‘How many have to die playing football for it to be unpalatable?’: Gary Neville says money is clouding the minds of Premier League chiefs as they push on with ‘Project Restart’ while thousands die
- Premier League is planning to resume group training in mid May and play in June
- Hundreds of people in the United Kingdom are still dying from coronavirus
- Gary Neville said if it was non-economic decision no football would be played
- He posed the question, how many deaths in football make restart unpalatable?
- Here’s how to help people impacted by Covid-19
Gary Neville has warned that restarting the Premier League could well cause deaths in football and believes the game could become unpalatable.
The UK death toll from coronavirus at last count was 21,678 and hundreds are still dying every day.
Neville thinks the push to resume Premier League action in June is a purely economic decision and could spell disaster if a player, staff member or somebody connected with a club dies or goes into intensive care.
Gary Neville warned that the money at stake is clouding judgements over restarting football
Play is scheduled to resume in June with group training planned to begin in mid May
The current plan, ‘Project Restart’, is for players to resume group training together by mid May and then begin competitive matches behind closed doors in June.
The Premier League will oversee a huge testing operation to keep those involved as safe as possible, with £4million to be spent on 26,000 tests, but Neville says there is still a real risk factor.
He told the Sky Sports Football Show: ‘The FIFA medical officer said that football should not take place before September. I think if it was a non-economic decision there would be no football for months.
‘People are now assessing risk. How many people have to die playing football in the Premier League before it becomes unpalatable? One? One player? One member of staff goes into intensive care? What risk do we have to take? The discussion is purely economic.’
And the former Manchester United defender turned pundit claims that the money on offer and risk of financial ruin are clouding people’s judgement.
He added: ‘There will be people who will view it as a risk factor. Players themselves will want to go and play. Players at the lower levels will want to go play and 1,400 players are out of contract.
‘Clubs have huge investment in this season. Think about what’s at stake for Leeds, it’s absolutely massive. There are big prizes up for grabs. There’s huge economic loss. It clouds people’s minds in terms of the risk that they’re willing to take.’
There is a possibility that the proposed starting date of the Premier League could be pushed back further if the coronavirus situation deteriorates or fails to subside as anticipated.
France, the Netherlands and Belgium have all decided to cancel the campaign and when asked about pushing the date back further for the Premier League, Neville doubts it could happen as late as September.
The former Manchester United defender thinks football could quickly become ‘unpalatable’
There would be no fans able to attend matches but there is still a risk factor, says Neville
‘I think it’s difficult to pick it up because of the contract situations with regards to players at existing clubs,’ he continued.
‘An extra month would be palatable but going into August and September would be difficult to implement. In France, the government stepped in. Our government is testing the water. It’s typical of our government, £4million of tests. They drip feed in every day and test the water and then will make a decision. They’ll probably wait for the Bundesliga and then go back to that.
‘I keep coming back to the fact that when one player or member of staff goes into intensive care, what will they do? That’s what’s on this shoulder. They’re not sure.
And he went on to argue that if there was a bailout package for teams struggling to stay afloat, there would be an easier decision to make about cancelling the season.
‘They (the government) have to give the green light from a health and safety point of view. I don’t think any league will go against government guidelines. I was saying this six weeks ago when they said that it was okay to go to Cheltenham. They flip flopped. All the leagues were closing down. They had to make a decision.
He thinks the government are waiting to see the general response before laying their cards out
‘If there was an economic package put in place for football that protects clubs and players for a year, you will then get a sensible decision on health. At the moment in time we’re still seeing economic decisions driving whether or not football comes back.’
The fact that the coronavirus crisis is affecting clubs lower down the leagues far more than the Premier League could bring about long-term changes within the game.
Neville thinks the coronavirus crisis could lead the governing bodies to take stock and press the reset button.
‘It needs to happen. If this doesn’t reset football then nothing will. The Premier League bottom club gets £100m for finishing bottom. If they all took £5m less, that would be £100m more a season for the EFL. If it was £10m it would be £200m.
‘It’s not huge sums just to distribute further down to EFL clubs, the grassroots… we haven’t got an allied structure. Everyone has separate interests. Even clubs in the EFL have separate interests. We haven’t got a commissioner. I don’t even know who the sports minister is! Have we even heard from him? The other ministers are on TV for the daily briefings. Why isn’t he on TV to discuss this?
‘I can only assume that behind the scenes they’re working on something very special – a package to protect EFL clubs, PL clubs and the players and a longer-term redistribution of wealth. And drive down costs for fans. This is the crisis that enables us to do it.’
There are some players with conditions that could be more at risk of coronavirus than others and that is something that needs to be assessed, Neville added.
Neville thinks that quarantining players might only be viable for the Premier League not EFL
‘If health comes first, there is only one outcome at this moment in time. How many players have got asthma? How many players have diabetes? Have they assessed all of these things and are they willing to put those people at risk?
‘If they are, we’ll all turn up and commentate on those matches. Fingers crossed, every day we’ll not have an incident which would be one of our players or a member of staff falling ill.’
Neville was also speaking as co-owner of League Two’s Salford City and admitted that they had already run into numerous problems while discussing how to limit player exposure.
‘We had an hour internal meeting for Salford,’ he explained. ‘This was a call between the manager, medical officer and chairman. When the players come into the stadium or training ground, where do they get changed, how do they travel, how do they stay separate?
‘All those things bring risk, particularly when you start marking people on corners and doing things you ordinarily would do. We couldn’t get our heads around the idea of our players going back to their families, who had been out mixing, the players go out to get back to normal – there is no way we felt we could control 24 players and their families in June when we know lockdown restrictions will be removed, families will be going to areas where there is the coronavirus.
‘Even if you keep a really sterile environment, there’s no way of keeping it up. If players can see 10 people, we can’t guarantee the other nine people will be in a sterile environment. We can’t guarantee it. You come to the conclusion that the Premier League might have to put players into quarantine for six weeks.
‘Ok, that is deliverable at Premier League level but not at League One or League Two level. They don’t have the money. We decided L1 and L2 level is undeliverable, that is the conclusion we came to at Salford. That’s why in other countries they have said let’s resume in September.’
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