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'Money is getting talked about more than the health of players' - Ireland's Conor Hourihane speaks out

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Conor Hourihane says all the talk about a Premier League return focuses on money over the safety of the players

Conor Hourihane says all the talk about a Premier League return focuses on money over the safety of the players

Conor Hourihane

Conor Hourihane

Aston Villa's Irish midfielder Conor Hourihane. Photo: Reuters

Aston Villa's Irish midfielder Conor Hourihane. Photo: Reuters

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Conor Hourihane says all the talk about a Premier League return focuses on money over the safety of the players

The Premier League faces a pivotal 24 hours, with serious scepticism among some players and chief executives over the feasibility of new detailed proposals to resume the season on June 8 that have now been circulated to clubs.

Sources have seen the outline of the plan to restart football, beginning with testing players and staff for Covid-19 on the weekend of May 9-10 followed by full contact training on May 18, which will be discussed by the clubs at a shareholders meeting this morning. In a series of developments ahead of the UK Government announcement on lockdown measures next Thursday, there was:

  • Pushback from players, including Aston Villa's Irish midfielder Conor Hourihane and Glenn Murray of Brighton, who are concerned about players' health and that of their families should games restart. Manchester City striker Sergio Aguero, who has been in lockdown in Manchester with his girlfriend Sofia Calzetti, said: "The majority of players are scared because they have family, they have children, babies, parents. When we go back I imagine we will be very tense."
  • Opposition from chief executives to any suggestion that games would be played at neutral venues.
  • A call from Chelsea to their foreign national players isolating abroad to return to the UK to be ready for testing.
  • Fears that clubs could leave themselves open to negligence claims from players who become infected.
  • A new Premier League hygiene protocol for training grounds, including requirement for players to wear masks and staff to wear PPE.

The Premier League has proposed that after testing on May 9-10, players begin training in small groups the following Monday. Some clubs, including Tottenham and Arsenal, have already had players back working individually at their training grounds. Under the new "Project Restart" schedule, clubs would step up to full training the next Monday, which leaves three weeks to prepare players for the return to competitive games behind closed doors.

Hourihane told Cork newspaper Southern Star that the players had been informed there was a collective will among the clubs to complete the season for financial considerations.

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"It would kind of sound and seem that money is getting talked about more than the health and safety of players and staff and all the rest of it," he said.

"It's all coming down to money - I hope it doesn't come down to just that. I hope players' safety and backroom staff safety gets taken into account.

"There are huge mixed signals at the moment. One week I think 'No, not a chance: it's not going to come back' and the next week they're really trying to push it.

"Whatever big decisions are made, there are going to be a lot of unhappy people. Some teams will miss out on what they were seeking to do at the end of the season. There are big decisions to be made."

Murray, Brighton's most senior player, said: "We've had so many people die and we seem hell bent on getting football back on."

There is also concern that overseas players from countries where leagues have already been curtailed - France, Holland and Belgium - will be more reluctant to play again in England. "We cannot force players to play," an executive at one Premier League club said.

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"FIFA's chief medical officer [Dr Michel D'Hooghe] has said, 'That is it'. The problem is players - French, Dutch - are saying 'My prime minister says it's not safe to resume, they are protecting their citizens, why are you asking me to play football?'

"Legally we can't do anything. It could lead to lawsuits, potentially you can have a negligence claim against you. The only answer to that is voluntary participation."

Andy O'Boyle, the Premier League's head of elite performance, in consultation with technical director Richard Garlick, has devised the timeline for a return as well as hygiene protocols. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Telegraph Media Group Limited [2022]


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