By Tony Attwood
We began with total denial. With the transfer window still months away the names of players – often very expensive players – that Arsenal were going to buy started to pop up. The interruption to games was seen as a temporary inconvenience. Nothing to worry about. Nothing to bother the English clubs.
Then it was a case of we would be back soon, along with more and more players Arsenal were going to buy.
After that, as the rest of Europe started to debate lockdowns, ghost games, and league abandonments, there was a unified turning of the back on what the rest of football was saying, as plans for a restart in May were laid, and then June. Talk of playing the games at two grounds in the north-west, or maybe at Wembley came to the fore… and then went away.
Slowly it became clear, nothing was going to happen, nothing was being agreed. In Scotland there was the farce of the vote with Dundee voting and not voting while Rangers threaten legal action, plus more and more transfer news.
Even as it became clear that virtually all the clubs save a very few such as Manchester United, Manchester City and Chelsea (and now quite possibly Newcastle) were going to run into financial difficulties so the stories continued. Arsenal are now linked with over 50 players for next season.
But slowly, very very slowly, the message is creeping out, for the Guardian today reports “concerns growing over the feasibility of a return even behind closed doors.” David Moyes is reported as saying, “The deeper and deeper you look the harder you feel it is to get it up running again.” And that’s before anyone has picked up on the obvious problem of how you stop fans gathering around the stadium when a ghost game is being played.
We are now being told that the League has decided not to start again until there is sufficient capacity for Covid-19 testing and where there are sufficient plans on how to minimise the risk of infection during a match.
And this in a country in which doctors, nurses, hospital staff and other health workers are not able to get either the tests they need to keep them safe, or the protective equipment that is also essential.
Indeed, what exactly would the country make of testing kits being diverted to footballers while nurses were left exposed to the virus?
Also it is becoming clear that a lot of clubs – even Premier League clubs – are anxious to get players whose contracts are ending, off their books on 30 June. Extending the season will mean they can’t.
Clubs being relegated have clauses in their player contracts that reduces the players’ wages from the moment that relegation is confirmed – not the end of the season – and the clubs down the bottom do not fancy paying out high wage bills into June or even longer.
And indeed not all clubs fancy playing in June / July and then starting up again in September, especially if they have smaller squads and not many youngsters ready to step up.
And now, to show just how far realism has returned, there are questions being asked about players who are unhappy with the arrangements – all of which of course fall outside the contract. Or a player from club A who is lined up to move to Club B, but finds himself selected to play for A against B because the season is extended.
Such things are possible, because no one is talking about changing the transfer window; indeed such a change looks extremely unlikely.
As I say, these issues are being discussed in the background now, but as far as I can tell, there are no talks going on between the clubs on topics like this – and undoubtedly many more that I have missed.
Which is really my main point. The discussions on all these difficult topics have not yet even begun. And when they do begin, it is going to take months for them to be resolved. By which time someone might remember the fact that the FA are hoping to play some international games.
The European Championship matches scheduled for June have been postponed – but they will have to be played at some stage. And looking further ahead we have Uefa Nations League matches scheduled at the start of September. What’s going to happen to those?
It does seem people have hardly begun to think about the broader picture yet.
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