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'They are purely economic reasons' - Gary Neville questions drive behind football return

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Gary Neville has questioned the motives behind football returning. Mike Egerton/PA Wire

Gary Neville has questioned the motives behind football returning. Mike Egerton/PA Wire

PA

Gary Neville has questioned the motives behind football returning. Mike Egerton/PA Wire

Gary Neville has suggested Premier League chiefs are putting commercial conversations ahead of the health of footballers as they continue to plot a return for the game in June.

After the French league joined the Dutch league in cancelling their season on Tuesday and FIFA Medical Committee chairman Michel D'Hooghe suggested football should not return until September at the earliest, Neville told Sky Sports that the drive to get football back in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic in England was being driven by the desire to protect television broadcast revenue.

With £762m of income from broadcast deals on the line with 92 games left to be played this season, Neville told Sky Sports that commercial considerations are driving the current push to get players back in training next month.

"We're hearing different things every day, but I think if this was a non-economic decision, there would be no football for months," said Neville. "What we're seeing now is that people are assessing risk. What is the risk we're willing to take to bring football back?

"The reasons we're discussing football coming back at this moment in time are purely economic reasons, but I get it. I'm across the road from a construction site in the centre of Manchester, and there are people still wandering around who have been for the past four or five weeks.

"These people will see it as a risk that's no greater than the industry that we're in. There will be people who will look at it as a risk factor, but if people are really serious about putting health first, we wouldn't be discussing football returning at this moment in time, but players themselves will want to go and play.

"If there was an economic package put in place for football - and I will keep banging on about this loan - to protect the Premier League, Football League and players for a year, you will then get a sensible decision on health. Then it can be one step at a time.

"At the moment, we are still seeing economic reasons driving the outcome on whether football returns or not."

Neville is a co-owner of League Two club Salford City and suggested some in the lower leagues may feel compelled to play in a bid to protect their jobs.

"Players at the lower levels will want to go and play because they'll recognise that the alternative is bad - 1,400 players are out of contract in three months so they'll need football to resume so their livelihoods can continue," he added.

"You've got clubs who've got huge investments in this season, in respect to clubs at the top of divisions. There are big prizes up for grabs and huge economic loss that's going to be incurred and it does cloud minds, in terms of the level of risk people are willing to place on lives in order for the return of football.

"We (at Salford City) were trying to plan about how to return to training safely if football was to start up again in June as you have to plan for every scenario. What we talked about was when players come into the training ground where do they get changed? How do they travel to matches? How do they stay separate from each other on the training pitch?

"How do they lessen the risk of infecting each other that they would ordinarily do so in normal scenarios? All those things bring risk, especially when you mark each other on corners in a contact sport like football, including players shaking hands and hugging after a goal. That's what the FIFA medical officer is talking about.

"We couldn't get our head around the idea of our players going back home to their families, who have been out mixing again due to the ease in the lockdown measures. Then the players start to get back to a normal life.

"Even though there will be social distancing in place, there will be no way we could control our players and their families. Even if you keep a sterile environment at your football club, you are going to break that in your home and social environment."

Online Editors