Clubs are expecting football to get back to normal only when there is a coronavirus vaccine
Monday 4 May 2020 13:38, UK
Premier League clubs are preparing for the possibility of playing the whole of next season behind closed doors.
While clubs discuss proposals to complete this season behind closed doors at neutral venues, they have also started considering the impact of playing the 2020/21 season without fans as well.
Clubs are expecting football to get back to normal only when there is a coronavirus vaccine. Most experts believe a vaccine will not become available until the middle of next year.
In the meantime, many clubs believe one of the first things they can do is budget for spending little or no money on transfers when the next window opens.
The Premier League have said failing to finish this season would cost its 20 clubs more than £1billion, but playing next season behind closed doors is likely to have an even more dramatic impact on club finances.
Premier League clubs make the majority of their money from broadcasting income and, apart from that, their revenues stem mainly from matchday income and commercial deals.
Both those revenue streams would be significantly reduced if games were played behind closed doors for a whole season.
Premier League clubs remain committed to finishing the current season, but it emerged this will only be possible if 8-10 neutral venues are used to play the remaining fixtures.
The 'Project Restart' document was top of the agenda in the latest conference call on Friday, which all 20 clubs attended, while the next meeting is set to take place after the UK government's next review of lockdown measures on May 7.
June 12 was discussed as a potential return date but any final decision will rest with the government and will depend on the next steps in the lockdown.
Football Association chairman Greg Clarke fears fans will not be returning to stadiums "any time soon".
In a letter to the FA Council, Clarke said: "The reality is that we just don't know how things are going to pan out.
"But with social distancing in place for some time to come we do face substantial changes to the whole football ecosystem.
"For example it's hard to foresee crowds of fans - who are the lifeblood of the game - returning to matches any time soon."
With Australia reportedly ready to host the end of the Premier League season, the Sunday Supplement panel discussed whether going abroad would be the right move to see the 2019/20 campaign through to its conclusion.
"I think it's a non-starter," Darren Lewis, football writer at the Daily Mirror. "Gary [Neville] is, in many ways, leading the conversation on the realities of this situation and calling things as they are, and speaking in a way that footballers have really resonated with.
"I know Simon Francis in The Times spoke about the many things Gary has been saying that reflect the views of footballers across the country, but I just can't see it being a starter on this."
Matt Lawton, chief sports correspondent with The Times, questioned why Australians would be willing to undermine their own coronavirus recovery by welcoming in hundreds of Premier League players, staff, management and media to allow the top flight to reach its conclusion.
"The biggest stumbling block with it is if you're Australian, and have so few cases, why would you want 2,000 people arriving from the worst-hit country in Europe?" he said.
"It's completely implausible. A couple of potentially infected plane-loads worth of people? Yeah, bring them over, let's play some football. Journalists? Staff? Where are they all going to stay?
"I agree with Darren, I think Gary's been excellent on this debate. But one of the other things we haven't touched on yet that has to be the fairest way to do it is to take relegation out of this."
Brighton chief executive Paul Barber has voiced opposition to the idea of finishing the Premier League season at neutral venues.
It is understood clubs were told on Friday limiting action to a handful of selected stadiums was the only way it would be possible to complete the remaining matches of the 2019/20 season for safety reasons.
"Clearly, we must all be prepared to accept some compromises, and we fully appreciate why playing behind closed doors is very likely to be a necessary compromise to play our remaining games while continuing to fully support the government's efforts to contain the spread of coronavirus," Barber said on the club's website.
"But at this critical point in the season playing matches in neutral venues has, in our view, potential to have a material effect on the integrity of the competition."
"The disadvantages of us not playing the league's top teams in our home stadium and in familiar surroundings, even with 27,000 Albion fans very unlikely to be present at the Amex, are very obvious.
"Clearly, we must accept there may also be some benefit from playing our remaining four away matches at neutral venues but the fixture list simply isn't equally balanced at this stage of the season, and we didn't play our first 29 matches of the season in this way. So, in our opinion one thing doesn't cancel out the other."