UEFA, like many other football competitions, was faced with the financially devastating prospect of paying punitive discounts to its broadcast partners if it could not find a way to resume, and declaring the competition ended still seemed an unlikely option. . Its president, Ceferin, had insisted from the earliest days of the football stoppage that every effort would be made to complete the club competitions that had started. To do this, UEFA has given the national leagues a deadline of the first week in August to complete their own incomplete championships.
Most countries have found a way. The German first division, the Bundesliga, has become the first of the best European leagues to return when it took the peloton in May, and is on track to complete its season before the end of June. The leagues in Spain, Italy and England resumed last week and are also expected to end well before the end of the Champions League. This will make the Champions League final in Lisbon – coming 14 months after the first matches of the preliminary phase of the event – the bookends of one of the strangest European football seasons in history .
The Champions League was to end with a final in Istanbul on May 30. Now it will likely end in empty stadiums – the Estádio José Alvalade, which houses the Sporting Club, and the Estádio da Luz in Benfica – with strict hygiene protocols and teams sequestered in bio-secure hotels across Lisbon. (There is hope, however, that some supporters may be allowed to enter the stadiums if authorities lift the restrictions by August.)
UEFA, which finalized the proposed changes to the competition at a videoconference executive committee meeting earlier this week, has agreed to host next season’s final in Istanbul. Next year’s final, to be held in St. Petersburg, Russia, will take place there in 2022.
By playing the competition in one place, UEFA will inadvertently highlight a format that FIFA, the world’s leading football body, has developed for a new four-year version of its Club World Cup. FIFA was forced to postpone the first edition of the event – which had been fiercely fought by UEFA – because of the coronavirus. It was scheduled to be played in China next summer, but these dates are no longer available due to scheduling conflicts with the reorganized national team championships in Europe and South America.