This could represent a fascinating conclusion to this troubled season and could also be a innovative approach for the future of the Italian game.
Whatever path is taken, the resolution will not be a straightforward one. The Lega Serie A have already proven that decision-making is not their main strength, since they needed the government to step in and halt a campaign already jeopardised by Coronavirus. Such indecisiveness is a problem for Serie A which was enjoying its most entertaining season for a long time.