Opinion: Project Restart EPL unity starting to ebb away

Key week in attempts to relaunch EPL season

Cast our minds back to March 9th and 10th of this year. The EPL league title season was a done deal. Liverpool emphatically at the top of the league. Manchester City consolidating second while an intriguing battle was starting to emerge for the other two Champions League spots. The relegation battle was too close to call with anyone from six teams looking prime for the drop.

Despite the ever increasing deterioration in the Covid-19 pandemic, the EPL were stay fast in looking to run off the top flight fixtures. They had seen how their UEFA counterparts run fixtures at empty stadiums. The same would apply happily here and satisfy the global TV interests thus continuing the revenue streams for the clubs and EPL organization.

Cue the news that Mikel Arteta and Callum Hudson Odi had confirmed as testing positive for the virus, the EPL had to finally act and come to the decision to suspend the season as a last resort measure.

As the weeks have passed, the furlough issue has emerged. Certain clubs who you would think would stick by their loyal employees during this crisis were furloughed. The reaction from the general public was instant and immediate. The clubs in question quickly flipped on their original position.

The unfortunate truth here is that the EPL clubs are business organizations first, football clubs a distant second. They report to shareholders, the financial analysts of investment firms who with their research notes will determine whether the football club is a good investment opportunity or not. This pandemic has unexpectedly cut off revenue streams and the profit / loss balance sheet is looking quite negative for all clubs. Bad news on the share price, shareholder dividends.

This Project Restart is ambitious in the extreme. As Germany attempts to start up their economy, the EPL have closely monitored the Bundesliga league moves with interest. May 9th was the date for the Bundesliga to resume but that is in doubt given the spike in pandemic cases. Three Cologne players tested positive for the virus in recent days and there is evidence of a spike in cases since restrictions were loosened last week.

The EPL and the majority of the clubs in the league want to finish out the season but the circumstances right now are troublesome. No players feedback on this proposal yet whereby fixtures would be played in a foreign country, behind closed doors, players staying in hotels (effectively quarantine) for six / seven weeks. The owners have looked to push the agenda on this issue without asking their key asset who will deliver this initiative; their players and management teams.

We are going to see plenty of debate on the direction of this proposal in the coming days. Players will be vocal on the safety issues and how testing can be successfully implemented given the pandemic crisis. Does the NHS get involved in this decision? Ultimately, their resources will be required to run the testing programs at the football clubs concerned.

Forget the EPL teams for a minute, we have ninety-two English professional teams that will need reassurance and testing programs setup. Clubs need to get back playing but the current social conditions do not appear ideal for an immediate resumption which have led to France, Netherlands and Belgium to can their domestic seasons.

The most to lose from this proposal are the EPL teams threatened by relegation. The bottom six will look to unite and seek a no relegation clause in any Project Restart final version. The prospect of losing home fixtures in a relegation run-in is something that is concerning those club’s boards. The drop will be devastating and with uncertainty on financial streams, will the parachute payment to the Championship be slashed next season? You can see their concerns.

I am all for the reumption of soccer but the conditions need to be right. This feels rushed. This feels like the worse case scenario has not being explored fully by owners.

What happens (heaven forbid) if a player or manager is struck down with the virus when the season resumes? What happens if that person unfortunately passes away from the virus? The credibility of the league and the EPL is then in tatters and accusations of player welfare and compassion will be thrown.

The season should be concluded when the pandemic is under control. Even so, trial games will need to be take place to ensure that adequate protocols are implemented to allow players and management teams to play with minimum fear. This will require NHS support but given their workload currently, is the resumption of the EPL season a priority? Reality of the situation may suggest the need to review the options again.

There is a reason why France, the Netherlands and Belgium have pulled the plug on their domestic league campaigns. The underlying conditions to resume the leagues are too risky. Health is too compromised. We are living in surreal times and while the idea to kick start the EPL season is admirable to get football back on the television screens, get football fans talking about sport again other than the pandemic, this proposal has several roadblocks for it to move in order to get to the next phase.

British Government support for this proposal will be required. All well and good for the EPL and club owners to resume the league but this government are under pressure with accusations of late reaction to the crisis, support to the NHS and unclear guidelines on a road map to get the nation up and running, a prime minister trying to regain full health from the virus who may have words on this proposal personally.

Will they be as cavalier and support this proposal given the health issues in the UK and globally? They may say that the pandemic has reached its peak in the UK but the number of infections and untimely deaths is still alarmingly high with each passing day across the world and not just UK and England for that matter. Interesting to see their move here and the EPL clubs in the coming days to this!

Soccer will resume. Soccer will resume when the conditions are right. I do not believe the conditions are right currently to drive on with this proposal.

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