Despite being not much further forward in knowing exactly where, when, and even how, the players returned to Colney this week.
While it was good to see them doing Colney stuff, albeit in a socially distanced and responsible way, the fact there remain so many unknowns makes it tricky to get too excited.
It felt like a return to pre-season training but without knowing when the first friendly or league games are scheduled to take place. And without being able to play small-sided games, to practise set-pieces, to tackle or to even mingle off the training pitch.
Colney but not as we know it.
That City’s Covid-19 tests have so far revealed no positive results is, of course, a very good thing – and let’s hope it stays that way – but there’s understandable apprehension around the whole process.
Watford’s Troy Deeney has been the voice of reason for many and cited a young son with breathing difficulties as his reason to not train – a stance that was more than justified when eight people out of 996 Premier League personnel tested positive for Covid-19 in three rounds of testing. Three of those were at Watford, including Deeney’s team-mate Aidy Mariappa.
While to Liverpool fans, eight may appear a negligible number, it was still a concerning return from a relatively small sample size.
‘But it was only 0.8%’ they’ll argue, but with those tests undertaken over eight weeks after the lockdown was imposed, that remains a significant number of people when then extrapolated over the number who will be present at training grounds and stadia between now and the first round of games.
At Watford, that figure was 7.5%. Deeney was right to be cautious. Chelsea’s N’Golo Kante also took the decision to train alone at home.
But the Premier League still insists on pushing forward regardless of the risk and chief executive Richard Masters says he’s “as confident as we can be” about restarting in June. A phrase as meaningless as those usually reserved for this Sunday morning column.
While there is still some uncertainty over when the big KO will occur, the Premier League’s desire for a June 12 restart doesn’t appear to have gone away. “There is some momentum. We’ve taken the first step,” says Mr Masters, presumably referring to the players reluctantly returning to training as instructed by the… Premier League.
He’ll be heartened and, no doubt, emboldened by the news that La Liga is planning to restart from June 8.
But Masters also acknowledged the need for “contingency plans” and said that “curtailment is still a possibility”, presumably meaning the season could still be ended without playing any more games.
He also said the idea of scrapping relegation “would come up for discussion” and still remained “a significant topic”, as he continued to speak without saying anything.
So, the season may or may not start on June 12; they may or may not consider curtailing the season, and they may or may not scrap relegation. Clear?
Although, to be fair, the scrapping of relegation part didn’t sit comfortably with the FA who, despite what the Premier League believes, still remain the game’s arbiters. It’s clear any attempt to do this will be fiercely opposed.
And to be fair, 99.9% of City supporters are cool with relegation in any form that doesn’t see us stitched up and which is deserving because we’ve simply not accumulated enough points to survive.
But then the waters get a little cloudier…
While I have no problem in principle with the Premier League sharing some of its enormous wealth further down the footballing food chain, if, as is being suggested, this comes from the pot that pays the Premier League clubs, then a £10 million hit to Man City or Liverpool hardly compares to a £10 million hit on coffers of Norwich City.
How does that work?
I know folk outside the Canary Nation have trouble getting their around ‘self-funding’ but come on…
So we hand good ol’ Leeds £6.6 million and then let them take our place in the Premier League? And while we’re at it, let’s give Fulham owner Shahid Khan another £6.6 million to top up his £10 billion fortune.
Despite the laudable thrust behind the plan, you don’t need to be a leftie so spot the inequality in how said funds are being distributed. It doesn’t feel right because it isn’t right.
Of course, this is merely the opening gambit with discussions and arm-wrestling aplenty to come, but it reminds us again of the financial tightrope on which our club teeters and how lucky we are to have Stuart Webber doing our dealing.
The ultimate impact of this lockdown is unknown, as is almost everything related to this virus, but it’s clear that the impact of relegation on top of everything else would be catastrophic to our football club.
Right now, safety and wellbeing of all involved is all that matters but as we edge closer to a restart, it does make you wonder what our club will look like when it comes out the other end.
I’m not sure we’ll recognise it, but with Webber steering the ship I’m confident it will be there.
But for now, one day at a time. And don’t follow the example of our government. Do the right thing.
Gary Field says
I do question what right the FA actually has to insist on relegation from the Premier League when, as supervisor of the football pyramid, they’ve completely voided tiers 3 to 7, with no promotion or relegation? A case of, ‘don’t do as we do, do what we say’ if ever there’s one!
Gary Gowers says
Spot on, Gaz. Was ever thus.
Keith B says
Tier 3 is League One. Don’t think that or League Two have been decided yet, and certainly not voided by the FA. Not sure about the National League.
There is a provision in the deal between the PL and the FA that prevents the PL itself deciding to abolish relegation – and so there needs to be because if there wasn’t, the temptation to do exactly that permanently might be too strong for many to resist. I’ll bet Villa and West Spam would vote for it, and should Leeds ever retake their so-called “rightful place” so would they.
Whatever the FA may have said so far, if push came to shove and the PL wanted to go for (say) a “two up none down” option on a one off basis, due to the exceptional circumstances, I think they might agree to it.
Gary Field says
Apologies, I should have said ‘step’, rather than ‘tier’ when referring to the pyramid.
And, yes, I’m aware of the tripartite agreement between the PL, EFL and FA, signed when the Premier League was formed, but, there’s inconsistencies here, right across the piste and I can see there being the mother of all fudges to resolve this. The Premier League has the cash and will, undoubtedly, use it to get what it wants.
martin penney says
As for the Government there have been too many Cummings and goings recently for my liking. Us plebs are largely playing by the rules, but…
Gary F [above] is right with his comment about the FA. Spot on.
I’m no leftie [I’m centre left for what little that’s worth these days] but being told to do as we’re instructed and not to copy the antics of the rulemakers who are obviously exempt from following their own advice sticks in my gizzard.
I’m glad you had a little dig at Leeds Gary – there’s one from me tomorrow too 🙂
As John Lydon famously said: ever feel you’ve been cheated?
Andrew Delf says
Project restart could do with a project plan. The chief executive along with the Head of the FA and the Head of the EFL must surely recognise this basic reality and put a plan together pretty damn quick.
Without a consistent and mutually beneficial plan for the entire football family in this country then the lower leagues and less well off clubs face absolute carnage on a scale never seen before in sporting history. So shame on you, the heads of our sport, the national sporting media and the anything for profit broadcasters it doesn’t look like you are doing very much from where I am sitting other than appeasing the rampant favouritism of the biggest teams.
Dan Rear says
Life has got to re-start at some point, there’s risk in everything. As a Society we’ve got to be brave, accept some people will die, but get on with life. And as regards footy, if players and their usually loathsome agents get paid a bit less in future, that’s good enough for me.
Stewart Lewis says
Well summarised, Gary.
This is an ever-changing saga. In some respects, to be fair, with good reason. The Premier League appears to have backed off some of its more egregious proposals, including the demand that players sign consent for the whole programme while only knowing details of Stage 1, the insistence on neutral grounds, and a start date of 12 June.
Some of those may not have been completely given up, but we’ll see.
I guess we just have to stay alert to developments. Haven’t I heard that somewhere….?
Jim Davies says
The statement from Masters has about the same amount of clarity as a Boris Johnson Covid-19 briefing.
Loved the Leeds provocation – in the words of a well known band who hail from there, “I predict a riot”!
So, June 12 is actually less than 3 weeks away now and still no sign of a plan, let alone a coherent one, from the game’s top brass.
We have actually heard next to nothing from them to this point. It’s all been reports in the press by “sources”. What they need to do is formulate a plan, publish it and go for it. At least then, everyone would know where they stand. They’ve been given the green light by government, now just get on with it.
And, sorry Gary, but what do you exactly mean by “safety”? I get wellbeing and agree completely, but this group of people are just about the most protected group in society. I just don’t get their reluctance when people have been working through this in far less “safe” circumstances.
Tim Ball says
I have had a quick look at the net worth of the owners of the Championship clubs Gary.
The Premier League has/should help most of the League 1 & 2 clubs for sure but the Championship, absolutely no way.
Okay there are some exceptions like Luton Town but the Championship Clubs are owned by many a billionaire and even more 1/2 billionaires. Once Delia was probably the richest owner in there not any more. A relative pauper you might say.
Ease FFP and put the onus on the owners to find the money.