Date: 10th May 2020 at 9:43am
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The Coronavirus pandemic has plagued the entire world.

At the time of writing, there have been almost a quarter of a million cases in the UK, with the real figure believed to be far greater than that.

Over 30,000 people have sadly died with confirmed Covid-19, again the thought looking at excess death figures, the number tragically is expected again to be far greater than that.

The United Kingdom remains in lockdown, with essential travel and one daily exercise activity the only reason why anyone should leave their home, due to the high rate of infection of this disease.

The peak has passed in the UK, but despite media reports that restrictions could be lifted this evening (10th May), it is looking increasingly likely that those restrictions, if any, will be modest and gradual.

Despite this being the backdrop in the United Kingdom, Premier League clubs and officials have been feverishly working away at “project restart”.

The Premier League was suspended indefinitely in March with most clubs having between nine and ten games remaining. There are almost 100 matches still to be played to complete the prolonged 2019/20 Premier League season.

Whilst Liverpool were only a few points away from clinching their first title in 30 years, the bottom of the Premier League table is far from clear.

Any of the divisions bottom six clubs could be in the mix of dropping out of the division and into the Championship.

Whilst bottom club Norwich City look slightly adrift, with nine games to play, they are only six points away from leapfrogging the teams above them and into safety.

19th place Aston Villa are only 2 points behind safety with a game in hand, whilst AFC Bournemouth currently occupy the final place in the bottom three, level on points with both Watford and West Ham United and are only positioned in 18th due to one single goal.

Brighton & Hove Albion, the only club in the bottom six without a win in their last five fixtures, are just two points clear of the relegation zone.

Due to time restraints on players contracts expiring at the end of June and more notably a reported £762million of TV money at risk if the campaign is not finished, with both domestic broadcasters Sky Sports and BT Sport and International broadcasting partners all keen to get some money back from this seasons broadcasting deal, the majority of clubs are backing a restart to the top flight of English football.

This despite clubs not yet allowed to actually train in groups, social distancing measures of remaining 2 metres apart still in effect and testing for Coronavirus still not available to all.

The Premier League have devised a plan to play all remaining fixtures, behind closed doors, so with no fans in attendance and have also proposed neutral grounds, with all the games to be played at around 10 different venues.

But the plan needs 14 clubs to vote in favour of the changed league format, which could also include five substitutions to be allowed and shortened matches.

Many players have reservations about restarting the campaign in the current climate, AFC Bournemouth captain Simon Francis told The Times, as quoted by Sky Sports

“We have three or four players who have family members with underlying health issues. One player is back in his home country with his partner, who just had a baby.

“Diego Rico is back in Spain with his family. Would they have to be quarantined when they returned? When would it be safe to see their families again?”

“A friend’s wife contracted the virus recently. She had no underlying health issues but was in a really bad way, bedridden for over a week.

“And that has really made me think. Footballers are healthy athletes, and the risks to us, statistically, are low, but the prospect of bringing the virus home to my family isn’t something I want to think about.”

Whilst FIFA Medical Committee chairman Michel D’Hooghe does not believe football should return until September, he told Sky Sports

“The world is not ready for competitive football, I hope this can change very quickly and I sincerely hope that. Today you need more patience, This is the most dramatic situation we have lived in since the Second World War. We should not underestimate it, we must be realistic…”

“…It’s not a matter of money, it’s a matter of life and death. You cannot play in the Premier League when players are obliged to remain two metres from each other…”

Premier League club doctors have also voiced their concern with a report in the Guardian stating “…doctors have raised questions with the league over a number of issues to do with protocols designed to guarantee a safe return to training and, should government advice allow, full competition.

At least one club doctor is known by the Guardian to have serious concerns about the protocols and whether football can be made safe in the near future.”

The Premier League have tried to ease some of these fears with a £4million deal to secure Coronavirus testing kits (source Telegraph) “to reassure players and staff this week that the Project Restart plans will protect them and their families”, a move that probably won’t sit well with the majority of the public when testing has been such a contentious issue for the UK government with testing still lacking in society.

However, regardless of medical concerns and potential negative response from the public, it is only the clubs with the most to lose, ie the bottom six clubs in the battle against relegation, that are reportedly prepared to vote against “Project restart”.

The sporting reason behind their complaint is that they are not overly fond of surrendering home advantage, often a key aspect of any successful club battling to avoid the drop.

Some media outlets, most notably the Daily Mail have dubbed these clubs “rebels” with Brighton, Watford and Aston Villa publicly speaking out against the plan.

The report claims that AFC Bournemouth are also opposed to the plan, however, the club has not been quoted to confirm this…

“Brighton Chief Executive Paul Barber has set up a What’s App group for the “rebels” to discuss strategy and it’s believed Norwich, Bournemouth, Villa, Watford and West Ham would also vote against a resumption in its current form, leaving the Premier League vulnerable if just one other club joined them.

“The upshot is it’s likely that a vote is pushed back until later in the month by which time the PL would draw up alternative arrangements which would be less palatable clubs in the bottom three.

“If Norwich, Villa and Bournemouth were forced to choose between relegation and playing out the season to save their status, the Premier League would be more confident of receiving the 14 votes they need.

The alternatives include abandoning the season but still relegating three clubs. This will be devised on “sporting merit” and could see the bottom three clubs relegated instantly, which has been the case in other countries such as Ligue 1 in France. However even though their league standings were far more clear cut, legal proceedings have still commenced and there is also talk of strike action by the players.

Or a system of points per game used, which could potentially see West Ham United relegated instead of AFC Bournemouth if using a weighted system for home and away games played so far. This model is the reported preferred choice of the EFL to decide League One and Two.

Another option could be to abandon the season entirely with no champions or relegation, which was the choice in the Netherlands, or declare Liverpool as Champions, decide the European qualification places by current standings or a system of points per game, but not relegate any clubs.

This could either see the current 20 clubs kick off any new future campaign, or see the league temporarily increase to 22 or even 23 clubs.

However, The Times has reported that the Football Association would block such a move.

“FA chiefs would block any attempt to declare the Premier League season null and void and abandon relegation, it can be revealed.

“Under wide-ranging powers given to the FA in an agreement signed in 1991 when the Premier League was established, the governing body needs to consent to any changes to promotion and relegation from the division and to the number of teams in the top flight.

Your say…

redharry wrote…

I may be wrong but I think for the vast majority of people who actually attend games the season is already over. No one I know that goes regularly seems the slightest bit interested in what happens next for the simple reason they can’t go and watch it. I won’t bother if it’s televised, I won’t bother with radio commentary – just wake me up when I can go to DC or get in my car and head for an away game.
Null and void it now please and restart when we can go and watch it. – Join the conversation, click here.

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