Premier League restart set for crunch meeting with players

The Premier League teams meet on Monday to discuss Project Restart after Boris Johnson’s Sunday evening address to the country.

For all the science and speculation, it looks as though it is the virus that will have the final word. When will Covid-19 leave football alone for long enough to get the season finished?

It was not strategic lockdown that stopped the ball rolling initially. It was the arrival of the pernicious disease in the heart of the Arsenal camp that caused football in this country to stop.

Mikel Arteta tested positive. Then, across London, it was Chelsea’s Callum Hudson-Odoi. A disease which seemed so far away, suddenly became very close indeed.

Again, the news ahead of Monday’s Project Restart meeting that despite all the precautions, a Brighton player had tested positive for the disease. It was a timely reminder of what football is trying to battle against.

If the pandemic rears its head in any meaningful way during an attempt to get 2019/20 over the line, it has all been for nothing.

Because coronavirus does not care if matches are played in neutral venues or on a home-and-away basis. Or if a team is top six or bottom six. It can strike anywhere.

Five players in La Liga tested positive this weekend as the Spanish game looked to get itself back on its feet. Two positive tests in the Dresden camp alone means that the team currently bottom of the second tier of German football for one won’t be restarting the season as planned next weekend.

On Monday, the 20 Premier League clubs will meet to thrash out an agreement of the best way just to get players back training safely, something they hope to do a week later on May 18.

The complexity of those discussions, together with the parallel arguments over who is responsible if players do become ill, shows the grip the disease will continue to have on normality.

As in Germany, players will train in small groups initially, wearing protective masks in all likelihood, with social distancing maintained as much as possible.

It is striking the balance between preventing contagion and holding meaningful training drills.

At best, risk assessment has to be a subjective exercise, with home circumstances and medical histories as much as factor as the danger of being infected.

That is why this week the voice of the players themselves will finally be heard.

Sergio Aguero openly spoke about his own understandable fears and others – up to 50 players throughout the division, according to some reports – have expressed reluctance to resume.

Crystal Palace chief executive Steve Parish said: “The first thing we need to do is talk them through the risks and make sure they understand it.

“Equally, the players who currently do want to play, they need to fully understand the risks that there are.

“We believe, the doctors believe, that in the round was can make this one of the safest, if not the safest, work-places.

“But if a player really does not want to play, I cannot imagine any circumstances where we would make him.”

Ultimately, though, footballers will be expected to put their own health on the line for the sake of that of their sport.

“The concern is that if they prove insurmountable now, we may be in for a very, very extended period of not being able to play,” Parish warned. “That has huge ramifications for the game.

“Essentially we are an events-based business with mass gatherings.

“We know we will be damaged coming out of this because obviously we will not have crowds.

“It is really about damage limitation and seeing what we can salvage. Hopefully we can get to the point where certainly no Premier League club is in the situation of going bust.

“But I think, down the leagues, it will get very critical very quickly.”