What's happening with Project Restart?

6th May 2020

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The Coronavirus has turned the world upside down and of course that means that football has been interrupted. It's been almost 2 months since the Premier League was active. For many of us we simply have never experienced this type of black out before. Indeed we would have to go back to the Second World War when professional football leagues were obviously put on hold and cancelled. We can't even pretend it is the summer months and the season has ended, as football is now 24/7, there are always games going on including your favourite clubs playing in pre-season friendlies etc.

Talking about football seems very secondary at the moment but at the same time it's what fans and followers are going to do, and it isn't going to go away. At best we have lost a connection not just to the clubs we support, but to the friends we go to the games with or the banter we have at work. Everything has been changed.

So from this point of view we will all wonder just when is the Premier League going to return and what have the representatives of the of the league been doing in the mean time, what is the ultimate goal and plan here?

The first thing to do is look at China where the virus started; they had a 2-month strict lockdown. After that, easing of getting people back into society took place but even a month after there are still restrictions. If we look at England their partial lockdown began on March 23rd, so by say May 25th the somewhat more flexible lockdown could start being eased. A few weeks on from then maybe football could also start again. However whether it could or should are two very different questions.

The league have talked about the weekend of June 13th as a restart, the latest date being talked about is June 8th. Obviously every game this season would be behind closed doors. If these dates can go ahead then the Premier League should be able to reach a conclusion by the end of July. UEFA would approve of this and they have pencilled in the month of August to complete both the Champions League and the Europa League.

However even if football is allowed to return the problem could well be with the players themselves. Not many have honestly come out and said that they are in favour of playing. And that comes down to both their health and the health of their families. Many players have young children, so no parent in their right mind would want to play so many games, be around so many people and spread the virus. Away from illness are players contracts, many of which will be finished by June 30th- what then? Talks and new signing of extending contracts are way more easier said and typed than what would happen in the real world and it would get very complex indeed amongst the horde of lawyers and player agents.

Of course the Premier League have come up with an idea which involves a machine costing £36,000 per club for testing and having players and staff at selected isolation hotels. Are players really going to be fine with being separated from their families for nearly 2 months? What of hotel staff, could they not spread a virus? And how many people within football would feel comfortable using a machine that realistically the NHS would need and cannot justify and afford? Whilst front line staff are dying trying to protect the sick, are we going to accept that footballers are going to be protected before them? The PR damage seems irreversible for such a global brand.

Another damning fact amongst many others is that the league would not be restarting for the integrity of football but more likely because of the money that would be lost if it doesn't return. Sky and BT would be owed around £700m and clubs would really feel it. Imagine for example that the virus had struck England at the end of the season and not during it. We wouldn't be talking about rushing football back. We would simply have cancelled any summer friendlies and of course UEFA would still have had to postpone Euro 2020 until next year. But one suspects that the FA and other associations would in fact remain calm abut the situation knowing that in the worst case scenario the next league season could start in September or October behind closed doors. There would have likely been a much larger difference in the virus appearing and football restarting. With the FA pushing for a June restart that difference is currently just 11 weeks.

The FA have talked about solutions because does anyone really want a null and void season? Those solutions have been playing games in neutral stadiums, shorter halves, even no relegation, and of course no fans present. Sounds like it will be so far removed from a proper season that it will count for nothing more than a few friendly games, what's the point? Also, for a modern day game to take place you need many people involved, players, squads, security, media, police, and ambulances. It all adds up. Plus how do you stop a congregation of fans outside? True the majority may stay at home but how do you contain Liverpool fans for example when the Reds are so close to winning the league?

The FA seem to have a lot on their plates and don't know how to finish their meal. As for Liverpool, one can say, well they haven't won the league but at the same time and being realistic they were not going to blow it from being 25 points ahead of Manchester City. Perhaps in the nature of gamesmanship Liverpool could have it. For all the Everton and Manchester United fans and any other clubs and fans who see so much displeasure in Liverpool winning the league is the fact that they won't be able to celebrate their title win, who could have called that at the beginning of the year?

Football will return but we do have to be careful in how that actually happens. Front line workers need to be protected first and the people need to be financially secure, otherwise everything else including football seems rather pointless.


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