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November 2020
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Restart is floundering as clubs, players, medics and league argue

by Tony Attwood

There could have been a swift and simple agreement early on through playing the remaining league games on neutral territory such as in Cyprus, but once that idea broke down, it has indeed been downhill all the way.

After that the idea of playing on a set of neutral venues nominated around the country has been put forward and has been rejected by the bottom six clubs.  They have been told to fall into line, which is never a particularly good way of handling negotiations, and so positions have hardened.

The notion following on from that is that if the season is abandoned then the financial consequences (primarily in terms of loss of TV income and repayment of season ticket and other ticket sales money) will be huge.

The police are most certainly not happy with having to work with the clubs, which to some degree are seen as being difficult and out of touch with the reality of a culture in which 30,000 people have died as a result of the virus.

The idea of abandoning relegation this season, but allowing clubs to be promoted, and then sorting the numbers out the following season has been dismissed by the Football Association, although quite how much control over club affairs they still have is doubtful.  If clubs go against anything the FA says, what exactly will the FA do?   Their one sanction (banning clubs from the FA Cup) would probably result in clubs not co-operating with the FA over international games.

While Germany has worked out a quarantine programme for its resumed league, it seems that players in England are not happy with the approach.

In response, the League is now threatening clubs that vote against the plan to restart the league that they could face points deductions if the league votes for the “neutral venue” scheme and the group of six object.

Of all these objections the one from the players seems the strongest, although the fact is that the government may well not give permission to the league to start up again when it announces its programme on Sunday.

Once that announcement is made the clubs will meet again against a background of threats and recriminations.  Meanwhile, the culture secretary Oliver Dowden has warned that the government is far from certain that restarting the sport is a good idea at the moment.

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There is also a certain amount of ineptitude going on as it appears that players and staff in clubs are being asked to sign individual coronavirus agreements, without consulting their unions.

One issue that has been resolved is the fact that tests for players will be privately sourced and will not interrupt the supply of tests to hospital staff and the elderly. But it still looks bad to have players getting tests while many key workers can’t get them.

There is also the issue that if as a result of government changes there is a rise in infection rates, what happens then?

Random comments seem to abound.  The Foreign Secretary, Dominic Raab, jumped in this week saying that the return of the Premier League would lift the spirits of the nation – which perhaps it would for him since none of this falls under his remit.

One feeling is that it will be easier to make a decision after everyone sees what happens in Germany which is due to start up again from 16 May.  However, even this may not help much since Germany has had a much more effective approach to dealing with the virus, and therefore their position is not really like that in the UK.

So far, among players who have returned to training in Germany there have been 10 positive tests.  If there are many more it could be argued that the integrity of the squads will be affected, and thus the integrity of the League.   That could stop the league going ahead, and would affect attitudes towards the re-start of the Premier League, Serie A and La Liga.  It will make the approach of stopping certain leagues totally to appear to be much more reasoned

But… and there is always a but, and this one is huge.

Everything above is predicated on the basis that football in England exists in a bubble.  That it can make its own decisions and nothing from outside the bubble of the League, FA, players, clubs, the players unions, and government will affect what happens.

I am not sure that is so for it strikes me there is something else afoot which could change everything.  I’ll come to that next.

 

 

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