Britain’s Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden warned on Friday that the Premier League does not yet have the “green light” to resume but restated the government’s hope that the season can be completed.
Premier League clubs are due to meet on Monday to discuss the latest plans for “Project Restart” – a day after an expected minor easing of coronavirus lockdown measures.
Clubs are understood to have been told that the use of a limited number of neutral venues is the only way to complete the campaign, to limit the strain on essential services and discourage gatherings of supporters near stadiums.
But those at risk of relegation argue that the integrity of the competition would be compromised by the neutral-venue plan.
Brighton chief executive Paul Barber is opposed to the idea, with the Seagulls hovering two points above the drop zone. Brighton were scheduled to play five of their remaining nine games at home.
Despite extensive contingency planning, Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, Oliver Dowden, warned the Premier League was yet to get the go-ahead, with testing and player welfare major hurdles.
“They’ve not been given the green light,” Dowden told BBC Radio on Friday.
“If we can get a plan that works then I’d like us to be able to go ahead with it because I think it would be good for the nation, it would be good for football as a whole.
“I’m really hopeful we can get this up and running but public safety must come first so it’s only if we’re confident of that, we’ll be able to proceed.”
In Germany, the Bundesliga announced this week that it would resume matches on May 16, behind closed doors and subject to extensive coronavirus testing.
Dowden’s comments came as The Times newspaper reported that Football Association chiefs would block any attempt to declare the Premier League season null and void and abandon relegation.
– Relegation scrapped? –
At least one club reportedly wants relegation to be scrapped if neutral grounds are used.
But The Times said it was understood that the FA board supported the Premier League board’s position that the league table should be decided on sporting merit even if it were cut short.
Burnley captain Ben Mee, whose side are 10th in the table, said he believed footballers could “get over” playing at neutral venues if it meant the game could be re-started.
“It’s not ideal but these times, they call for different measures,” Mee told the BBC. “We can certainly get over that fact.”
And he said players would be prepared to spend time in quarantine if necessary.
“I think football is such an important part of our country, whether you like it or not, and people rely on it,” he said. “And if we can give that positive boost to the country, then that would be fantastic.”
Former Manchester United and England defender Rio Ferdinand said there was no viable resolution that would satisfy all 20 clubs.
“People are going to feel at a disadvantage if certain decisions are made but I don’t think the Premier League can have a wholehearted 100 percent win on this no matter what decision they make, which is unfortunate,” he told the Press Association.
Manchester City striker Sergio Aguero and Brighton’s Glenn Murray have raised objections from a safety point of view but Ferdinand said they should put their faith in the authorities.
“The Premier League, the FA and the government, if all of those three bodies give it the green light then I’m sure the players’ protection, health and well-being will be at the top of their agenda to make sure they remain healthy and not at risk,” he said.
Henry, Bergkamp, Vieira To Join Daniel Ek’s Bid To Buy Arsenal
Swedish billionaire Daniel Ek is set to launch a takeover bid for Arsenal with the help of Thierry Henry, Dennis Bergkamp, and Patrick Vieira.
Ek, co-founder, and chief executive of music streaming service Spotify, has enlisted three of Arsenal’s legendary ‘Invincibles’ to help him purchase the club from current owner Stan Kroenke.
Ek first expressed an interest in buying Arsenal last week, after fans protested outside the Emirates Stadium against Kroenke’s ownership and his involvement in the failed breakaway European Super League.
“As a kid growing up, I’ve cheered for @Arsenal as long as I can remember. If KSE would like to sell Arsenal I’d be happy to throw my hat in the ring,” Ek tweeted on Friday.
Ek is worth £3.38bn (€4.7bn), according to Forbes, and was named the most influential person in the music business by American magazine Billboard in 2017.
At this stage, it is not known how much the 38-year-old is willing to bid for Arsenal.
However, Arsenal director Josh Kroenke has told fans that his family has “no intention” of selling the club.
Speaking last week at a fans’ forum following the collapse of the European Super League venture, Kroenke said the club was not for sale but that they would work harder to engage with fans more effectively in the future.
Henry, Arsenal’s all-time top goalscorer, joined his former manager Arsene Wenger in publicly criticising the club’s ownership last week.
“I do not recognise my club and what happened just now, with them trying to join a league that would have been closed, makes no sense to me,” Henry told the Telegraph.
“They have been running the club like a company, not a football club, and they showed their hand.
“Maybe it’s a lack of understanding of the core football values and maybe the money was too big of a temptation. But whatever it was, they got it wrong. Badly wrong.
“I was genuinely shocked like most people and couldn’t believe what was unfolding.
“I have never talked before, but what happened recently made me realise fans, this is your club. It is your club and I’m an Arsenal fan too.
“I’m proud of what the fans achieved. Not just Arsenal fans, all the fans. The result was a victory for football.”
Shearer, Henry Seal Maiden Induction Into Premier League Hall Of Fame
Alan Shearer and Thierry Henry have been announced as the first players to be named in the Premier League Hall of Fame.
Former Newcastle United and Blackburn Rovers striker Shearer remains the leading goalscorer in the competition’s history, having scored 260 times across 14 seasons for both clubs.
A champion with Blackburn in 1994-95, Shearer scored 112 goals in 138 Premier League games for Rovers before a move to boyhood side Newcastle for £15million in 1996, breaking the world transfer record.
The former England captain, who won the Golden Boot three times, went on to net 148 goals in 303 league games for the Magpies and remains the only player to have scored 100 Premier League goals for two different clubs.
“When you look at some of the unbelievable players to have graced the Premier League – week in, week out, year in, year out – I feel very honoured to join the Hall of Fame. I have to thank all of my teammates, as well as the managers and coaches that I’ve worked with,” said Shearer.
“All I ever wanted to be was a professional footballer. It was my dream to do that, my dream to win trophies, and my dream to score at St James’ Park, to wear the number nine black-and-white shirt and it was fantastic. I enjoyed every minute of it.”
Henry is sixth on the all-time goalscoring list in the competition, having hit a club-record 175 in just 258 games for Arsenal.
The ex-France star, a record four-time Golden Boot winner, scored more than 20 goals in five consecutive seasons from 2001 until he left for Barcelona in 2006.
Twice a title-winner with the Gunners, including in the unbeaten ‘Invincibles’ side of 2003-04, Henry also registered 74 assists in the competition. His tally of 20 in 2002-03 remains a joint record for a single season, with Manchester City’s Kevin De Bruyne matching that tally in 2019-20.
“To be inducted alongside Alan Shearer as the two first inductees into the Premier League Hall of Fame is more than special,” Henry said.
“When I was young, I was just trying to make sure I could get a pair of boots and now we’re talking about the Hall of Fame. During my career, I wanted to play hard and make sure I was fighting for the cause, because that’s all the fans want to see.
“If you asked me at the start of my career about entering the Hall of Fame, I wouldn’t have believed you. It’s an amazing honour.”
Frappart To Be First Woman To Officiate At Men’s Euro
France’s Stephanie Frappart is set to become the first woman to officiate at a men’s European Championship after UEFA named her as a fourth official for Euro 2020 on Wednesday.
Frappart has already achieved several firsts for female officials, having been the first woman to referee a match in Ligue 1, and in the Champions League last December for a group-stage game between Juventus and Dynamo Kiev.
“For the first time, a female official has been selected for a men’s Euro. Stephanie Frappart (France), who has officiated at several matches in UEFA’s men’s club and national team competitions this season… will be acting as fourth official at matches,” UEFA said.
Each refereeing team at the event will consist of a referee, two assistant referees, a fourth official, a reserve assistant referee at the stadium, and a team of four video match officials.
The tournament, delayed because of the coronavirus pandemic, will run from June 11 to July 11.
The 37-year-old Frappart was also the first female referee of a major men’s European game, for the 2019 UEFA Super Cup between Liverpool and Chelsea.