New travel restrictions and a UEFA deadline means Rangers must take quick action to avoid forfeiting their upcoming Europa League matches…
Ah, New Years 2020, never before has there been a more somber, sober, yet soothing Hogmanay since the creation of the Gregorian calendar, of that I’m certain. So long 2020 and good riddance, we thought. The memes, the jokes, all because if you didn’t laugh you’d cry, bringing to light how objectively awful this year was from start to finish. At least for Celtic fans, that is.
In any case, it’s a bit of a red herring blaming it all on 2020, you know? After all, just like Rangers’ being the best club in Scotland, COVID-19 and it’s associated lockdowns, quarantines and other forms of domestic imprisonment aren’t going away any time soon. 2021 has stuck true to form and, would it surprise anyone if that changed before summer? Or autumn?
So we see that, today, Nicola “I’m oan it” Sturgeon has decided to actually tighten regulations – in a clear departure from her usual strategy of just blaming England for it all. Obviously this impacts everyone, but football is pretty sacred and if Celtic can jet off to Dubai and come back with Coronavirus with nary more than a slap on the wrists, surely the rest of us will survive?
Perhaps not, at the same time as Strugeon was doubling down on the lockdown, UEFA was hard at work putting boundaries around European competition involving countries with enforced quarantine. The SNP have not yet done away with the elite sportsman exemption on said quarantines, despite wanting to, but the new UEFA guidelines may well give them the excuse they need to make that final push.
Our Nicola has announced that all those arriving in the country need to self-isolate in a hotel for 10 days. If it means leaving the wife and kids, I’d personally be tempted – Royal Antwerp, however, would find such a situation probably less tempting. They are due to travel to Glasgow to face the Gers on February 25th, one week after the light blues take the trip to Belgium for the first leg of the last-32 tie in the Europa League.
UEFA, for their part, have suggested that all clubs competing in European competition should notify them by close of play February 8th if there should be an issue, such as quarantine requirements, to another club playing in their country. A neutral venue is a possible workaround, but UEFA haven’t ruled out forfeits either. As Scotland’s new travel restrictions are tighter than the rest of the British Isles, and indeed most of Europe, Rangers need to play this very carefully to say the least.
Let’s be honest, this last year we’ve done just about everything right, domestically and internationally, on the pitch. 23 points ahead at the top of the Premiership and straight through the Europa League group stages at the top of their group. Royal Antwerp was, and is, definitely one of the easier draws and the Gers won’t be going in as underdogs. Indeed, the light blues already beat Belgian side Standard Liege, earlier in the competition, quite convincingly.
With so much going right on the park, it would be an even greater shame for it to get bungled off it. You could argue that Messrs Sturgeon and Co would be to blame, but it’s much preferable to not even get to the finger pointing stage. Rangers need to take no chances, organise a neutral venue for the return leg and ensure there’s a backup plan in mind should the squad have to quarantine on return from Antwerp.
UEFA insists the onus lies on each club, individually, to make arrangements and ultimately obtain special permission to take part in the competition going forward. In the face of tightening COVID-19 travel restrictions, it behoves the club to take precautionary action and not let this historic season fall away on a bunch of technicalities. 2020 was awful, there’s no doubt, but our reward for sticking it out is just around the corner, the 55th title perhaps bundled with some European glory too. Now that’s something worth the wild celebrations.