At a conference call scheduled for 10.30am on Thursday representatives of all 20 Premier League clubs are expected to restate a determination to get the current season finished if at all possible, ideally by 30 June. That extended date has been made possible by Uefa’s decision to postpone this summer’s European Championship until 2021 principally to make more time for club seasons to be completed.
The initial shock of all Premier League and EFL matches being suddenly suspended until 4 and 3 April respectively last week prompted an immediate feeling among clubs that the season will not be finished. That remains a possibility, but there is said to be a strong collective determination now to get matches played if they can. Sixteen of the clubs have nine games to play, with Liverpool potentially one game away from mathematically being champions – 25 points ahead of Manchester City, in second place. City and three other clubs – Sheffield United, Arsenal and Aston Villa – have 10 games remaining.
Premier League club sources have told the Guardian that at the 13 March emergency meeting, where the suspension was decided, the clubs did not discuss the thorny question of how to decide finishing places if the season is not completed. The suggestion then by Karren Brady, West Ham’s vice-chairman, in her column in the Sun – that the season should be considered null and void – was widely ridiculed at the weekend, but she was not alone in considering that the clearest solution. Now, particularly after Uefa’s decision, there is a renewed resolve across Europe to complete the club season, including the Champions League and Europa League if possible.
The Premier League’s football department has been modelling scenarios for getting games on once the course of the virus and the government’s health advice allow it. It was widely believed even when the 4 April date was pencilled in that matches could not start again by then, and the meeting is expected to discuss whether that should still be maintained as a realistic target.
Fifa announced on Wednesday following a meeting of its council bureau that it has formed a working group with all six continental confederations to consider adjusting players’ contracts and registration periods, which mostly run to 30 June, if the seasons cannot be completed by then and need to be extended. The possibility of playing matches behind closed doors – which nobody in football really wants in normal circumstances – is more practicable. being able to envisage circumstances where large crowds of people will be allowed to watch.
On Monday the government issued advice against mass gatherings, after the football leagues had themselves decided three days earlier to suspend matches following the positive diagnosis for Covid-19 of the Arsenal manager, Mikel Arteta. The updated advice – that people should now be “social distancing”, which includes avoiding meeting friends and family – suggests it currently rules out two Premier League football teams, with all the ancillary staff, meeting to play a match, even in the absence of spectators.
The meeting is also expected to address the financial crash the crisis is threatening to cause clubs, although the scale of the Premier League’s TV and commercial deals cushions them from the more immediate problems being experienced in the EFL. The league is understood to have been discussing with Sky and BT Sport ways to provide more televised content in the form of interviews and behind‑the‑scenes access, to give subscribers something compelling to watch while most of sport itself is suspended. Sky has now offered to allow subscribers to pause their payments without being charged a fee or held to a notice period, while the suspension continues.