KEIR RADNEDGE REPORTS: The Premier League is edging gradually towards a system which can bring ‘Project Restart’ to life towards the end of next month.
An announcement by the government of initial measures to ease the national lockdown was matched by a meeting of clubs on Monday and further discussions with police and health advisers. A protocol for an across-the-board resumption of training has been issued and police are reconsidering initial objections to a restart behind closed doors.
The next step is to convince managers and players that it will be safe for them all to return to both training and competitive action.
A controversial proposal to use eight or 10 neutral grounds for the busy 92-game schedule has been dropped. This followed a pincer movement from six relegation-threatened clubs as well as others concerned by their stadium-sponsor contracts which include the likes of Newcastle and Arsenal. An easing of police concerns also helped.
League ceo Richard Masters confirmed: “Everybody would prefer to play home and away if at all possible.”
A source said: “The government recognises the role football played in communicating the original ‘stay at home’ message so there is a desire to help.” The government has granted permission for elite sport to resume behind closed doors, for broadcasting, from June 1.
One remaining hurdle is London whose clubs would stage 22 of the remaining games. Mayor Sadiq Khan, despite his role a Liverpool fan, is worried about unnecessary pressure on security and health workers from a resumption.
A spokesman for Khan said: “Sadiq is extremely keen for the Premier League and professional sport in general to resume. However, with the country still in the grips of this crisis, and hundreds of people dying every day, he believes that it is too early to be discussing the resumption of the Premier League and top-flight sport in the capital.
“As a Liverpool fan, Sadiq of course wants the Premier League to return, but it can only happen when it is safe to do so and cannot place any extra burden on the National Health Service and emergency services.”
Several players have also expressed concerns about a resumption.
The latest was Danny Rose, the England leftback on loan from Tottenham to Newcastle. He said: “Football shouldn’t even be spoken about until the numbers have dropped massively. People’s lives are at risk.”
A more considered opinion came from Manchester City forward Raheem Sterling after statistics showed black men and women nearly twice as likely to die with coronavirus as white people in England and Wales.
Sterling said: “Once people’s safety and the players’ safety is secured, and their wellbeing is looked after, then that’s the right time to go back. Until then, I’m not scared but reserved. I’ve had family members who have passed away. You’ve got to be wise and take care of yourself and those around you.”