The Premier League convenes on Thursday in what is set to be a unique meeting in its history. The organisation and its members face a complicated question: what comes next?
They have to try and find a way to complete the season. Uefa’s meeting on Tuesday included a commitment to finish the domestic seasons by June 30, though that is unlikely to be possible everywhere so they may have to spill over deeper into summer. Separately, the 24 Championship clubs talked on Tuesday and unanimously agreed to complete their season – complete with promotion of three clubs to the Premier League. So what are the issues?
What happens financially?
Quite apart from issues such as promotion, relegation and Champions League qualification, the Premier League has a financial need to restart matches. They could face a £750 million (Dh3.2bn) shortfall if the season ended now and broadcasters claimed refunds for the games they were unable to show and, even if longstanding partners or those with eyes on the next set of rights might compromise, they would still take a huge hit if games were not played.
What are the legal issues if the season does not end?
Aston Villa sporting director Jesus Garcia Pitarch called for relegation to be scrapped if the division does not finish. That would suit his club, in 19th. Yet if the current bottom three were demoted without other games, they could have cases for large amounts of compensation. Another suggestion was to relegate no one, promote Leeds and West Bromwich Albion and have a 22-team league. That would almost certainly generate a legal challenge from the Championship’s play-off teams.
When does it restart?
Games were only initially postponed until April 3. With coronavirus cases in the UK rising rapidly, it is inconceivable football will be played again then. Serie A has a mooted date of May 9 to begin again. It could be considerably later in England.
Are games played behind closed doors?
The notion provoked complaints when it was first aired. Now, while the prospect is less than ideal, reality shows how unrealistic some of those comments were. A ban on mass gatherings, advice about social distancing and self-isolating and the way the emergency services will already be overstretched: they all make games behind closed doors an inevitability. In that case, does the Premier League televise every game, including those normally subject to the Saturday 3pm blackout in the UK? And if some parts of the country are affected worse than others, are games played at neutral venues?
How packed is the schedule?
Some clubs have 10 league games left. This could drag out well into the summer. The sooner this season finishes, the quicker the next can start and that, if the beginning is delayed, will be even more packed than usual. And yet trying to cram everything in gives no leeway if something else goes wrong. And one factor to consider is the health of players who have had a sudden mid-season break.
What does it mean for the FA Cup?
It is not the Premier League’s decision but the FA Cup requires three matchdays for the quarter-finals, the semi-final and the final. With Uefa already setting dates aside for the Champions League and Europa League finals – both of which still need earlier ties to be played – and, ludicrously, the Euro 2021 play-offs, which really could have been put off for several months, where can it fit in?
What can they do to ensure safety?
It is worth remembering the initial postponement only came because Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta contracted coronavirus. What measures can the Premier League and clubs take to reduce the risk other managers or players contracting the virus or then infecting others?