LONDON (AFP) – Premier League clubs were due to hold talks on Friday on how to finish the season as Manchester City striker Sergio Aguero admitted players were scared about being rushed back into action.
The English top-flight is facing an eye-watering estimated loss of around £1 billion ($1.25 billion) if no more football is played due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Playing the 92 remaining games behind closed doors would mitigate that loss, avoiding the need to repay hundreds of millions to broadcasters.
Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool are on the brink of their first league title for 30 years and there are many other issues to resolve, including Champions League qualification and relegation.
But the English top-flight faces huge logistical difficulties in its attempts to return to action, with Britain one of the countries worst-hit by COVID-19.
“Obviously, the majority of players are scared but above all because they have children, babies and family, they might live with their parents,” Aguero told Spanish show El Chiringuito TV.
“If we return I am sure everyone will be tense because the minute one person starts to feel ill, it will be ‘what’s going on there?’.”
Players would potentially face weeks away from their families, quarantined in hotels.
“I am hoping that it doesn’t come that scenario,” said Brighton striker Glenn Murray. “That is far-fetched, to spend eight weeks away from your family is quite a big ask.”
Murray also labelled the idea that players could be asked to wear face masks during training sessions as “farcical”.
– ‘It only takes one case’ –
Former Manchester United captain Gary Neville, who owns a stake in League Two side Salford City, is one of many who believes that economic factors are overriding safety considerations.
“How many people have to die playing football in the Premier League before it becomes unpalatable?” Neville told Sky Sports.
“If it was a non-economic decision there would be no football for months.”
Just providing the tests necessary to get the ball rolling is a political headache.
According to reports, players, coaches and backroom staff would need to be tested two to three times a week.
“If football was to resume then testing will be key and an extra layer of training will be required,” former Chelsea doctor Eva Carneiro told the BBC.
“It only takes one case for all of this to blow up.”
Although those tests would be privately sourced and paid for, there is still unease at the prospect of young, healthy footballers being regularly tested when other members of society are not.
The Premier League can ill afford another PR disaster after several stumbles so far.
Liverpool, Tottenham and Bournemouth have backtracked on their plans to use government money to prop up the wages of non-playing staff due to public pressure.
There are also fears that football’s return might provoke supporters to ignore social-distancing guidelines, even if games take place behind closed doors.
Liverpool mayor Joe Anderson believes “thousands of people” would turn up outside Anfield on the day the Reds end their 30-year wait to win the Premier League.
With so much at stake, the Premier League will do everything in its power not to have to follow the examples of leagues in France and the Netherlands in abandoning their seasons.
However, even the world’s most powerful league may find the difficulties too great and have to brace itself for a devastating financial hit.