Portugal ‘increasingly likely’ to host all-English Champions League final

Chelsea and Manchester City supporters’ hopes of attending this month’s Champions League final received a significant boost on Monday when UEFA ruled out keeping the game in Istanbul.

While further talks are planned for Tuesday, sources involved with the discussions said on Monday night that UEFA are contemplating a straight choice between Wembley and either Porto or Lisbon in Portugal for the new venue, with the decision said to be in the balance.

UEFA’s preference is for the final to take place in England on May 29, but they have yet to receive assurances from the Government that up to 1,000 staff needed to run the event would be granted exemptions from the 10-day isolation period required to enter the UK from most countries.

Fans of both clubs would be able to attend the match in either instance, as Portugal was one of a handful of countries placed on the Government’s green list that permits quarantine-free travel. 

Last season’s Champions League semi-finals and final were held behind closed doors in Lisbon in a Covid-secure environment, but Porto has emerged as UEFA’s preferred back-up plan this year.

While both clubs and the FA would prefer the final to be staged at Wembley, the decision will rest with the Government, who must agree to UEFA’s demands or see it moved to Portugal.

The Government are understood to be wary of granting travel exemptions for fear of the mixed message it would send to the public, who have for so long been told they cannot go on holiday or visit relatives abroad. 

‘If the game does not come to England now, it will be because the British government could not do what it needed to do,’ said a source with knowledge of the negotiations.

‘UEFA wants to move the game, but it is on the British government to make the effort.’

A UK source involved in the talks said the government ‘understands UEFA’s position and they respect our need to keep border restrictions’.

With extreme reluctance, UEFA have taken the decision to move the final from Istanbul due to their desire to have fans of both clubs able to attend.

That became impossible once Turkey was placed on the Government’s red list last week. 

With more than £20million having been spent renovating the Ataturk Stadium, compensation will have to be paid, while the city have also been promised the 2023 Champions League final in a revised schedule which sees Saint Petersburg keep the 2022 showpiece, with 2024 being held at Wembley and 2025 in Munich. 

UEFA, like all sporting bodies, has suffered financially as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, which has gripped Europe for 14 months and prevented supporters attending most matches.  

The governing body benefits from ticket sales, but VIPs, which are often connected to lucrative sponsorship packages, are particularly important.

It is believed the total number of VIPs and broadcast staff number around 2,000. 

One solution would involve creating bubbles for visiting dignitaries and staff, but while it would be possible to reduce the risk of infection there is disquiet over the fairness of allowing VIPs to escape rules the rest of the population must adhere to.

With the UK government and UEFA struggling to reach an agreement over exemptions for VIP guests, Portugal has become an increasingly attractive option.

If the game was staged in Portugal, Chelsea and City fans would be free to travel to and from the match without significant restrictions. 

There would be no need to isolate on their return, although they would required to take a coronavirus test. 

Clive Efford, MP for Eltham, who was one of the first to highlight last week the dangers of thousands of English football fans heading to Turkey for the showpiece final, believes the UK is able to accommodate the visitors safely to get the game on.

Initial planning was undertaken to create ‘bubbles for visiting fans and dignitaries in preparations for Euro 2020 finals in London. So, sources say there is an understanding of how this can be achieved.

‘It is doable,’ said the lifelong Millwall fan and member of the Department of Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee.

‘They would have to stay in their own group and how they move around the UK would have to be restricted.

‘You can keep them in their bubbles and I am sure they would be in comfortable hotels. They can go to the game and go home. It is not beyond our capacity to create that environment.’ 

The EFL will be monitoring Tuesday’s talks with interest as there are ramifications for their play-off games, which are due to be held at Wembley between May 29-31. 

Meanwhile, the Premier League have confirmed they are in talks with the Government over playing in full stadiums from the start of next season.

Ahead of next week’s return of up to 10,000 fans for each Premier League match, chief executive Richard Masters said: ‘It will be brilliant to see fans back. They have been hugely missed and the Premier League has not been the same without them. Their presence will ensure a fantastic finale.

‘Although only a small number of home fans will be at our matches next week, this is an important step in our return to normality.

‘We will continue to work with the Government as our priority is to have full, vibrant stadiums — including away supporters — from the start of next season.

‘Only then will we get back to the real Premier League.’

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