Coronavirus: Premier League clubs pushing for fixed date for season to return

The Independent has been told that figures at some clubs now want more clarity on when they return, both due to financial pressures and so football staff can start physically preparing players

Miguel Delaney
Chief Football Writer
Thursday 02 April 2020 18:11
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Premier League officials are aiming to fix harder return dates for football in their latest videoconference, so that clubs can start physically preparing their squads, and it is hoped that the idea of voiding the 2019/20 season will be killed off once and for all.

The meeting will also discuss the ongoing controversy about player wages in the face of wage cuts for non-football staff at clubs, although several sources believe a PFA statement will be made on the situation by Friday evening.

Recent video conferences have merely seen the Premier League season postponed twice, until 30 April, in what have effectively been time-buying moves as they seek to figure out how to complete the season.

Devising solutions has occupied most of the meetings – including negotiations over an ambitious plan to set up isolated squad camps in summer – but The Independent has been told that figures at some clubs now want more clarity on when they return, both due to financial pressures and so football staff can start physically preparing players. Some will push for harder dates at Friday’s meeting, amid a growing mood of agitation within the game right now.

Not all, however, are comfortable with this. “Some of our lot aren’t the calmest at the best of times,” one high-level source told The Independent. A further issue is that recently installed CEO Richard Masters is currently on compassionate leave, meaning “there aren’t as many people to calm everyone down”.

This is even visible on WhatsApp groups that feature people involved in the decision-making. A senior figure told The Independent that one had more than 100 contributors and it was hard to keep a sense of perspective with worried messages flying around all day.

There is a feeling among a core of figures that pushing for hard dates is both unrealistic and totally inappropriate at this time, especially as the next two weeks are expected to be the peak of the United Kingdom’s coronavirus crisis. Many clubs feel that the Premier League should stick to the current approach, which is to wait and see how things develop for the next few weeks, and then make more solid decisions.

The tentative plan is try and get some form of football back by June, and it is acknowledged that probably won’t be possible without wide-scale testing. Certain figures want more clarity due to the possibility of broadcast contracts being broken, and the prospect of the Premier League collectively losing £1.2bn.

It is for that reason that the majority of clubs – as many as 16, at last count – are insistent the 2019/20 season should finish, no matter when that is. The feeling before the meeting is that there will be a move to have this position hardened on Friday, and kill the idea of voiding the campaign for good.

The controversy over player wages will also be discussed, especially after MPs expressed anger at Tottenham Hotspur furloughing non-playing staff, with The Independent told that other Premier League clubs are currently discussing similar plans.

The Premier League and EFL have been in talks with the PFA over the last three days, as they attempt to come up with some sort of collective solution that works for everybody. Many within football are acutely aware a PR battle is being lost on this, especially as they become a target for politicians. On the other side, however, many players have indicated they are willing to take a cut to help staff at their clubs.

Some connected to discussions have privately expressed frustration at the length of time the PFA are taking, and there is a feeling that certain figures involved “don’t get it”.

Sources close to the players’ body insist this is also a delicate labour rights issue, which needs to be sorted correctly. A blanket wage cut is not the same for a recent academy graduate, for example, as it is for a team star. There is similarly an awareness that they are often dealing with clubs worth hundreds of millions, owned by billionaires, so are intent on standing their ground.

Many players are similarly frustrated they could be made to feel the pressure for decisions that club hierarchies have made. It has already been an issue at Spurs.

The general mood in the Premier League – and the instruction from on high – is that no club should strike out alone on this issue, and that all should wait for the 20 clubs to do it together.

The hope is that will be agreed by Friday evening, by which time some form of PFA announcement is expected.

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