KEIR RADNEDGE REPORTS: June 12 remains the target date for the Premier League to pick up the 2019-20 season where all 20 clubs left off after Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta and three Brighton players tested positive for coronavirus in mid-March.
The clubs meet Monday in the most important video conference so far to try to agree on the practical steps essential to complete the season in a country which will remain in some sort of lockdown for many weeks to come.
Key issues focus on training, testing, match schedule, neutral venues and the response of players and police.
Some clubs have already reopened their training centres for individual fitness sessions with all the rest expected to follow suit this week. First comes individual work, then small group sessions, then contact training by May 25.
Players will be tested twice a week. The Premier League has agreed a £4m deal with a biotech company to provide this work. Some clubs are worried about possible public anger if it appears that football is jumping the queue when testing priority should be granted to medical staff and essential workers.
The fixtures schedules is the next challenge. The initial proposal is for as many as three games to be played each day, behind closed doors, and at between eight and 10 ‘approved grounds’ which would be neutral to the teams involved.
This had already split the clubs with strong opposition having been led by clubs threatened by relegation. Brighton, Aston Villa and Watford directors have all objected that losing home advantage undermines the ‘integrity’ of competition.
It appears doubtful whether the rebels can obtain the seven votes necessary to block the move. However at least a vote may be delayed to try to find a compromises solution on which all the clubs can agree.
The response of players is mixed. Manchester City’s Sergio Aguero, West Ham’s Manuel Lanzini, Brighton’s Glenn Murray and Chelsea’s Willian have all expressed fears for their own health and that of their families.
Premier League ceo Richard Masters believes that the health protocols should prove effective. If one player tests positive, he would stay in self-isolation with his family for 14 days. Currently this applies to three players at Brighton. Prohibitions are also being proposed on spitting, swapping shirts, sharing water bottles and group celebrations.
Clubs may be permitted to add to their squads and a decision must be taken on whether to adopt the FIFA emergency option of using up to five substitutes per game.
Of course a major concern is completion of the season to fulfill television contracts. Complex negotiations will be needed with broadcasters to work out viable shares of the remaining action.
Not everyone is happy about even these restricted measures. A group of four club doctors have submitted 100 questions about health issues including insurance, infection transmission and the presence and operational ability of emergency services.
A number of police leaders have also been critical at a time when officers are unable to properly enforce the national lockdown.
David Jamieson, police and crime commissioner for the West Midlands, said: “I understand people want to see football resume but the safety of the public and the police must come first. I can’t see how matches could take place without significant risks to fans, local people and, most of all, brave police officers.
“The majority of grounds are in densely populated urban areas. What happens if thousands of fans turn up outside a ground where a crucial game is taking place? Why should the safety of my officers be put at risk by looking after large groups of fans?
“My officers are doing important work looking after the public, and need to be able to concentrate on that.”