Covid-19 cases add uncertainty to new season: Richard Buxton
Raft of positive cases has already caused postponements in France's Ligue 1
New seasons bring an unmistakable swell of optimism, except in the age of a pandemic.
Clubs' best-laid plans ahead of the forthcoming campaign are firmly at the mercy of Covid-19, with previously innocuous acts now carrying far-reaching consequences.
Not even the world's fastest man can outrun its threat with Usain Bolt diagnosed mere days after a party was thrown to mark his 34th birthday, which Manchester City's Raheem Sterling and Bayer Leverkusen winger Leon Bailey attended.
Football's attempt to insulate itself from the coronavirus is becoming near impossible as the countdown to the English Premier League's 2020/21 season rapidly approaches.
As players report back for duty get tested for the virus, every positive case drives a sense of normality further away.
The European game faces an uphill battle against Covid-19's spread. La Liga, in particular, is heavily impacted.
At least 23 positive cases have been recorded at 10 clubs this month, with Athletic Bilbao's six constituting the highest number to date.
Yesterday, Marseille became the Ligue 1 club with the highest rate of infection with a further three cases confirmed at first-team level after five players contracting coronavirus led to their season opener with Saint-Etienne last week being postponed.
In total, France's top tier accounts for 40 of at least 74 positive diagnoses for Covid-19 this month attributed to three of the continent's top five leagues.
Italy's cases, though largely asymptomatic, also make for grim reading with 11 across seven Serie A sides.
No amount of forward-planning can prevent both the Bundesliga and EPL from falling prey in the same disruptive manner as their European peers.
The latter's desperation to reintroduce supporters to stadiums at the earliest possible opportunity flies in the face of the stark reality confronting its key decision makers.
It took only two cases to bring the English top flight to its knees in March when Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta and Chelsea winger Callum Hudson-Odoi produced positive tests.
England went into lockdown within days of its flagship league entering hiatus.
Senior EPL officials have already drawn up a proposal that will use the most recent standings as a final ranking in the event Covid-19 forces their hand again and the new season has to be curtailed with just 50 per cent of its matches completed.
That worst-case scenario may be brought to bear with a premature relaxing of restrictions threatening to unleash a second wave of Covid-19 in the winter months.
Jet-setting footballers could conceivably find themselves acting as unwitting accomplices.
Harry Maguire has greater problems than facing the long arm of the law after the Manchester United captain joined several England teammates in heading to Mykonos, now as much a hot spot for coronavirus infection as it has been for the rich and famous.
Trent Alexander-Arnold and Dele Alli were also spotted soaking up the sun on the Greek isle alongside holidaymakers with seemingly little regard for social distancing protocols.
All three players might test negative when they are reintegrated into the Three Lions' bio-secure bubble for next month's Nations League games, but that still does not offer cast-iron guarantees on immunity, as Alexander-Arnold will already doubtless be aware.
Juergen Klopp insisted Liverpool's pre-season camp in Austria was suitably ensconced despite a member of their travelling party reportedly testing positive last week.
If the current trend cannot be arrested, the Reds boss will be lucky to get his team's EPL title defence off the ground - let alone seeing it through to the end.