LONDON: A decisive meeting of the Premier League clubs on Monday could end up with the 2019-20 season being cancelled. This warning has come from Richard Bevan, the ceo of the League Managers Association.
All 20 clubs want to play the 92 remaining fixtures before the end of July but they are split over a proposal to play the matches behind closed doors at neutral venues to respect government orders on social distancing.
The six bottom clubs are all opposed to neutral venues because they fear losing home advantage even with no spectators present. The neutral stadium proposal needs the approval from 14 out of the 20 clubs so the rebel six need one more club to join them.
One solution to defuse the rebellion would be to scrap relegation and expand the league for the next one or two seasons.
Bevan, in a BBC Radio interview, said: “Time is not on our side. Training by all the clubs needs to be in place very soon if a start is to be made by mid-June. The government will be making it clear that home matches in stadia in densely-populated cities, puts into question whether social distancing rules can be adhered to.”
Asked if a vote against neutral venues would lead to the season’s cancellation, Bevan: “Yes, I think that probably is correct.”
Sunday is expected to see the government outline its plan for the easing of lockdown restrictions which will offer sport a first practical sign of a way forward.
A group of club doctors are doubtful about a restart on June 12 or 19. They want answers from the Premier League and the government on issues such as liability insurance should a player become seriously ill as well as the increase in risk to black, Asian and minority ethnic groups.
The clubs are preparing for all eventualities. Manchester United and Chelsea have ordered all their foreign players to return within the next seven days. United’s Bruno Fernandes, Fred, Victor Lindelof and Sergio Romero were among those who left the UK to continue individual training in warmer climates. Fernandes has just returned from Portugal, Fred is in Brazil, Lindelof in Sweden and Romero in Argentina.
At least Premier clubs have the financial resources to survive. This is not the case for clubs in the lower three divisions who rely heavily not on television money but on matchday attendances. Their plight was set out starkly by Rick Parry, chairman of the Football League, in evidence to a parliamentary inquiry.
Parry told MPs in a video conference that 1,400 EFL players will be out of contract at the end of next month, that squad salary caps are essential to bring down spending and that players are afraid about returning to action while social distancing orders remain in place.
He also criticised the ‘parachute payment’ system which supports clubs relegated from the Premier League because it created a divisive two classes of clubs in the second tier. Relegated clubs receive a total of £42m for the first season after relegation and up to £92m over three years.
Parry also criticised suggestions of voiding the season without promotion or relegation. He said: “It would be a breach of our agreement with the Premier League. The lawyers would get very wealthy. It would get very messy. Our expectation remains that three clubs will be promoted to the Premier League.”
Gordon Taylor, ceo of the players’ union, has suggested that shorter matches might be played to help complete the season before the ends of July.