French clubs hopeful of finishing season as country targets easing of lockdown
Best-case scenario would see matches resuming in June behind closed doors
French football clubs are making plans to resume playing and finish the current season by late July despite President Emmanuel Macron's announcement on Monday night that the country's coronavirus lockdown would continue until May 11.
In a television address four weeks after the strict lockdown began, Macron said the measures would be extended by another four weeks as France battles to contain the pandemic which has killed more than 15,700 people in the country.
However, he added the restrictions could be eased from then if current positive trends continued, providing a glimmer of hope to the country's clubs who have been out of action since March 13.
The suspension of the season means clubs in France are facing a financial crisis as revenue streams have been switched off, with broadcasters refusing to pay the latest instalments of TV contracts to show live matches.
Even all-powerful Paris Saint-Germain, with their stratospheric wage bill, are impacted, and getting games back on is therefore crucial, although there seems little prospect of fans being allowed into stadiums any time soon with Macron ruling out any large gatherings before mid-July.
Teams will not be able to train before the lockdown ends anyway, but the best-case scenario would see matches resuming in June behind closed doors.
That is what is being considered by other European leagues, with negotiations taking place in Germany to see if the Bundesliga could resume in early May in empty stadiums.
"We have not considered being able to play in front of crowds for a while now," one French league (LFP) official told AFP.
The LFP is targeting starting next season on August 23 but remains intent on completing the current campaign first, in keeping with the commitment made by European football's governing body UEFA. There are 10 rounds of games remaining in Ligue 1.
One LFP official says the "favoured scenario" would see the season resuming on June 17, with teams playing twice a week until July 25.
However, that scenario is also likely to hinge on UEFA -- who will hold a key meeting on April 23 -- agreeing to complete the Champions League and Europa League in August.
French clubs are desperate to ensure next season starts with as little disruption as possible, especially as a lucrative TV deal with Spanish group Mediapro is set to kick in worth a record 1.15 billion euros ($1.26 billion) a year.
Their outlook is optimistic, but the reality may prove very different.
"There is not much certainty right now," one Ligue 1 club president said. "What will happen if we need to go into lockdown a second time after May 11?"