15 May 2020 – Rebellion against neutral venues, talk of £340million television refunds, and players indicating they will tell the Premier League what to do with their swabs if they order them back.
Project Restart as a name sounds simple, but it is anything but. Here, Sportsmail takes a look at 10 stumbling blocks the Premier League must overcome, if the 2019-20 season is to be resumed and money taps turned back on.
You cannot play games without the players and Danny Rose, with his usual candour, gave an indication of where they stand on returning to work amid this pandemic. The 29-year-old, on loan at Newcastle from Tottenham, said: “I don’t give a f*** about the nation’s morale. People’s lives are at risk. It’s b******s.”
Rose is not alone. Sportsmail can reveal that there are many more players who feel money and politics are being prioritised over their wellbeing, and that message has been relayed to their union, the PFA.
During Monday’s meeting, at least 12 of the 20 clubs indicated they were against using neutral venues for the remaining 92 matches of the season. Now, the Premier League have taken that view back to the British government and seem to be winning the battle for matches to be played at the club’s own grounds. It is about more than losing home advantage. Clubs fear losing significant sums of money from sponsors if games are televised from neutral venues rather than their own.
Even in neutral venues and without any supporters, key workers would be needed. That includes having ambulance staff on standby at the stadium in case of any emergencies, such as needing to take an injured player to hospital. Football does not want to be seen draining resources during such a critical time.
The government have sanctioned the return of elite sport behind closed doors from June 1. But while prime minister Boris Johnson is still preaching social distancing, there is a moral dilemma as to whether footballers feel they should be coming together to compete.
At what point does swabbing players’ cheeks in white tents at the entrance of training grounds, just so they can come in for a kickabout, become beyond ludicrous?
Though the date of June 1 has been set, players will require a pre-season period. Premier League managers, including Frank Lampard at Chelsea, say four weeks would be best. One top-flight fitness coach has told Sportsmail how they are having to take the data they are receiving from players with “a pinch of salt”. That is because running on a treadmill at home is not the same as traditional training in a field. It has left clubs unsure of their players’ true fitness.
There is talk of television companies wanting as much as £340m back, even if matches are played behind closed doors. Apparently, that is not the product they paid for. Clubs could balk at putting their players at risk while also having to repay broadcasters.
The crux of this issue is clubs do not want to be seen dishing out numerous testing kits while local doctors, nurses and care workers are having to go without. Even if they are privately sourced, there remain concerns about the message this would send. It is worth noting the good that most clubs have tried to do for their local communities, from Arsenal legends phoning vulnerable fans to Brighton & Hove Albion’s fundraising efforts.
Curtailing the season was discussed for the first time on Monday, and the Football Association have said relegation must be imposed, no matter what. So, how do you decide this? If by points per game, with home and away weighting, West Ham United would drop, finishing 18th. The legal backlash would be extraordinary. Hence why playing to a finish – with relegation included, as per FA orders – is preferred. But this is a major issue. Every club has their own agenda, after all.
Uefa had set a deadline of May 25 for a Project Restart plan, though they are willing to extend it. But by how long? The European governing body are willing to take into account the extraordinary circumstances we are in, but they want to be presented with plans.
Germany’s Bundesliga is set to get going this weekend, and the Premier League’s clubs are due to meet again next Monday to discuss their short-term future.
Many clubs let their players fly to their home countries to be with their families during the lockdown.
Now they need them back if they are to resume small-group training next week.
(source: Daily Mail/IOL)