66 players out of contract: why the Premier League could vote for a June 30 finish

The clubs meet on Friday amid growing support for quick end to the season despite coronavirus

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The team news for the July 1 games brought a raft of absentees.

Chelsea, suddenly deprived of their forward line of Pedro, Willian and Olivier Giroud, visited Sheffield United, deprived of Dean Henderson.

Manchester City, now lacking David Silva, took on Arsenal, now without Cedric Soares and Pablo Mari.

Elsewhere, Tottenham and Leicester faced each other shorn of Jan Vertonghen and Wes Morgan respectively.

Manchester United were no longer allowed to pick Odion Ighalo, or Newcastle their four loanees. Burnley’s squad was six men smaller.

It is a hypothetical scenario that forms the backdrop to Friday's Premier League meeting. The suggestions clubs could vote to end the season before July is underpinned by the knowledge that 66 players are out of contract on June 30.

Normally, that is long after a campaign is concluded but, while Fifa have approved plans to extend contracts until seasons end, lawyers have said they are not enforceable under English employment law. Players could leave.

Hence the possibility the season might not be completed, despite the division’s commitment to finish.

It feels unrealistic that, even with games behind closed doors, the league campaign can restart before June.

The Premier League’s mantra is that it will be guided by the government and that it will only return when “safe and appropriate”; the probability is it would be happy for some other leagues to return first, if only to ally accusations of greed.

Then, even excluding European and FA Cup commitments, four clubs – Arsenal, Aston Villa, Manchester City and Sheffield United – have 10 games remaining, the others all nine.

And yet talk of finishing by June 30 ignores several factors. One is the biggest: the finances.

The Premier League has already outlined the potential loss of more than £1 billion (Dh4.6bn) if it does not finish. Even if some more games are played, broadcasters could claim a partial refund on the £750 million outstanding.

And what about the competitive balance? It would be unfair if one relegation-threatened side ended after playing Liverpool and City twice each but Norwich and Bournemouth only once while their rivals do the opposite.

It would invite legal challenges from those the wrong side of dotted lines; or, indeed, from Championship clubs if none were promoted, especially with the second tier adamant it will conclude properly (and out-of-contract players represent a far bigger issue in lower leagues where fewer players have the security of long-term deals).

So the onus should be put back on the players. They are entitled to take the view that they do not want to take the risk of getting injured when they could sign a lucrative long-term deal elsewhere.

But if there is not a legal case to force them to stay and play on short-term deals, there is a moral one. These are exceptional circumstances that were not forged by their clubs or leagues. Common sense ought to prevail.

Willian could be a role model. The Brazilian is set to leave Chelsea, looking for a three-year deal elsewhere.

But he stated last month that he would accept a short-term extension. “If I had to play in these months, I think it would be no problem for me to end the league in a way which would be loyal to the club,” he said.

Loyalty is they key word: many of those 66 players are fringe figures but it would reflect badly on anyone who walked out on clubs competing for the top four or fighting relegation with a few games to go after fixtures had been delayed by a global health crisis.

But in a meeting with there are no ideal scenarios, it would seem odd if out-of-contract players determine the end of the Premier League.