Spying on Leeds United: 5 players to watch out for

Leeds Promotion celebrations
Leeds Promotion celebrations

Abiha Khan investigates Leeds United’s incoming Premier League squad. As the recently promoted West Yorkshire powerhouse go from spying to flying, she scouts their star players and the weaknesses that could put them at risk in the English top-flight.

Leeds United had one wish: a return to the Premier League after 16 painful years away. The answer to West Yorkshire’s prayers came in the form of manager Marcelo Bielsa. After narrowly missing promotion last year, the Argentine’s aggressive and high-pressing style sent The Whites soaring to the top of the table. Not even Leeds’s fans could quite believe this miracle.

Leeds are used to being under the football spotlight, be it financial freefall, their infamous dirty play, or the intense loyalty of their city-wide fanbase. Their proud fighting spirit sets them apart and they will be plotting their legacy akin to their rival Sheffield United’s success. With a lack of European tournaments, Bielsa’s powerful ‘murderball’ – enviable energy, brutal work-rate and non-stop running – will make Leeds players the perfect choice for a high scoring Fantasy Premier League season. Although fresh signings are required, they have a strong core of players who are more than capable of rising to the challenge.

Tyler Roberts – Attacking midfielder

Tyler Roberts

The 21-year-old has the versatility to adapt to the wing or as a centre-forward, and he’s found his feet this season with his precise and clinical ability in the final third. His star quality was most evident in his MOTM performance against Hull, just before lockdown, where Roberts came on as a 67th minute substitute for striker Patrick Bamford and scored the last two winning goals.

However, Leeds have suffered with injuries and Roberts is no exception to this. Bielsa will be keen to adapt his ‘murderball’ technique to ensure key players like Roberts can thrive in the top-flight without the threat of injury.

In terms of goal-scoring, Leeds can’t rely on Bamford’s clinical ability, with a shocking 33 chances missed this season, and more shots off target than any player in the Championship since 2012.  Therefore, they need to buy a strong striker who can translate the team’s high chance turnover.

Until this happens however, Bielsa could allow Roberts to step in as the main striker while swapping Bamford for the attacking midfielder position.

Pablo Hernandez – Attacking midfielder

Most non-Leeds fans will be familiar with the magician Pablo, or as ex-Leeds translator Salim Lamrani hails him, “the brain” of the team. Pablo is Leeds’s play-making answer to Santi Cazorla or David Silva.

At 35 years of age, Pablo may not feature much when Leeds return to the Premier League. But, there is no denying his winning form and fitness, as ‘Player of the Year’ Pablo has the highest points-per-game average of any Championship player to have played 1500+ minutes this season. He’s a main reason for Leeds’s promotion, creating the most chances per game (2.3) and generating the second most chances for the club (82) after Jack Harrison (87). His influence on Leeds is undeniable, and finding his replacement will be tricky.

No Pablo, no party.

Mateusz Klich – Midfielder

Klich works tirelessly for the team, having played a whopping 45 out of 46 games this season with 92 consecutive games under his belt. Rumour has it he missed his only game of the season – the guard of honour Derby game – with a hangover. In fact, Leeds Managing Director Angus Kinnear wrote in his programme notes ahead of the final game against Charlton: “We should all be very grateful that Klich can play football better than he can drink.”

With his insane track-record, not only is he destined to start every game next season, but the midfielder is effortless in his ability to perform highly amongst defensive figures. With 254 ball recoveries, 178 duels won, and the third-most tackles won per game for Leeds this season, Klich epitomises a true Leeds warrior and is integral to the Bielsa’s ‘murderball’ system. Only tricky-Pablo made more passes in the final third than Klich.

Not only has Klich proven his success at Leeds, but Poland boss Jerzy Brzęczek awarded him with a call-up to the national team after a four-year exile.

Klich is definitely one-to-watch in the Premier League next season.

Kalvin Phillips – Defensive midfielder

Kalvin Phillips celebrates goal

The Leeds-born midfielder has been the glue that binds the team with his dominating performances and merciless style of play. Kalvin is Bielsa’s second-best success story, after the promotion of course, as the most improved player at the club.

Before Bielsa’s arrival, Kalvin was a lost puppy with more errors in him than sense – it was hard to the midfielder going far. However, with Bielsa’s man-management, Kalvin has transformed into a fantastic defensive midfielder, integral for promotion with his key ability to win the ball back and provide for Leeds’ creative and attacking players.

Kalvin will be desperate to prove his ability in the Premier League. If he succeeds, he has a chance for a place in the England set-up, especially as a central-defensive midfielder, where the national side is currently lacking. Ultimately, Kalvin is Leeds through and through, and some view him as their key to future success.

Luke Ayling and Stuart Dallas – Full backs

Last season, Leeds had the most clean sheets (22) and the least goals conceded (35) in the Championship. To maintain this excellent defensive record in the Premier League, Leeds full-backs Luke Ayling and Stuart Dallas will have their hands full coming up against the likes of Sadio Mane, Raheem Sterling and Adama Traore.

Offensively, Dallas has created 43 chances in 45 appearances, with Ayling managing a close 29 in 37. It seems however that Ayling edges it as the stand-out full-back due to his leadership, ‘big-game player’ persona and effective versatility – providing both vital goals and assists.  

A fan-favourite, Ayling has led the team through difficult moments in the year, notably confronting the camera after the Nottingham Forest 2-0 defeat. Not only does it seem Ayling is destined to become a future Leeds captain, but he brings a package of talent suitable for the Premier League.

Leeds United – a new dawn

Whatever your opinion on Leeds United as a football club, there’s no denying their seat at the top table has been vacant for too long, and with Bielsa at the helm, football fans will be eager to see how The Peacocks faire next season.

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The sudden collapse of Wigan Athletic

Wigan Athletic Fans Celebrating

Life has somewhat returned to normal over the last month. Almost all businesses have reopened, COVID cases have dropped immensely, and to the delight of football fans, the beautiful game has finally returned to our screens.

Fans of every team except Wigan Athletic, that is.

Having returned from the COVID break unbeaten in their last six games, Latics fans had every right to be more than optimistic about their clubs’ chances of survival. Despite being rock-bottom in the Championship at the turn of this treacherous year, a run of 8 wins in 12 propelled the Greater Manchester-based outfit to almost guaranteed safety. The DW faithful were again delighted when their owners, IEC ,agreed to sell the majority of their shares to Hong Kong based, Next Leader Fund (NLF). NLF assured Wigan fans that money would be injected into the club to boost the coffers. Having had a restricted income over lockdown, this came as a timely welcome for the club, itching to return to the promised land of the Premier League.

Albeit, on July 1st, any promotion hopes for the next year were instantly put to rest when it was suddenly announced that the club had been put into administration – with a subsequent 12-point deduction to follow. And, following a last minute Barnsley winner at Brentford on the final day of the season, Wigan’s fears were confirmed as they were relegated to the third tier of English football.

By becoming the first footballing victim of the COVID-19 recession, it is still unclear what’s going to happen behind the scenes at the DW Stadium. Having endured an era of financial stability under local tycoon Dave Whelan, the club has gone into turmoil just 19 months after his departure and has thrown his successful two-decade legacy into complete disarray.

Wigan’s Premier League tenure under Whelan will live long in the memory of many English football fans. Despite only being in the division for eight years, they created many iconic moments; Maynor Figueroa’s goal from inside his own half at Stoke, their 9-1 drubbing at Spurs, Jimmy Bullard’s crazy on-pitch antics and many great escapes from the relegation drop all come to mind – whilst also housing Premier League stalwarts Antonio Valencia, Leighton Baines and Victor Moses. Yet it’s their magical backs-to-the-wall victory over Manchester City under Wembley’s arch in 2013 that awarded them their first FA Cup and taste of European football that fans most fondly look back upon. Arguably, it’s also their most bittersweet moment. Since then, the club has followed a serious downhill trajectory. Just 4 years after their famous Wembley win, they were relegated to the third-tier of English football, and in recent seasons, their fortunes haven’t fared much better with a constant battle for Championship survival.

Dave Whelan, former Wigan Athletic Chairman lifts the FA Cup, 2013.

NLF’s newfound ‘investment’ promised so much for a side that doesn’t deserve to be scrapping it out annually for second-tier survival; their recent European adventures and national achievements pay testament to this.  However, the club still awaits this investment.

Yet they’re not the only former Premier League side to suffer the misfortune of corrupt and dismal ownership; local rivals Bolton Wanderers have recently been relegated to League Two for just the second time in their history after many administration stricken years, whilst Blackpool, Coventry City and Portsmouth have also carried the burden of falling like a sack of potatoes from the top-flight to fourth division football.

How has it been so easy for so many clubs to fall to similar fates?

The main reason that these clubs have been plunged into the doldrums of Leagues One and Two is the ineptness of the FA. The common denominator with all these clubs is their storyline; local investors have taken them as far as financially viable, and the club, wanting more support as they fight it out in highly competitive leagues, secures outside investment to take them to the next level. However, the FA’s execution of the ‘fit and proper’ test, in place to determine whether someone is fiscally sound to take over the financial reigns of a football club, has been shown ineffective time and time again.

Introduced in 2004, the due diligence test assesses prospective owners who want to take a 30% or higher control of a club. The assessment is based on a variety of factors; the potential owners’ business track-record, their involvement with other clubs in England, and even non-business factors such as convictions.

In Wigan’s case, there was a clear and obvious lack of due diligence as the crooked NLF slowly prised Wigan of their assets. Incredibly, the FA failed to spot that IEC’s owner, Stanley Choi, was also the majority shareholder in NLF – in essence, he sold the company to himself via a loan of £28 million with an interest rate of 8% (rising to 20% if not paid back in 12 months), all at Wigan’s expense. This worked out at £100,000 a week in repayments, which is of similar value to the club’s entire wage-bill per week – from star player to dinner lady. This left the club in arrears, but amazingly the takeover still went ahead.

A week later, the club changed majority stakeholders and administrators were called in to seize control. Unable to contact the new owners, administrators found it difficult to carry out their duties and it was widely acknowledged NLF had ‘done a runner’.

The general rhetoric in football is that whoever owns the most money generates the most success. This has coincided with the rise of investment tycoons not only in the Premier League, but also even in League One. Owners are coming in to try and power their way into the riches of top-flight football. In a similar way that the old adage of ‘The American Dream’ was branded to the United States in the 1900’s, potential owners come to England, notorious for its economic prosperity in football, to build their dynasty and rake in hundreds of millions in profit.

However, there are only so many places at the top of the table. The problem with this is that clubs will pay over the odds, year upon year, to try and earn their place within the world’s richest league; there will be success stories, such as Manchester City, Leicester City and Chelsea, while there’ll also be failures, such as Blackpool, Bolton and Portsmouth – still paying the price from going ‘all in’ for their proverbial slice of cake.

I held an interview with David Burgess, the Managing Director of third-tier outfit Accrington Stanley, who summed this situation up perfectly.

“We aren’t looking to shoot up the leagues; if we stay in League One for the next five years, we are happy. Our annual turnover is £3m, and by our reckoning we cannot spend any more than £1.6m per annum if we want to become a sustainable League One club. If we are not careful, as a smaller club than the majority of League One sides, our sponsorship income cannot then cover our astronomical losses, and we would potentially end up being a club such as Bury. There are owners in the Championship who treat it like a game of poker; if they put £20 million into the game and promotion doesn’t happen, they’ll put another chip in, again and again until they realise they have no chips left, which results in one thing and one thing only – liquidation”.

It’s anyone’s guess in terms of what’s going to happen to Wigan Athletic over the next couple of months, however, when their time in the Premier League comes again, be it 2 years or 20 years, football lovers will be overjoyed to see them back again.

Click here for more of our latest articles or visit our homepage to find out about The Catenaccio.

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Football and human trafficking: urgent action needed to halt exploitation

Football played on dry pitch
Human Trafficking Africa

Every year around 15,000 people are illegally trafficked into Europe having been promised the chance to become professional football players. The problem has worsened in recent years, as leagues from other parts of the world attract investment, meaning footballing opportunities are made increasingly available in Asia and the Middle East. While it is exciting to see new talent emerging in these leagues, human traffickers are presented with more opportunities to profit.

The experience of former Watford midfielder, Al Bangura, made people aware of the horrors many young players from Africa face in their efforts to become professionals. Originally from Sierra Leone, Bangura was trafficked for sex and forced into male prostitution in the UK, having travelled from Guinea with a man who promised to help him achieve his dream of becoming a professional footballer.

Personal testimonies highlight the systems traffickers have in place to extract thousands of dollars from the families of young men in return for trials with professional clubs in Europe. In many cases they are abandoned in European cities with no scout or agent waiting for them. In even worse cases they are trafficked for sex or slavery.

Football is only a small cog in the larger machine that is human trafficking, but European clubs are complicit in the system and there’s so much more the sport can do to eradicate it from the game.

In 2014, FC Barcelona were handed a year-long transfer ban and fined $509,000 after FIFA became aware of the improper signing of young players from outside of Europe that had been going on since 2009. It transpired that Barcelona were not alone in their breaches of the rules on minors and many other Spanish clubs had been similarly negligent. This meant children had been allowed to travel to Spain to join football clubs without their parents and without being registered with Spain’s football federation.

While it was right for FIFA to punish Barcelona, it showed just how badly football’s governing body understood player movement, and how prevalent ignoring the rules had become. Football’s governing bodies need to consider the message it sends to traffickers when they see that children can be flown to Europe without parental supervision or proper registration.

Part of the problem is that there is no obvious route into the world of professional football. In the USA, college sport is seen as the chance for young athletes to make the leap from amateur to professional. However, the lack of clarity on how footballers can achieve professional status creates an opportunity for fake agents, academies, scouts and human traffickers to profit.

Covid-19 has only made those who are exploited by traffickers more vulnerable and the need for urgency on the issue is more evident than ever. Up to 20 million jobs could be lost on the African continent due to the pandemic, and trafficking thrives during times of economic instability. It’s also a worrying reality that protecting trafficked footballers who have arrived in Europe may be a very low priority for governments.

While it’s a complex issue, there are clear opportunities for the European footballing community to help prevent the cancer of human trafficking spreading across the game. Clubs need to offer education on the issue of human trafficking and develop an understanding of young players’ relationships with their agents and query the origins of players. Governing bodies need to offer clubs mechanisms to report crimes and improve the laws surrounding the movement of players whilst investigating and punishing those who break their rules more frequently.

Moreover, there is an opportunity for a more global and comprehensive solution to the crisis. Ini-Obong Nkang of Nottingham Trent University has suggested that measures to improve the standard of the leagues around Africa could make young players safer by reducing the attractiveness of a much-desired move to Europe, and as a result, retaining them on the African continent. In turn, he argues that this approach could help to prevent the exploitation of young footballers by dishonest agents, helping to make football a tool for development in Africa.

There are organisations working to prevent sport-related human trafficking such as Mission 89 and It’s a Penalty who educate and propose solutions to the issue of trafficking. However, with the full and active support of European football clubs and governing bodies, much more can still be done to stop the exploitation of young men who fall into the hands of human traffickers.

Click here for more of our latest articles or visit our homepage to find out about The Catenaccio.

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The future of Chinese football: a damp squib or possible world hegemony?

China football team

The world’s most populous nation is no stranger to sporting successes – especially on the world stage at Olympic level – but where the most populous country meets the most popular sport, there appears to be a major disconnect.

For China’s entry at the FIFA World Cup in 2002, some 300 million people tuned in to watch the national team score no goals and lose every game at their maiden World Cup. It is estimated around 170 million people bought new TV sets purely for the purpose of watching the team’s voyage across the Yellow Sea to the Korean peninsula. This is still the country’s proudest footballing moment, and it’s perhaps often misunderstood that the Chinese people’s passion for football is not as vehement as in other countries.

China is the world’s bona fide, most dynamic and fastest growing footballing market. However, despite the viewing figure successes in 2002, back then most people in the Western world would have been largely unaware China even had a footballing league. This is not the case anymore.

Since the World Cup, Chinese investment in football, both within its own corridors and overseas (particularly within the Premier League), has increased greatly. Chinese corporations and businesses own majority or minority stakes in a growing list of clubs, of which include; Wolves, Manchester City, Atletico Madrid, Internazionale, AC Milan, Aston Villa, West Brom and Southampton. However, it is within the nation’s own borders where the true extent of investment can be seen.

Similarly to David Beckham’s move to LA Galaxy in 2007, Chinese clubs began investing in big name stars, offering them eye-watering figures to entice them to the Chinese Super League (CSL) in an attempt to boost the league’s profile, both domestically and internationally. Remember Didier Drogba’s shock move to Shanghai Shenua in 2012? Or when Oscar snubbed Atletico Madrid to became the world’s highest paid player at Shanghai SIPG in 2017? Carlos Tevez was earning more than £650,000 per week during his 11-month stint at Shanghai Shenua in 2017. To put that into context, last season’s Premier League player of the year, Virgil Van Dijk currently earns an estimated £180,000.

So, where has all this investment come from? Rather than being the result of natural growth, it instead stems from the Chinese political establishment.

In March 2014, President Xi Xinping introduced a 50-point road map illustrating how China would develop into a global footballing power. May 2016 saw China introduce their 13th 5-year plan, which implemented rapid sporting investment plans. Since Xi Xinping became the ruling Communist Party’s General Secretary in 2012, his political and business peers have used whatever methods possible to align themselves with him for personal and political gain. Given Xi Xinping’s close affinity and passion for the game, awarding massive wages and transfer fees to Western footballers has proven to be an effective avenue for Chinese officials.

President Xi Xinping, 2018

For a country with a widely collectivist culture, it comes as a surprise that the chosen route for growth has such an emphasis on individualism. Despite the beauty of football being built around the importance of the team, in extortionately overpaying these star players from South America, Africa and Europe, are Chinese clubs not seriously undermining their existing squads? Or are clubs bringing in these players in an attempt to generate exposure for the league by attracting bigger crowds at matches to develop sustainable futures for themselves.

There are two sides to every coin, but using data obtained by the Centre for Sports and Management at WHU – Otto Beisheim School of Management we find that Chinese fans are more interested in seeing these star players play rather than the collective team, even if the wider team features mostly Chinese players and especially if the foreign player is what one might call “an international superstar”.

Chinese consumers of football are also more preoccupied with the dramaturgy and news of the game, something which the above article ascribes to China’s remarkably highly developed entertainment industry – a place where substance is valued less than style and material objects in growing circles. This is a highly complex phenomenon considering China’s focus on socialism rather than capitalism. Either way, this perhaps offers an understanding at least to why these big money transfers have been and will continue to materialise in the Chinese leagues: it is simply want the fans want.

What I want to consider is where these implications will lead. What will be of the CSL and the Chinese national team in 15 to 20 years? Will they have reached another World Cup? Will there be a Chinese playing presence in the top 5 European leagues like other East Asian countries have?

What China has proved to be quite remarkable at over the last 20 to 30 years is facilitating rapid growth, and although it is perhaps still too soon to judge the true sustainability of their economic mechanisms, they are certainly heading in one direction. China’s solution to problems, like most wealthy nations, is to use remarkable sums of money as the catalyst for progression and change – this can be seen outside of football with the worldwide Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).

It’s been a good 10 years now since China started pumping serious cash into various footballing organs: so, where are they now? Naturally, native CSL footballers would see the benefit of working with superior players, managers and coaches from the influx of foreign talent. Players will become fitter as contemporary fitness techniques are applied and the game begins to be taken more seriously in China. Players will also become more tactically astute as a knock-on effect. Currently, Chinese fans may be more concerned with the drama and news of the beautiful game, but in 5 years they will likely become more invested and aware of the many nuances, tactics and patterns of football, again this will inevitably trickle down generationally.

A good measure for future success will be the progression seen within the Chinese national team, and the number of Chinese footballers involved in the highest echelons of the European game. The grander scope, the Chinese national team, is a longer term goal and one where measurable success is still probably too premature to see.

We are perhaps however beginning to see the early stages of development within individual players. In March 2019, after an agonising wait of 3,731 days, wide man Wu Lei became the first Chinese player to score for almost 10 years in any of Europe’s top five leagues, after scoring for Espanyol in their 3-1 win against Real Valladolid. He has since gone on to cement his place in Espanyol’s first team making more than 50 appearances since his debut in February 2019.

As a result of growing Chinese ownership in European clubs, the next generation of Chinese prospects are being assimilated by and bedded at top European clubs. Chinese officials will hope this progression is the cusp of a new era on the world footballing stage.

Click here for more of our latest articles or visit our homepage to find out about The Catenaccio.

Spying on Leeds United: 5 players to watch out for
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Football transfer market: when will the window open and close? Both a buyers-market and surges in loan deals lie ahead

Jadon Sancho Dortmund
Jadon Sancho (currently Borussia Dortmund) has been linked with numerous top European clubs in a big money move.

Officially, this summer’s Premier League transfer window is set to open on 10th June and close on 1st September. 

However, there has been speculation as to when it will close with suggestions of an end date next January. 

According to The Telegraph, teams could be able to reinforce their squads during the next campaign to help assist the difficulties dealt by the pandemic and encourage the return of business.

Yet despite football’s disrupted schedule and financial losses, ongoing big money rumours suggest the market status quo remains. However, recent reports from the CIES Football Observatory indicate transfer market values could decrease by 28% across the top five European leagues. 

The pandemic has had such an impact that the BBC reported one senior source at an unnamed Premier League club was said to be “staggered” by Jadon Sancho’s continued £100 million valuation.

The reductions in transfer values could see both winners and losers as it could both inflict serious financial harm on clubs that rely on transfer market returns for profit, while those clubs buying could gain top-quality players at cheaper prices. 

According to analysis conducted by KPMG we could witness a ‘buyer’s market’, in which some clubs will exploit the financial positions of others, acquiring players at significantly lower sums. 

Despite this, former Liverpool and Tottenham director of football, Damien Comolli, suggests only three Premier League clubs will have the luxury of spending in the next window. 

Comolli also suggests clubs that possess large overheads will suffer, with Spurs in particular continuing to manage the mammoth cost of their new £1 billion stadium.

With little transfer activity and large decreases in fees, Comolli predicts a surge in cheaper loan moves and swap deals. 

According to sports finance expert, Dr Rob Wilson, the increased use of the loan system, particularly by lower league clubs will actually help “redistribute playing talent” but forecasts a “depression” in the transfer market. 

“Even if clubs are able to pay big fees, the public perception will be so poor that they will try to avoid it,” he added.

“That will naturally depress the total value of the transfer market, and clubs should use this to their advantage in player contract negotiations so anybody looking at contract renewals will probably look at lighter contracts.”

The situation is evolving day-by-day as world football continues to get to grips with the impact of coronavirus.

Click here for more of our latest articles or visit our homepage to find out about The Catenaccio.

Spying on Leeds United: 5 players to watch out for
Abiha Khan investigates Leeds United’s incoming Premier League squad. As the recently …
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Life has somewhat returned to normal over the last month. Almost all …
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Abiha Khan assesses Jock Stein’s iconic phrase ‘football without the fans is nothing’ …
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Project Restart, the story so far: criticisms, challenges, logjam

Training pitch balls

Decisions are being made on resuming top-flight football. While France’s Ligue 1 and the Dutch Eredivisie have both been abandoned, the German Bundesliga has restarted.

Since the Premier League’s suspension on 13th March, lobbying efforts to allow football’s return have been well received by the government, with cabinet member Dominic Raab stating the return of sports would “lift the spirits of the nation”.

The Project

On 11th May the government approved the league’s continuation for any date after 1st June. The logistics of ‘Project Restart’ are currently being negotiated.

The scheme would commence on 12th June and see the remaining 92 league games and additional FA Cup fixtures played over an intensive seven-weekend period with two matches played mid-week in what some have described as a ‘football festival’, costing clubs £340 million in television revenue refunds.

These fixtures would be played behind closed doors at around ten neutral venues in an attempt to moderate the risk of fans congregating outside stadia. Project Restart would also include the use of 40,000 coronavirus testing kits in the effort to control the virus.

All Premier League clubs will return to training from 19th May and social distancing measures will remain essential with other precautions implemented where possible and necessary. For example, tackling will be banned while balls, corner flags, cones and even playing surfaces will be disinfected and players will be restricted to training groups of up to five.

Additional ongoing surveillance measures that include twice-weekly testing and a daily pre-training questionnaire and temperature check will also be implemented.

Similar plans are being considered for lower leagues.

Corona virus empty stadium

The Criticisms

Given the tight-time frame, the project’s viability has been questioned. Dependent on self-isolation measures, clubs could find it difficult preparing their teams in a short window, to then start playing multiple matches in a concentrated period. An increased risk of injury is a major concern amongst many clubs.

This project is facing a race against time. Top flight managers and captains have all raised concerns over the quick turnaround, and the 12th June start date is looking increasingly likely to be pushed back a week to 19th June. 

Most worrying however, and what forms the basis of opposition towards Project Restart are the moral issues at play – the increased risk for individuals to contract and spread the virus.

Some reports suggest a Premier League game needs anything of up to 500 personnel at a stadium, while lower down the Football League, suggestions of anything up to 180. The health threat posed has resulted in doctors from 20 top-flight sides contacting the Premier League with around 100 questions and issues to voice their concerns on returning to training and fixtures.

Premier League players have been advised to make their own decisions on the safety and fairness of resuming, with some making it clear they feel they’ve been put under ‘intolerable pressure’ to save the game from financial meltdown and finish the league.

It has been reported that Pep Guardiola, Frank Lampard, Nigel Pearson and Graham Potter all voiced their concerns on rushing back to games. Understandably, those involved are concerned for not only their own wellbeing, but also their families. 

While precautions have been made necessary for training, once games commence some will be impossible to implement.

The Challenges

Tensions are high after a third Brighton player in England and three FC Köln players in Germany all recently tested positive for coronavirus. In fact, Sky Sports reported one Premier League club owner believes the ubiquitous risk and intensified circumstances have made players reluctant to return to work, and there is now a “40 per cent” chance of the current campaign’s cancellation.

Burnley players turf moor

As the FA emphasised they would not sanction the season being voided, nor allow relegation to be scrapped, the option to determine the league null and void without both a winner or relegated teams and having a twenty-two-team-league next year for one season only has been ruled out.

Therefore, if the season is cancelled the only likely option would be to determine the final league standing via mathematical formula. This could result in a “summer of chaos” with relegated clubs suing the Premier League, likely on grounds of illegitimacy.

Certain aspects of Project Restart have also been challenged from within. At least two-thirds of clubs oppose the neutral venues directive, while the BBC reported some clubs towards the lower end of the division will accept the idea of neutral venues if the prospect of relegation is removed, their argument being the benefits players feel from playing at home.

Similarly, Watford chairman and chief executive, Scott Duxbury, stated playing at neutral venues would compromise the game’s fairness and sporting integrity. Others have pointed to the fact that many Premier League sides have large, state-wide followings. This could mean eager fans from across the nation could and would gather outside any stadium, neutral or not and regardless of geography, suggesting the irrelevance of the initial reasoning behind the neutral-grounds directive.

It is clear internal mutinies threaten the existence of the project. Directives require 14 of the 20 Premier League clubs to vote in favour. If logjam continues and clubs fail to get their act together to agree on key elements of Project Restart, English football faces missing UEFAs 25th May deadline regarding season completion or cancellation.

A timeline of what’s next is below:

  • Monday, 18 May: Next Premier League meeting
  • Monday, 18 May: Premier League players may return to initial group training under socially distancing protocols
  • 25 May: UEFA deadline for leagues to have finalised plan for restarting seasons
  • 1 June: Government date for possible return of elite sport behind closed doors in England
  • 12 June: Premier League aiming to return with first fixture

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Spying on Leeds United: 5 players to watch out for
Abiha Khan investigates Leeds United’s incoming Premier League squad. As the recently …
The sudden collapse of Wigan Athletic
Life has somewhat returned to normal over the last month. Almost all …
Behind closed doors: football is nothing without fans
Abiha Khan assesses Jock Stein’s iconic phrase ‘football without the fans is nothing’ …
Football and human trafficking: urgent action needed to halt exploitation
Every year around 15,000 people are illegally trafficked into Europe having been …