The British government’s coronavirus policy is in danger of costing Manchester United a place in next season’s Champions League.
The home secretary Priti Patel announced this week that anyone arriving in the UK from overseas must self-isolate for 14 days. The law will come into effect from June 8th.
This throws into chaos the plans for English clubs’ involvement in playing out the remainder of this season’s UEFA competitions – in United’s case, the Europa League.
UEFA plans to complete the Europa League in August and the Red Devils are almost guaranteed a place in the quarter final, having a 5-goal advantage after their Round of 16 first leg clash with Austrian side LASK.
Winning the competition would provide automatic entry into next season’s Champions League.
But if opposition sides have to self-isolate when coming to Manchester to face the Red Devils – or indeed, if the United squad have to self-isolate for two weeks when returning from an away leg – it will be impossible to fulfil the fixtures.
Some professions are exempt from the self-isolation rules, such as truck drivers, seasonal farm workers, government officials and medical personnel, but footballers are not excluded.
According to The Mirror, ‘Culture secretary Oliver Dowden had been fighting their corner, but sports stars have not been included in a list of exemptions from the quarantine.’
If the government does not relent before August, United’s only options would appear to be to find a venue outside of the UK to play the home legs of their ties – and for the players and coaching staff to remain outside of Britain for the duration of the tournament – or to withdraw from the competition.
United are currently favourites to win the Europa League. Based on other first leg scorelines, the favourites so far to join United in the last 16 are Shakhtar Donetsk, Bayer Leverkusen, Wolves and Basel. The match between Copenhagen and Istanbul Basaksehir is evenly poised and the Sevilla vs Roma and Inter vs Getafe ties have not yet started.
If the ruling does result in the impossibility of competing, for Champions League qualification the Red Devils will have to rely on overhauling Chelsea to finish in the top four of the Premier League. If that is not possible, a fifth place finish may be enough if Manchester City’s UEFA ban is upheld, which is in turn dependent on whether the hearing can be scheduled in time for next season.
It is a complicated scenario that does not just affect the Reds, with City, Chelsea and Wolves also still hoping for European glory.
United might have to finish their Premier League season at neutral grounds as the authorities try to ensure player safety. How much do you know about those neither-home-nor-away games the Red Devils have played in the past? Take our quiz below to find out.