Premier League shouldn’t find way to resume


Express Sport’s chief writer Neil Squires takes a look at the current proposals for a Premier League restart and outlines why it would be nonsensical to go ahead.

After the app that transmits boos and cheers from armchair fans into stadia populated by cardboard cutouts what else is in the pipeline in this dystopian vision of the Premier League near-future? Zoom team talks from remote managers? Virtual balls? Covid-proof robot players?

Necessity is supposed to be the mother of invention but she would probably put up some of her offspring for adoption had she seen some of the ideas to accompany the return of football in this country.

We all want the Premier League back but the new normal is in danger of being too abnormal for purpose.

The peripheral background innovations that have been proposed are bad enough but it is the tweaks that mess with the fabric of the competition and the game itself that are the real problem.

Additional substitutes introduced part way through a season? Well, maybe the Premier League can live with that – even if it does benefit the richer clubs with deeper squads.

Neutral grounds? Now, we are into more dangerous waters. The season is immediately skewed towards the clubs who have played more home games before the stop signs went up. How can it be fair for relegation-threatened Aston Villa to play two fewer home games than Southampton?

As for scrapping relegation totally, or bringing in 30-minute halves, those are total non-starters.

The desperation to bring football back – largely for financial reasons – risks distorting its space/time continuum to such an extent that we end up being hurled into a parallel sporting universe.

In Asia, South Korea’s K League kicks back into action today. In Europe, the Bundesliga in Germany will return later this month. Those green lights have raised hopes that the Premier League may soon be able to follow.

But these countries are two of the poster boys for dealing with coronavirus in a way that Britain is not.

We will have our own enquiry in time as to whether we were too late with lockdown and too cavalier with testing but the numbers make for jarring reading.

The death toll from the disease stands at South Korea is 240. In Germany it has just passed 7,000. In the UK it exceeds 30,000. Another 649 died on Wednesday. There was one Covid-related death in Korea the same day.

Korea’s mark in the sand for bringing back football was drawn when their confirmed number of coronavirus patients fell below 30 for at least two weeks. Having ticked that box, the K League was cleared to start up.

We, sadly, are miles away from those numbers.

When it is safe enough to play then play; if it isn’t then don’t.

Football is not the only contact sport in this country struggling to find ways to resume when in all probability it shouldn’t.

Boxing this week came up with a return route which banned spit buckets and asked fighters to wear masks on their way to the ring.

Rugby union is considering coming back at grass-roots level with no tackles, scrums or mauls. That is no longer rugby. The players might as well just run around a field.

It is only common-sense that sport, like the rest of society, should take any measures it can against transmission.

Even in Covid-free Korea the return of the K League has come with precautions. The stadia are closed to the public, managers will have to holler instructions through masks and players are also being asked to refrain from having close conversations on the pitch.

But at least the game they are playing remains football and, as will be the case in Germany, in their own home stadia.

The way back for the Premier League before this season is timed out just contains too many distortions.