Attempts to resume the Premier League and English Football League seasons after 30 April could be thwarted by players refusing to compete because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Premier League, English Football League and Professional Footballers’ Association officials held a conference call on Friday to discuss a unilateral response to the threat posed to clubs and players by the crisis, along with the prospect of resuming their seasons “when it is safe and conditions allow”. But even the possibility of playing matches behind closed doors after 30 April appears remote with players concerned about putting their health, and their families’ health, at risk by returning to work while the crisis continues.
Players’ representatives are also understood to be exploring whether insurance policies could be declared null and void should their clients contract a potentially career-threatening illness after playing again while being aware of the risks involved.
The professional leagues and clubs continue to follow government advice regarding the pandemic and playing behind closed doors is one of several contingency measures being discussed. The resumption of the league seasons, future transfer windows, player contracts that are due to expire on 30 June and wage deferrals or reductions were the main topics of Friday’s conference call.
No decisions were taken by the three parties – the next Premier League stakeholders’ meeting is scheduled for next Friday, 3 April – but there is recognition that a broad consensus is required to prevent several lower league clubs going bankrupt.
A joint statement released on Friday read: “The Premier League, EFL and PFA met today and discussed the growing seriousness of the Covid-19 pandemic. It was stressed that the thoughts of all three organisations continue to be with everyone affected by the virus.
“The Premier League, EFL and PFA agreed that difficult decisions will have to be taken in order to mitigate the economic impact of the current suspension of professional football in England and agreed to work together to arrive at shared solutions. The leagues will not recommence until 30 April at the earliest. They will only do so when it is safe and conditions allow. Further meetings will take place next week with a view to formulating a joint plan to deal with the difficult circumstances facing the leagues, their clubs, players, staff and fans.”
Leeds, who are top of the Championship, agreed a wage deferral on Thursday when their manager, Marcelo Bielsa, players, coaching staff and club executives reached a deal that will protect the incomes of 272 other employees at Elland Road. Blackburn are in negotiations to follow suit. Wage deferrals must be agreed individually by clubs, rather than being imposed centrally by the EFL.
The Premier League is not facing the same financial pressure as EFL clubs but, while not at the same stage of considering wage deferrals, some members of the lucrative top flight believe they will have to come into play should the season remain suspended for several more months.
Fifpro, the world players’ union, has expressed concern that clubs “in more than half a dozen countries” have terminated players’ contracts or reduced salaries since the pandemic began. “At a time of such a significant social crisis, solutions must be found with everybody’s contribution,” the union said in a statement on Friday. “Most football players outside the world’s biggest leagues are earning at the same level or below average domestic income and would be severely affected by salary decreases.”
Manchester United, meanwhile, have reiterated their commitment to completing the current Premier League season but have informed season ticket holders they can expect a pro-rata rebate or refund if matches are played behind closed doors or cancelled. The club “fully supports the collective intent to complete the Premier League, FA Cup and the Uefa club competitions”, it stated on Friday, following reports that a growing number of Premier League clubs want to end the campaign with immediate effect.