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The ten problems which must be solved to make Premier League's Project Restart succeed

Time running out to make sure the season is completed safely, writes Jason Burt


Liverpool’s homeground of Anfield will continue to remain idle unless certain issues are resolved. Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images

Liverpool’s homeground of Anfield will continue to remain idle unless certain issues are resolved. Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images

Liverpool’s homeground of Anfield will continue to remain idle unless certain issues are resolved. Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images

1 Neutral venues

There is not expected to be a vote today on the issue of playing the remaining 92 Premier League matches at eight to 10 neutral venues, but the contentious issue will dominate proceedings. It may prove a breaking point as emotions run high. So far the clubs have maintained a relatively cordial relationship in meetings, but that is cracking. It could become more confrontational.

It has wrongly been portrayed that neutral venues are being pushed by the Premier League when, at present, they are a prerequisite demanded by the UK Government, the UK Football Policing Unit and the Sports Ground Safety Authority - which issues licences for stadiums. It appears non-negotiable.

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Nevertheless, Aston Villa, Brighton and Watford have voiced concerns, which are believed to be shared by other teams in the bottom six, such as West Ham. Norwich City and Bournemouth have been less forthcoming, but Scott Duxbury, the Watford chairman and chief executive, has suggested there are far more than six teams opposed to neutral venues. Some sources have suggested it may be as high as 10, which would mean if the issue was put to a vote it would not get through, as it needs 14 clubs to agree if a rule change is required.

What does not appear to be on the table - although some clubs would push for it - is no relegation. But what would then happen?

2 Player contracts and June 30

Whatever plans the Premier League - or football in general - have may all fall apart if an agreement cannot be reached to extend the contracts of players (and other staff, including managers) whose deals run out on June 30. This is expected to be the only item on today's agenda that has to be decided.

There are 163 Premier League players who will, in theory, be out of contract while the season goes on. Fifa and the Premier League have made it clear clubs should offer extended contracts on the same terms until the end of the season, whenever that is. But legal experts have stated this will contravene English contract law if the players do not agree. What then happens?

3 Gain government approval

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British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said the Premier League's return would "lift the nation", but the government has yet to give the green light. A meeting is scheduled for Thursday and the government has veered between encouraging football to restart, in the hope that it would be a boost to public morale and a sense of normal life returning, to being nervous that it would be out of step and appear callous when lives are being lost.

That is partly why the controls being put in place are so stringent, aiming to show that football can be a standard-bearer for best practice.

Squabbling between the clubs, though, will not go down well with ministers.

4 Return to training

Clubs have been told to pencil in May 18, the same day as a further shareholders' meeting, for a return to training. But they have yet to confirm that, or when games might resume. June 8 is looking optimistic.

Clubs will need four weeks of preparation - so June 12 or June 13 is more likely as the earliest potential date. For now, though, it is a step-by-step approach as this could all unravel if social-distancing and hygiene measures are not adhered to. The argument is once the players are back it can be drilled into them how they need to behave. But it will depend on their cooperation.

5 Getting the players on board

Premier League officials - including medical experts - will hold a video call with the 20 captains and some senior players as well as the managers to explain the protocols of Project Restart and, crucially, hear about their concerns.

Talks are expected tomorrow and Wednesday, which will also involve the Professional Footballers' Association and the League Managers Association.

It is deemed crucial to have the players on board and prepared to accept stringent hygiene and social-distancing measures that will initially be in place at training grounds. Players will want to ask about liability, about what happens if there is a positive test, about whether they will be compelled to play and how they organise their home lives.

6 Convincing the public

It had been thought there would be a clamour from fans for football to return but, largely, that has not been the case. Football does not feel relevant to many people, with the strongest argument against playing being the fear that it is diverting resources - testing kits, PPE equipment, emergency services - away from the front line. The first photograph of a footballer passing through a drive-in testing centre in his Lamborghini will not look good.

The Premier League needs to explain why it is important that football returns, the measures that are in place and how it can help society.

There has been a lack of leadership and that has to change. Expect more communication this week.

7 The 'rebate'

In theory, the broadcasters are due a repayment of £762 million (€872m) if the season is not finished, and that is the main driver for the Premier League to get the games played.

Of that money £371 million is due to Sky Sports, £50 million to BT Sport and £341 million to overseas broadcasters. But no one knows if they will demand it back or if they still might ask for a rebate, even if the games are played behind closed doors (because it is not the same product) or - as appears more likely - whether they will renegotiate contracts to give them longer deals and more matches which will also, ultimately, mean less money for the clubs.

They will be offered greater access - including interviews during games - while it appears certain that all 92 games will be broadcast, some on the broadcasters' YouTube channels, and so free-to-air.

8 The fixture list

It is increasingly obvious the Premier League wants to try to appease the broadcasters and appeal to the fans who cannot attend the games, with plans to show all the remaining 92 matches with staggered kick-off times across weekends - such as 12pm, 2pm, 4.30pm and 7pm on Sundays.

At present the plan appears to mirror what the fixtures would have been, but they will have to change as games will not now kick off at the same time.

The English Football Association has been assured dates will be preserved for the FA Cup to make sure it is completed, but it is a logistical headache with July 26 pencilled in as the last day of the league season (therefore 92 games in six weeks).

9 What happens if a player tests positive?

The Premier League will isolate only the player who tests positive - and his family - during the period of time the squads are back in training. They will not isolate the whole squad and do not want to keep them in hotels.

However, no one has yet communicated what happens if there is a positive test when games are being played.

The Premier League is looking to the Bundesliga to provide it with the blueprint for finishing the season so the news that second-division Dynamo Dresden have gone into a 14-day quarantine and will not be able to fulfil next weekend's opening game against Hannover 96 will have caused a shudder of apprehension. The rules are slightly different in Germany - federal authorities have more power - but it is an issue that has to be addressed in the Premier League.

10 Can the season be finished?

It will soon come down to this: can the season finish in time? Uefa needs to know by May 25 what the Premier League plan is to finish the season, so the clock is ticking. At the same time the 2020-'21 season has to start by September 12 at the latest, otherwise the Premier League reasons it cannot fit in all the dates it needs plus the international and cup dates before the European Championship starts on June 11, 2021.

If the season is abandoned then it gives the Premier League time, but it is being strongly argued that not playing out the remaining games will damage the chances of the next campaign being played, especially as it could take a year for a vaccine to be available and all the football authorities are accepting that fans will not be allowed into stadiums until January 2021 at the earliest. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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