Manchester United are not necessarily happy to play Premier League matches behind closed doors with the clubs executive vice-chairman, Ed Woodward, admitting that he is uncertain as to whether the season can continue during the coronavirus pandemic. United played their last match on the 12 March, beating LASK 5-0 in the UEFA Europa League.
Premier League chiefs are seeking to resume football as soon as possible and already seem to gave government approval, although there will need to be a lot more happen before a ball is even kicked again. Earlier on Friday, officials from all Premier League clubs were involved in a meeting with chiefs from the Premier League, talking about football returning.
It has been reported that the 12 June would be a possible date to resume the Premier League, which has 92 matches still to play to complete the season. It is suggested that matches will be played behind closed doors at neutral grounds, rather than clubs playing home matches – no club will be guaranteed to play at their actual home.
However, the Government would need to give the green light in order for football to start once again. Woodward revealed in a Fans’ Forum that he was not keep in matches being played behind closed doors as football should involve supporters, but at this moment in time, there is nothing that could be done for that to happen. He said:
“No decisions have been made yet but we think it is possible that the initial games, particularly the ones related to finishing or trying to complete this season, will probably have to be played behind closed doors.
“We’re not necessarily happy about that – clearly football requires our fans in the stadium for it to be complete – but public health must come first and… this is down to the Government.
“It’s important to get back to playing football and complete this season once it’s safe to do so.”
Friday’s video conference between to 20 shareholder clubs lasted around three and a half hours as they debated a whole range of issues. It is reported that all clubs remained determined to complete the 2019/20 Premier League season, if possible, as long as there was Government approval for it to happen.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who returned to work this week after recovering from coronavirus, has suggested that the national lockdown will only be eased in stages and not before Thursday 7 May 2020. He also confirmed that the United Kingdom was over the peak of the virus and that we needed to continue to stop people being infected.
Premier League clubs are hoping that they can resume some sort of training from the 18 May with the target to restart matches less than a month later. Obviously, this is not be something that we have ever seen before and it will not be ideal. Sooner or later though, things will need to start again but only when it is safe to do so.
Woodward also wonders what will happen to nest season because of the halt in the current season. Will there be a delay to next season? Will it be played behind closed doors also? What will be impact be for sponsorship deals? Domestic cups? There seems to be a lot of things to sort out as the Premier League, Emirates FA Cup, UEFA Champions League and the UEFA Europa League are all needing to be played this season. He said:
“We’ve got to have clarity on what the future holds. What will happen with the remainder of this season?
“What is the impact on next season? Is it behind closed doors or in front of fans? What’s the impact on broadcast deals, sponsorship deals? What’s the impact on domestic cups?
“We don’t yet know what’s going to happen with regards to the FA Cup. We’re obviously still in that in the quarter-finals.
“What’s going to happen to that next season if the season is truncated a little bit to squeeze in Premier League games? Does that have a knock-on on domestic cups? There are many, many moving parts.”
Former United player, Class of 92 graduate and co-owner of Salford City, Gary Neville seems to be clued up on the resumption of football too. He has many of his own questions to ask about the safety of football resuming in the face of the coronavirus pandemic. The 12 June may be the best part of six weeks away but Neville asked:
“Who is going to stand up of any prevalence and say it’s safe for football players to play football?
“I’m waiting to for that individual to stand up and put their name on a statement that they’re going to give football clubs cover for healthy and safety against their employees, the football players, going back to work.
“I’ve asked the question of my doctor; will you give me medical cover so that I can put my players back in training, and he said quite categorically said no.
“I’m not quite sure which doctor is going to give that medical cover, it’s going to have to come from the government.
“I’m not sure which government minister is going to say it’s safe for football players to go back out in the next few weeks.
Obviously, Neville has some very important questions about football returning. What will happen if one player tests positive for the virus? We all saw what was happening back in March as Mikel Arteta tested positive for the virus days before his side was due to face Manchester City. Football was then postponed until early April, then postponed again. Neville continued by saying:
“We saw what happened the last time the Premier League announced they were going to continue playing football pre-lockdown.
“As soon as Mikel Arteta announced he had the virus, it was shut down straight away.
“What’s going to happen in a few weeks’ time when a player gets coronavirus or, God forbid, goes into intensive care, it’s just going to fall over again.”
I would love to be watching live football again, preferably with fans in the stadiums. However, that is not something that will happen any time soon, possibly not in 2020 either. The environment needs to be safe for all players. I understand a plan needs to be formulated. The lockdown will inevitably end at some point in the near future, so perhaps an overreaction is not necessary, yet?