Premier League chief executive Richard Masters has shed more light on the details of yesterday’s five-hour meeting between its shareholders.
Everything from neutral stadiums to player safety was discussed as ‘Project Restart’ was dissected by the top flight’s 20 clubs.
While there’s an air of optimism that football can return in June, it’s clear that many issues need to be resolved quickly.
We’ve jotted down what Masters had to say on the biggest sticking points and provided a little context for each.
TV revenue loss
“Whatever happens, there’s going to be significant loss of revenue for clubs. That is inevitable.”
Finishing the season behind closed doors isn’t going to be enough to fulfil all the stipulations of the original contracts with broadcasters who, unsurprisingly, are trying to recoup some of their outlay as a result of this lengthy hiatus. The BBC says Richard Masters informed clubs they should expect to repay an estimated £340m to domestic and international broadcasters. If that bill is shared equally, it’ll mean a bill of £17 million. Whether they’ll need to stump up the cash immediately or if it’ll be shaved off their next pay cheque remains to be seen.
“What was agreed was that players can extend their contracts until the end of the season. It must be agreed by both parties.”
An agreement has been reached that player contracts ending on 30 June can be extended to the end of the 2019-20 season, whenever that may be. The main stipulation is that the agreement is reached before 23 June. In Arsenal’s case, that will mean extending the loan deals of Dani Ceballos, Pablo Mari and Cedric Soares. While the only ‘first team’ Gunner out of contract this summer is Matt Macey, the Premier League have been concerned about the situation because up to a fifth of its players could have been out of contract – and thereby free agents – in the middle of a possible run-in.
It’s worth pointing out that any players returning from their loan – for example, William Saliba who has no football in France because the season is over – can’t feature for us this season.
Return to training
“It is possible, yes.”
That was Masters’ response when asked if players could resume training by next Monday. In what form training would be allowed, it’s not clear, but if clubs are eyeing a mid-June resumption then standard sessions – done as a collective and featuring ball work – will have to start soon. Even if they did start on Monday we’re talking about less than a month to get players back to match fitness.
“We think we are going to be able to create that safe environment. But we need to talk to players about it. So as I said earlier, it is right the players voice their concerns. It is right that they will have concerns and questions and we need to hear those first.”
While players haven’t been sitting on their arses – we know Arsenal sent its first team squad everything they need to follow personal fitness programmes – the fact they’ve gone two months without matches and their usual high-intensity group sessions mean they are at greater risk of succumbing to an injury if forced into action prematurely.
They, like everyone else, are also at risk of being infected by coronavirus. Prior to yesterday’s meeting, club medics asked for clarity over medical protocols, testing and player welfare. The Telegraph (£) reported last week that The Doctors Laboratory (TDL), part of the Sonic Healthcare group that operates testing for the Bundesliga, has been selected to carry out testing of all Premier League players at a cost of £4 million.
The Athletic says that this drive-through process began this morning at Wolves’ training ground. Mouth and nose swabs have been taken and will be processed in London. With testing will come further positive cases. At the weekend Brighton confirmed a third player had contracted the virus.
Most players are said to be itching to get back to action, but that doesn’t mean all of them will be. If there are concerns about a return you can be sure the PFA will raise them but the Premier League aren’t expecting their plans to be vetoed.
“All clubs would prefer to play at home and they accept it’s an issue to be addressed. That pretty much summarises it.”
While the government has advised that matches should take place at eight to 10 neutral venues to minimise the strain on the police and authorities, no agreement has been reached with the clubs on the issue. The bottom six, fearful of losing home advantage with relegation looming, are not in favour while other clubs have concerns, especially if the situation were to carry into next season.
With clubs in Germany allowed to play in their own arenas, the Premier League has said it’ll talk to the government about maintaining home and away fixtures. The Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said recently that the return of sport “would lift spirits of the nation”. With an agreement over neutral venues unlikely, you suspect the Premier League will play on this if necessary. Despite the potential safety issues will the government want to look like the big blocker to football’s return? Probably not.
Whatever happens, it seems pretty likely there won’t be fans at matches in 2020 and possibly until there’s a vaccine.
Return of matches
“A really strong collective will to complete the season remains”.
The government outlined plans that could see sports resume behind closed doors from 1 June, if its criteria for easing Step One of its lockdown restrictions are met.
Clubs and players won’t be ready for that date but it does sound like games could resume in a month’s time, assuming all the issues we’re listing here can be resolved.
If they can’t then curtailing the season, isn’t off the table. Nobody wants that, not even the struggling clubs, because the FA have hinted that they will enforce relegation based on sporting merit (current standings / points-per-game).
More talks. More talks. More talks. And a possible return to training.