HARD TO IMAGINE

‘Unjust’ to deny Liverpool the title, says Barber

The Premier League has said ‘conditions at the time’ will determine whether fixtures can return on that date after they were suspended due to coronavirus.

In Summary

• We’ve got several teams in self-isolation, which makes it difficult to think about that date —Barber

• Premier League clubs are set to meet on Thursday, two days after Uefa discuss the fate of Euro 2020.

Liverpool's Virgil van Dijk celebrates with team mates during a recent match
Liverpool's Virgil van Dijk celebrates with team mates during a recent match
Image: /REUTERS

Brighton’s chief executive Paul Barber says it is ‘really hard to imagine’ the Premier League resuming 4 April, as is currently hoped.

The Premier League has said ‘conditions at the time’ will determine whether fixtures can return on that date after they were suspended due to coronavirus.

But Barber told Football Focus that date was already looking unlikely.

“We’ve got several teams in self-isolation, which makes it difficult to think about that date,” he said. “Those players have not just got to self-isolate for 14 days, they’ve got to get themselves close to match fitness again, which could take another seven to 14 days. So we’ve got a number of complexities here, which go way beyond thinking of the finances.”

BBC sports editor Dan Roan says playing on April 4 is privately deemed ‘almost impossible’ and FA chairman Greg Clarke is known to have already expressed fears that the season may have to be abandoned.

On Thursday, England’s chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty said the peak of the UK outbreak is most likely 10 to 14 weeks away, which would be late May or early June. Premier League clubs are set to meet on Thursday, two days after Uefa discuss the fate of Euro 2020.

“Every league starts with an expectation of completing all 38 fixtures, as it is in the Premier League, and we want to be able to do that,” Barber added. “Our intention must be to play the fixtures, but it’s really hard to imagine putting on a football game in the Premier League in two or three weeks’ time given the scenario we are in.”

“If we were to freeze the league it would be incredibly unjust for Liverpool to not be awarded the title, because everybody in the game appreciates what a fantastic season they have had. Equally it would be unjust for teams to be relegated with nine or 10 games to go in the Premier League.

“I think it’s a possible option to leave the 20 teams in the league as it is but bring the top two in the Championship up. It gives us a larger league, with four relegation places next season and then two teams coming up again. It has some merit but there are a lot of issues to be worked through.”

“If we can’t complete the season we have to look at radical solutions to get over a short-term hump, as it is.”

Meanwhile, cancelling the season because of the coronavirus outbreak could be 'disastrous' for some English Football League clubs' finances, says Rochdale chief executive David Bottomley.

EFL matches have been suspended until April 3 at the earliest. But there are fears that fixtures may not be able to be fulfilled.

"It's very worrying for any industry that relies on people paying to come and watch it for the majority of its income," said Bottomley.

Rochdale have twice been drawn against Premier League opposition in cup competitions this season and also sold teenager Luke Matheson to Wolves for a substantial fee in January.

Speaking to BBC Radio Manchester, Bottomley said: "We're looking at a big impact on our finances in March. We're fortunate as a club that, because of things that have happened recently like the sale of a player, we can afford to get through the next few days without playing three games of football.

"But we need that income at some stage.

"If they cancelled the season and said 'no more football' that would have a disastrous effect on our finances because we have got six more [home] games to come.

"I would fear for a lot of clubs who are probably living very hand-to-mouth and rely on gate receipts."

Before confirmation from the Premier League and EFL that elite football would be postponed for the foreseeable future, Portsmouth chief executive Mark Catlin warned that a lack of gate receipts could be "devastating" for some clubs.

Bottomley said lots of clubs would now be consulting the EFL because they were unable to access business interruption insurance.

"I have a lot of sympathy with the EFL because they are reacting to the situation with information from the government and on a worldwide basis, and every few hours we are getting updates," he added.

"The EFL is probably being bombarded with emails from 71 clubs asking how much money they have in reserve and 'what are you going to do to compensate clubs?'

"At the same time, the EFL is probably bombarding the sports minister."

Tranmere Rovers owner Mark Palios has said the Premier League and government should offer support to EFL clubs who face hardship because of coronavirus.

He also believes the EFL could support a process where clubs could go into administration to help their finances but not suffer points penalties.

League One Bolton began the season with a 12-point deduction after going into administration, but last season Blackpool avoided a points penalty despite going into receivership.

That came after an owner dispute, and subsequent court case, rather than financial mismanagement specifically.

Palios said: "Having been an insolvency practitioner, you could use the administration process, which was brought in to help businesses survive, in a slightly different way.

"If coronavirus tips clubs over the edge, there's an argument that this isn't because of financial mismanagement, it's because of circumstances, and therefore you could go into administration to get the benefits of protection but not take the sporting sanctions. That is something I would recommend."