It's no longer just a nightmare for the Prem – the coronavirus suspension will have huge repercussions for football

Posted Saturday, March 14, 2020 by

NOW it is no longer just a nightmare for the Premier League. It is the reality.

A crisis that could break the League in two — and leave broken hearts across the red half of Merseyside.

It's no longer just a nightmare for the Prem – the coronavirus suspension will have huge repercussions for football
Arsenal boss Mikel Arteta is among football's most high-profile cases Credit: PA:Press Association

As the pressure builds for the 2019-20 campaign to be declared null and void, the sheer scale of the potential repercussions will stare the game in the face.

The idea that Liverpool’s cakewalk to their first crown since 1990 could be ended prematurely by the biggest global pandemic in over a century might delight fans of Manchester United, City and Everton.

But League chiefs recognise the chaos, confusion and legal minefield they would be walking straight into.

New League chief executive Richard Masters could never have imagined he would be confronted by such a scenario when he was finally confirmed as Richard Scudamore’s successor.

Scudamore, spotted at the Cheltenham Festival yesterday, hid any smiles of relief that he was not in the middle of the maelstrom.

Masters, though, has to negotiate the trickiest path he has ever walked, assailed from all sides by an unforgiving and demanding set of footballing creditors.

Prem chiefs had hoped that Wednesday’s meeting would be relatively simple.

With Uefa, who called off next week’s planned European ties as the coronavirus casualty list rose, poised to announce on Tuesday that Euro 2020 will be postponed for 12 months, the next step was obvious.

Aware that many Premier League clubs were opposed to the idea of playing behind closed doors, Masters and his colleagues anticipated they would get through this weekend as scheduled — then announce a brief shutdown that would take in this month’s international break.

It's no longer just a nightmare for the Prem – the coronavirus suspension will have huge repercussions for football

With Uefa clearing the way for an extension of the club season into July if needed, a short break would not be too damaging.

Inconvenient, yes, but something that could be lived with.

As senior Prem sources have constantly insisted: “We want to play the season to a conclusion. That is the overriding concern.”

Yet the forced reaction to the news from Arsenal and Chelsea, followed yesterday by similar virus outbreaks at Everton and Bournemouth, has taken everything to a new level.

Masters, blindsided by the shock announcement from the Emirates, took control of the situation on Thursday evening, swiftly calling yesterday’s teleconference of the 20 clubs.

It is understood there was unanimous approval of the decision to suspend football immediately.

However some club representatives suggested Liverpool hinted at their unhappiness with the evolving direction of travel.

Prem chiefs will not announce a scrapping of the campaign until there is a Government order banning massed gatherings, to ensure their insurance pays out.

It's no longer just a nightmare for the Prem – the coronavirus suspension will have huge repercussions for football

But that will be on the table at Wednesday’s meeting with Masters and others set to face increasing demands for the ultimate football sacrifice to be made.

League bosses know what could come.

Leeds and West Brom, in particular, would have cases that they will have been unfairly denied promotion and the guaranteed minimum £170million in Prem revenue they would earn over the next three years.

Lawyers will be rubbing their fists in anticipation of huge and lucrative courtroom battles.

There are, though, other significant concerns. Top-flight clubs would miss out on gate money from remaining matches, worth up to £6m per home game for the likes of Manchester United and Spurs.

Clubs would also be expected to pay back some £20m each in advance broadcast payments for this season from the Sky, BT and overseas deals, money which many of them have already passed on in wages to players and staff.

In addition, players will have to get used to a second mid-season break of the campaign, one which would feel more like pre-season with the best-case scenario seeming likely to be six weeks without games.

Coaches argue that every day out of full training — it is hard to really focus flat-out when there is nothing to train for — requires another day of proper work to get back to peak condition.

It's no longer just a nightmare for the Prem – the coronavirus suspension will have huge repercussions for football
Premier League stars are having to take precautions Credit: Eamonn and James Clarke

There is also the issue that extending the season beyond June 30, and into the next transfer window, would mean some players being expected to play AFTER their contracts have ended.

This could be a particular problem in the lower leagues where one-year deals are often standard.

The clock is ticking. League chiefs recognise there must be a minimum three-week break between the end of one season and the start of the next, with next term’s kick-off due on August 7.

That means a finish by the middle of July at the latest, with most clubs having to play nine more Prem matches.

The League has the power to order clubs to play as frequently as every two days.

But that would risk the health of players and even three days between games would require a restart by the middle of June.

Club chiefs are split, with the bigger sides keener to back Masters and the Prem leadership than mid-sized teams.

But one senior exec was adamant: “It won’t be popular with everyone and certainly not with Liverpool.

“Yet if you take a step back, cancelling the season and starting again is actually the most sensible outcome.”

Others, certainly around Anfield, will disagree. But the tide is turning — and quickly.



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