In Brief

Could the Premier League play out the season in China?

Clubs will discuss the schedule and the PR disaster surrounding salaries

Football fans may have a better idea by the end of today when, if at all, they might see the return of the Premier League. 

The league’s 20 clubs will hold a video conference to discuss the possibility of a resumption, but according to BBC Sport it’s “accepted by all that there is no hope of professional games being played immediately after the current 30 April deadline”.

One of two scenarios is expected: either the restart date will be pushed back to late May or, following the example of Spain and France, the league will be suspended indefinitely.

Negative publicity

A week ago that would have been the most pressing matter for Premier League clubs but of even greater significance during today’s conference call will be how to respond to the tsunami of negative publicity that has engulfed the top-flight of English football this week.

On Wednesday MP Julian Knight, the chair of the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport committee, accused the Premier League of “living in a moral vacuum”, and those sentiments were echoed by Health Secretary Matt Hancock at a press conference yesterday when he said the Premier League players should “take a pay cut and play their part”.

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Stand-off

In response to the growing criticism, the Professional Footballers’ Association (PFA) released a statement which bristled with defiance: “We are aware of the public sentiment that the players should pay non-playing staff’s salaries.

“However, our current position is that - as businesses - if clubs can afford to pay their players and staff, they should.” 

It’s reported that the PFA want to examine clubs’ accounts before agreeing to any wage cuts because, according to The Sun, “they remain suspicious of many club owners, who are seeking to use this crisis to wriggle out of their contractual obligations”.

Nonetheless the confusion and delay will likely lead to further criticism with the Daily Mail reporting that a YouGov poll this week revealed that 92% of the public believe Premier League players should accept a wage cut or deferral.

PR disaster

BBC Sport says that the Premier League is acutely aware it is caught in the midst of a public relations disaster and one measure it might announce today to “correct some of the negative publicity” is to offer stadiums and medical staff to the National Health Service.

With football unlikely to resume before June, this short-term measure would help restore their standing among fans and the wider public.

Premier League logo

Catherine Ivill/Getty Images

China to the rescue?

What won’t help the Premier League’s cause are stories like the one covered by many of today’s online publications that clubs are contemplating completing the season in China. 

The report, which was first carried by The Athletic, says an unnamed club wants the proposal discussed at today’s meeting. 

“The country that keeps getting proposed is China,” one club’s chief executive told The Athletic. “If we were to pick up the Premier League and move it to another part of the world right now we’d get absolutely slaughtered.”

China would be an enthusiastic host, given that the country is waging a fierce propaganda war to help the world forget how the coronavirus pandemic started, but football fans may not be quite so enamoured of the idea.

What pundits are saying about the wage war

Mark Irwin, The Sun

“Football’s mega-wealthy really need to understand which way the wind is blowing because there’s a hurricane heading their way and it’s about to blow the whole house down. The general public is looking for a scapegoat and the players are currently losing the PR war.” 

Matt Dickinson, The Times

“It really would not take much [for EPL players] to sound human, to explain how they would like just 10% of their income to help those whose livelihoods are imperilled. Instead the silence has been deafening.” 

Martin Samuel, Daily Mail

“Coronavirus is an enhancer and it has already made the debate over footballers’ salaries a defining issue of this new age… [PFA chairman Gordon] Taylor should take heed. This is not a battle he can win, certainly not for hearts or minds.”

Today’s back pages

Gary Lineker calls for patience over Premier League pay cut debate

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