Project Restart: Premier League club owner says players will not be forced to return
PL clubs determined to finish season, says club owner: "If we wait for a vaccine or herd immunity it could be 18 months without football"
By Kaveh Solhekol, Sky Sports News reporter
Last Updated: 30/04/20 3:52pm
A Premier League club owner says players will not be forced to return and will be given the option of staying at home when football resumes.
Premier League clubs remain determined to finish the 2019/20 season and are due to receive 'Project Restart' proposals at a meeting on Friday about how the season could restart as early as June 8.
The government is due to review lockdown restrictions next Thursday and footballers could start training again in small groups soon after.
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Some players are worried about returning to work too soon but Sky Sports News has been told those who do not want to return will be given the option of staying at home.
"No one will be forced to play," the club owner said. "It will ultimately be the player's decision. If a player doesn't want to play it will be their call."
Plans are being made for squads to stay in hotels for the five weeks it would take to complete the season. Such a precaution would remove the potential risk of players contaminating their families with the virus, having returned to training and playing.
The football seasons in France and Holland have been cancelled but Premier League clubs are set on pressing ahead with plans to restart games when the government advises it is safe for players to return to work.
"There is no desire to end the season at this time," the club owner said. "We want to play the games."
The club owner says there is no chance of the season being cancelled because clubs would go out of business if the remaining 92 games were not played.
"There is a great will to play the games," he said. "We simply can't afford to not play but nothing will be done without government approval.
"If we wait for a vaccine or herd immunity it could be 18 months without football and 90 per cent of clubs would go bust. Even if we sacked 95 per cent of our employees, we'd still go bust because we would still have to pay the players."
FIFA Medical Committee chairman Michel D'Hooghe does not believe football should return until September 1 at the earliest.
D'Hooghe's opinion is that it is too early to consider players coming into contact with one another, at least while social distancing regulations are in place, and that even significant levels of testing for coronavirus might not be enough.
"The world is not ready for competitive football, I hope this can change very quickly and I sincerely hope that. Today you need more patience," D'Hooghe told Sky Sports News chief reporter Bryan Swanson.
"This is the most dramatic situation we have lived in since the Second World War. We should not underestimate it, we must be realistic.
"Football can only be possible if contact is possible again. Football remains a contact sport and avoiding contact is one of the first things everyone says is that you should avoid contact.
"It's still about social distancing. Testing is an important point but you have to repeat them. If one of the players becomes positive, you have to put the whole group into quarantine. Is that a solution for a normal competition?
"It's not a matter of money, it's a matter of life and death. You cannot play in the Premier League when players are obliged to remain two metres from each other. You cannot ask Liverpool to play Manchester when all the players will keep a distance of two metres between them.
"Have you ever tried playing football in a mask?! This does not avoid social distancing.
"We do not know when it will reach its peak in different countries, it will be different in every country. The solution will only be there the day there is an adequate vaccination programme."
England - Premier League
The Premier League will hold further talks this week, as it targets a return behind closed doors in June.
Scotland - Premiership
The SPFL board is due to meet on Monday afternoon for the first time since April 10, when all 42 SPFL clubs voted on proposals to conclude the season below the top division.
France - Ligue 1
The Ligue 1 and 2 seasons will not resume after French Prime Minister Eduoard Philippe declared an end to all sporting events in France until September.
Italy - Serie A
Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte has announced professional sports teams can resume training on May 18 with Serie A potentially resuming in June.
Germany - Bundesliga
The Bundesliga is ready to return on May 9 if the German government gives it the green light, league officials have confirmed.
Netherlands - Eredivisie
The Dutch Eredivisie season has been ended with immediate effect, meaning league leaders Ajax have been denied the title. There will also be no promotion to the Dutch Eredivisie or relegation from the top flight, following an agreement reached over a video conference call between the Dutch FA (KNVB) and clubs.
Premier League players will have to cover their faces as part of new rules to allow a safe return to full training.
Proposals have been drafted by Premier League director of football Richard Garlick but a return to training will only happen with the agreement of the government.
Plans include testing all players and officials 48 hours before returning to training and they will also be tested for potential respiratory problems associated with coronavirus.
Other proposals include:
- All footballs, global positioning system [GPS] units, cones, corner flags, goalposts and other equipment to be disinfected before and after use by staff wearing personal protective equipment [PPE]
- Players to wear snood/masks at all times
- Cars to be parked three spaces apart
- No massages unless approved by club doctor
- Fluids to be left at designated pick-up points
- Only visit training block to use toilet
- Initially only five players per training group
- Players to be given designated time slots and 15 minutes to prepare
- 75 minutes of small group training
- 15 minutes' recovery
- Players and staff will be banned from spitting at the training ground
Some Premier League teams have returned to training grounds - subject to strict conditions and social distancing measures.
Arsenal were the first to welcome back members of their first-team squad on April 27 but players must travel alone, do their individual workout and return home.
Tottenham players returned to training at their Hotspur Way base earlier this week, with Harry Kane among those to arrive first ahead of staggered shifts involving the first-team squad.
West Ham United's Rush Green training ground is open to players but with strict conditions attached including a one-in one-out policy, while Sheffield United players are individually returning for fitness testing and Wolves players are are able to access their training facilities for individual running sessions during the pandemic.
Sky Sports' Gerard Brand...
"The answer, as you'd expect, varies.
"Some reports suggest a Premier League game needs anything between 250 and 500 personnel present, whereas lower down in the Football League there has been suggestions that anything between 100 and 180 are needed in a stadium.
"As well as around 60-70 staff on the playing and officiating side, matchday and safety staff take up a large chunk, as well as at least 70 broadcast media for live televised games, 40 for non-live games, plus written press if deemed essential.
"In Germany, detailed guidelines have been published claiming a maximum of 322 people are needed in and around stadiums for a football match to go ahead."