UK GOVERNMENT WANTS PREMIER LEAGUE BACK “AS SOON AS POSSIBLE”

The UK government’s cabinet minister responsible for sport said he has been in talks with the Premier League with the aim of getting football back on the field as quickly as possible.

Speaking at a parliamentary questions session, Oliver Dowden, Culture, Media and Sport Secretary, said: “I personally have been in talks with the Premier League with a view to getting football up and running as soon as possible in order to support the whole football community.

“But of course, any such moves would have to be consistent with public health guidance,” he said.

The Premier League, which has been on hold since March 13, remains suspended until at least April 30 while lockdown measures are in place in the United Kingdom until May 7, when the government is set to review the current restrictions in place.

But three London clubs, Arsenal, West Ham and Tottenham Hotspur, along with Brighton, have already reopened their training grounds, allowing limited return to training while observing social distancing protocols.

Those clubs say that players will only be using outdoor field facilities for individual work and will not take part in team activities.

Premier League clubs will hold their latest conference call on Friday as they continue to evaluate various options for finishing the season but a re-start of matches is not expected until June at the earliest.

Last week the league said it was “working through complex planning scenarios” and there are a number of practical hurdles that they face.

With the ban on mass public gatherings likely to be one of the last restrictions to be removed, rescheduled games could be held behind closed doors, possibly at neutral venues.

English cricket’s governing body, the ECB, has been given the leading role for all sport in the country, including football, in examining how to create ‘bio-secure’ venues, with the focus on stadiums with hotel facilities connected or nearby – to limit the need for extensive travel.

With the Dutch Eredivisie already called off and the Belgian season in the balance, there have been calls for the English top-flight to draw a line under the season.

But the clubs remain committed to ending the 2019/20 campaign and there are compelling financial and legal ramifications to playing the remaining 92 games.

Getting the focus back on football would be a welcome boost for the league, as well as fans who would embrace the diversion offered by the return of matches.

European football’s governing body Uefa last week said completing seasons remained the “ideal scenario”. If that is not possible, leagues were urged to find ways of restarting “with a different format”, which could mean play-offs in some cases.

“I believe the Premier League can finish,” Wolves winger Diogo Jota told BBC Sport. “Although some leagues can end right away, others can start sooner. I know almost every country in the world has the Premier League as one of the leagues to watch so it is major that we can finish the season.”

As manager of Dutch club Den Haag, who were spared relegation, former Newcastle and Crystal Palace boss Alan Pardew has a unique perspective on the issue. He believes the English top tier will be played to a finish to avoid costly court battles.

“The TV rights situation is much more problematic in the Premier League. If you bring in the same model (as the Netherlands) you will end up with huge court cases,” Pardew told the Daily Mail.

“From the managers, chairmen and chief executives I’ve spoken to in the Premier League, it seems they are determined to finish the season, subject to that being allowed by the government.”

Given the devastating loss of life and economic damage caused by the virus, making sport a priority is a controversial move.

Clubs cannot guarantee players’ safety and fears have been voiced that even if matches take place behind closed doors, fans could gather outside stadiums, breaking social-distancing rules.

Former Liverpool and Tottenham midfielder Jamie Redknapp said he did not see much sense in playing into July or August and delaying the next campaign.

“If the season’s not completed by the end of June we need to look at the options and just look forward to next season,” he said.

If this season cannot be finished, then the thorny subject of how to decide the issues of the title, European places and relegation will have to be resolved.

The null-and-void option would be doomsday scenario and is certain to enrage clubs and fans, with Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool on the brink of their first league title since 1990.

Manchester United, Wolves, Sheffield United and Tottenham, all currently outside the top four, would surely claim they had been unfairly been denied a chance of Champions League qualification.

Aston Villa would be relegated along with Norwich and Bournemouth, but Dean Smith’s Villa could point to the game in hand that could have lifted them above Watford to safety.

Reuters/AFP