Manchester United's Harry Maguire
The 'Project Restart' to complete the 2019-20 season of Premiership may have gathered steam with the UK government's green signal for June, but there are still enough questions waiting to be answered. Image Credit: AFP

Dubai: Clubs in the English Premier League could be ordered to repay up to £340 million to broadcasters of matches due to the coronavirus pandemic which has brought the game to a halt across the globe.

This mammoth bill, which many clubs could struggle to repay as it has already gone on club expenses and player salaries, could still come due even if the chiefs at the Premier League, Football League, Football Association and British government can finally come to some safe resolution to get the season completed behind closed doors.

After officials from each of the 20 Premier League clubs met on Monday to to discuss ‘Project Restart’, and tentatively agree on a possible season restart after June 1, it became clear that there were still more questions than answers. Teams voiced strong concerns over playing out the remaining nine rounds of matches at neutral grounds — something that has been on the table for weeks and now looks set to be binned altogether in favour of home-and-away matches as originally scheduled.

A curtailed season was also discussed for the first time — something that could strike fear into the hearts of clubs lingering in the relegation zone, and also league leaders Liverpool, should the season be declared void and they are denied a first Premier League title.

While such decisions will be made that hurt some of the clubs in the English top flight, the one thing that will damage every single one is the lingering TV bill. Broadcasters are expected to demand money back as the games have not been completed as planned, on time or with fans present to add atmosphere.

Everybody would prefer to play at home and away if at all possible, and it’s clear to see some clubs feel more strongly about that than others

- Richard Masters, Premier League Chief Executive

The broadcasters of matches — domestic and international, live and recorded — were expected to pay the Premier League clubs around £9.2 billion for the 2019-22 seasons, but that number will significantly drop in light of the COVID-19 chaos that has thrown this season off the rails and threatens to cause damage to the coming campaigns too.

Premier League chief executive Richard Masters had said he expects the total loss to clubs to reach “at least £1 bn” if the current season is not completed.

“We were able to update our clubs on our situation with broadcasters, which is obviously confidential,” a more cautious Masters said on Monday.

“Whatever happens, there’s going to be significant loss of revenue for clubs. That is inevitable.

Neutral venues

With regard to the neutral venues and the strong opposition, Masters added: “Everybody would prefer to play at home and away if at all possible, and it’s clear to see some clubs feel more strongly about that than others.”

He said clubs were against using neutral grounds due to the health risks involved in fans gathering in large numbers outside their own stadiums before and during games.

“I think some of our clubs would argue that in relation to policing their own fans that they have a good relationship with them,” Masters said.

“They can encourage their own fans not to turn up outside their home venues while they’re playing behind closed doors, and they’re in a better position to control that, but it’s not a matter of convincing — this has to be a decision that’s come to mutually.”

Incomplete season

Masters also admitted the possibility of ending the season with an incomplete schedule was also discussed.

“It’s the first time we’ve discussed curtailment,” he said. “It’s still our aim to finish the season obviously, but it’s important to discuss all of the options with our clubs.

“Obviously we won’t be playing until the middle of June. It doesn’t seem quite right to be talking about playing before we’ve taken a decision to return to the first stage of training.

“But in terms of how those matches will take place there’s a lot of water to pass under the bridge, and we’ll continue to assess the circumstances then.”

The issue of scrapping relegation had not been raised at any Premier League meetings.

Sterling, Rose skeptical

With June 1 looming large on the calendar, Manchester City forward Raheem Sterling said that he keeps thinking about what the worst outcome could be if the Premier League returns before it is completely safe to do so.

“The moment we do go back it just needs to be a moment where it is not just for footballing reasons, it is safe for not just us footballers but the whole medical staff, referees,” Sterling said on his YouTube channel.

Raheem Sterling
Raheem Sterling, the Manchester City and England striker, is not sure if the timing is yet right for Premier League to resume action from next month. Image Credit: AFP

“I do not know how that’s going to work, but I feel like once that side of the people’s safety and the players’ safety is secured and their well-being is looked after then that’s the right time to go back in. Until then, how can I say, I am not scared but reserved and thinking what the worst outcome could be.”

Newcastle United defender and Sterling’s England teammate Danny Rose echoed those sentiments in a rather more colourful manner.

“The government is saying we are bringing football back because it is going to boost the nation’s morale,” Rose said. “I don’t give a (expletive) about the nation’s morale. People’s lives are at risk. Football shouldn’t even be spoken about coming back until the numbers have dropped massively.

“We’ll see. I am supposed to be tested on Friday, so we will just have to wait and see. I did not even listen to the announcement on Sunday, no football until June 1 or something. I do not even pay attention to any of that. I am sad people are getting sick and being affected but football should be the last of things that needs to get sorted.”