Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola believes the football season should be suspended if the alternative is a raft of games taking place behind closed doors.
Fans are set to be present for City’s rescheduled Premier League game against Arsenal at the Etihad Stadium on Wednesday, but a growing number of fixtures across Europe will be staged before empty stands in response to the outbreak of coronavirus.
All sporting activity in Italy has been suspended until April 3, with Serie A side Atalanta contesting their Tuesday Champions League trip to Valencia in the absence of the paying public.
Manchester United’s Europa League visit to LASK in Austria and next week’s Barcelona v Napoli and Bayern Munich v Chelsea Champions League encounters are now also behind-closed-doors matches, as are all games in Ligue 1 and LaLiga over the coming weeks.
The Premier League taking similar steps is something Guardiola feels is inevitable but he bridled at the prospects of large chunks of remaining fixtures this season taking place in such circumstances – stating suspending matches altogether would be preferable.
“I understand for a short time, one game, okay. But if it is longer it must be suspended. There is no reason to play without the people,” said the City boss, whose team entertain Burnley on Saturday before a sell-out Champions League showdown against Real Madrid next Tuesday.
“This [football] is for the people. It is like an actor going to the theatre to act and nobody being there that night. It’s for the people.
“I understand we have to see what happens in the next weeks. Maybe the instances will go down, maybe it will solve the problems. Okay, continue with the games and the competitions.
“But now Barcelona v Napoli will be behind closed doors, Bayern Munich v Chelsea will be behind closed doors. It happened in Germany as well, I think it is going to happen soon here.
“When that happens for a short time it is okay, but for four, five or six games makes no sense.”
Guardiola was keen to state the primary concern should go beyond matters of sports scheduling, with the global death toll from COVID-19 having now topped 4,000.
“The first thing is the health of the people. That is the terms of what is best – for humanity and how we take care of ourselves,” he added.
“It is not just about one country, one city or one specific place. It is all around the world. There are many cases.
“What speaks for itself is every day [instances of coronavirus] are growing. The same thing happened in China and especially in Italy, where they have absolutely cancelled the league and the people must stay at home.
“Will it happen here? I don’t know the way they are going to control it in other places.”