Premier League completion ‘probably not realistic’

The president of the Dutch football association, the KNVB, has cast doubt on the feasibility of the Premier League playing matches behind closed doors in June, even as the British government suggested it might be possible for some sports to resume within a few weeks.

Senior government officials including chief medical officers will meet with medical directors of the major sports over the next few days to discuss the challenges each face in returning to action, in the belief that televised events would provide a boost to national morale. The move was a “quickening of the pace” and aimed to restore sporting competition “within weeks”, according to the BBC.

The Premier League is talking to its UK live rights holders, Sky and BT Sport, over how many games might be televised in June and on what payment basis, though Just Spee, who made the difficult decision to declare the season in the Netherlands null and void on Friday, believes it might be overoptimistic to imagine the English season could be played to a satisfactory conclusion.

The KNVB president said: “The UK will hold on to a sliver of hope as long as it is there, but in reality the chances of completing the Premier League season are slim. The English season will need a number of weeks to complete and I doubt there will be enough time. Seeing what is happening with things getting postponed week by week it is probably not realistic.”

The Dutch FA may still face legal action from certain clubs adversely affected by the decision to scrap the season with no champions, promotion or relegation. That consideration is at the forefront of minds in England as the various interested parties try to find a way forward through the lockdown.

The problem in both countries is the difficulty of reaching unanimous agreement on any particular strategy, with some clubs suited by early closure and some with every reason to want to play on. When the 34 clubs that form the top two divisions in the Netherlands put the matter to a vote there was no clear majority for any solution, so faced with a hopelessly divided meeting Spee and the KNVB board decided emergency leadership was necessary and forced through an unpopular policy.

While other countries are making tentative plans for a return of fixtures behind closed doors, many are still worried about the safety aspects involved. The Spanish players association has requested clarity on the coronavirus testing programme. “It will take a lot of testing to be declared safe, and other groups in society might need the testing more than we do,” a spokesman said.

The English Football League expressed similar concerns, saying any restart had to have “absolutely no negative impact” on frontline workers and the emergency services.

In the event of behind-closed-doors games going ahead in this country there is also the fear that fans will gather outside stadiums or in public places in contravention of physical-distancing rules, a particular concern on Merseyside with Liverpool within touching distance of their first league title in 30 years.

Spee doubts the English season will resume, though he does agree that a 25-point lead means Liverpool deserve to be declared champions. “We could not do that in the Eredivisie, because there was no team so far in front,” he said. “It is not the same when Liverpool is so way out compared to the rest, but you also have to take on board what the rest of society is going through. Should we really be talking about champions in such a year?”