Top-flight clubs are seeking answers from the Premier League over their proposed medical rules before Monday’s pivotal vote on Project Restart.
Clubs want assurances over what would happen if a player tested positive for coronavirus and some players are equally unconvinced by medical protocols explained in a conference call on Wednesday between captains, league officials, and the deputy chief medical officer, Jonathan van Tam.
The tensions have been sharpened by the move by the digital, culture, media and sport secretary, Oliver Dowden, to “open the door” to the Premier League returning, provided it met conditions including making some games free to air.
The Premier League said last night it also removed a hurdle by agreeing to allow clubs to enter into short-term contract extensions with players whose deals are due to expire on 30 June of this year.
The Brighton forward Glenn Murray said on Wednesday that he is concerned the league could be rushed back too soon – the league is hopeful of resuming the season in mid-June – and the club’s chief executive, Paul Barber, acknowledged several parties need satisfying before next week. “We’ve got a lot of work to do in our club, let alone anyone else and their clubs to get to a point where our directors are comfortable enough to sign off on protocols,” he said.
“We have a process of making sure every part of our club is comfortable with what we’re doing. The most important constituents in that are the players because they need to feel safe and feel that it’s the right thing for them to do, clearly Graham [Potter, the manager] and his staff, and the directors at the club need to understand exactly what they are signing up to and make sure they are comfortable because ultimately the liability sits with us.”
Danny Rose and Raheem Sterling are among the players to have warned against the early return of the Premier League, with the Newcastle full-back saying: “Football shouldn’t even be spoke about coming back until the numbers [infected or dying] have dropped massively.”
The resumption of the interrupted season hinges on Monday’s vote and Barber said Brighton have raised several questions, principally with regard to what happens in the event of a player testing positive, with the league yet to agree on a position over whether the entire squad should isolate as a result.
Potter said he was keen to obtain further detail around “what-if scenarios”. He said: “What happens if we get positive results of the virus: what happens there? How does that affect the competition? There are lots of little bits of detail we would like.”
Barber said the club are keen to “understand exactly what we are signing up for”, with the issue of positive tests one of several raised with the league. “It is one of the complicated questions we have asked and we are waiting for the answer. It is a very, very complex and it is something we are all waiting on from the league, to find out exactly what would happen in those scenarios.”
If Brighton are satisfied by the protocols, they plan to return to training on Tuesday. Potter said three weeks would be sufficient but acknowledged his players face a challenge to reach match fitness given any return will be at least three months since their last game. “You don’t have to be a genius or mathematician to know there is a challenge to be overcome,” he said.
“We have been keeping fit from a fitness perspective we have not been keeping fit from a football perspective because we have not been playing. We have had a really long time off and ‘small groups’ is not football training – it is fitness training with a ball.”
Three unnamed Brighton players have returned positive results from 14 tests for Covid-19, the latest of which was announced on Sunday. Potter, who held a virtual meeting with his squad on Wednesday, said the player is asymptomatic.
“We had a very small number of [testing] kits that we bought privately at the start of this crisis – not from the NHS or a supplier that was supplying the NHS at that time – to test players that have shown symptoms or, in this last week, where the players have been overseas,” he said.
The Bundesliga in Germany resumes on Saturday and the president of Italy’s Olympic committee, Giovanni Malago, said on Wednesday that there was a “99% chance” that Serie A would be back on 13 June.