So, what happens to football in Belgium?

    Tuesday, 31 March 2020
    This is an opinion article by an external contributor. The views belong to the writer.
    © Belga

    In times like these, football is totally unimportant. Though, for some of us, as Italian manager Arrigo Sacchi once said, the game is the most important of the unimportant things.

    So, what happens now? What does Covid-19 mean for Belgian football? This weekend our concrete cathedrals of sport were eerily empty; we could only imagine the ghosts of football past and only imagine when it might start again.

    Football across Europe has been cancelled until further notice, including the Euros, which have been delayed for one year until 2021. The tournament was due to be played in cities across the entire continent, from Dublin to Baku, a concept that is inconceivable in the coronavirus pandemic.

    Last Sunday, Marouane Fellaini became the first prominent Belgian footballer to test positive. Still symptomless, the former Manchester United player was tested in China as he travelled to train for his club team.

    Fellaini is part of a remarkable golden generation of Belgian talent, one which a nation of just over 10 million people had no right to produce.

    By the time the Euros happen, the players will be at least one year older. Vincent Kompany, the charismatic former captain who has returned to Belgium to play for Anderlecht, is a shadow of his former self, as injuries and age have taken their toll.

    Jan Vertonghan, the record appearance holder, has looked slow and cumbersome for Tottenham this season. First team players Dries Mertens, Axel Witsel, and Toby Alderweireld are all also over 30. Midfielder Moussa Dembélé, like Fellaini, has retired from the Red Devils and moved to China for a final pay-day.

    On the other hand, talisman Eden Hazard has been injured and will now have plenty of time to recover. Kevin de Bruyne is still probably the most elegant playmaker on the planet and powerful striker Romelu Lukaku has been superb since moving to Inter Milan.

    In truth, no matter when the tournament finally takes place, Belgium have enough have quality to be among the favourites to win the title, even if time is not on their side.

    In the domestic game, the Belgian Cup final was due to take place the other weekend at Heysel. Royal Antwerp, who haven’t played in the final for the nearly 30 years, are due to play Club Brugge. This one-off game will be rescheduled once it is safe to play again.

    While most European leagues are scratching their heads to work out how to finish the season in a satisfactory way, the regular season of the Belgian league is one game away from completion. It may simply be necessary to cancel the almost comically convoluted play-offs and crown Club Brugge as champions, having lost only one game all season.

    There are already consequences for the players, reports suggest that second division team Virton have requested chômage technique for their players, a form of partial unemployment, and that Pro League A sides Standard Liège and Zulte Waregem will soon follow them.

    In the short term it is difficult to see a return to normality for a game that relies so heavily on mass gatherings, and it may be hard to avoid teams going out of business and players becoming unemployed.

    In the grand scheme of things these are small details, but whether you’re an amateur player or a fan of the professional teams, our lives will not be completely back to normal until we can enjoy the beautiful game again.

    Calum MacKichan