Premier League clubs including Sheffield United consider all options as Leeds United poised for promotion

THE Premier League has for the first time discussed the 2019-20 season not resuming, despite the Prime Minister giving encouragement it could be back next month.

But the Football Association appeared to bring much-needed clarity by insisting however the end-of-season standings are decided there must be relegation, which ought to guarantee Leeds United the chance of winning promotion. That in turn should have a knock-on effect for Rotherham United, Barnsley and, potentially, Harrogate Town.

Yesterday Boris Johnson provided more details of his Government’s Covid-19 recovery strategy, and allowing televised, behind-closed-doors elite sport is part of step two. While Government approval is the most important obstacle to the Premier League’s hopes of returning on June 12, it is by no means the only one.

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“It was the first time we discussed curtailment – it’s still our aim to finish the season obviously but it’s important to discuss all the options,” said Premier League chief executive Richard Masters.

Sheffield United's Jack O’Connell clears under pressure from Teemu Pukki of Norwich City at Bramall Lane on March 7, the last time the Premier League played a round of games. Picture: Simon Bellis/Sportimage

“No conclusions were reached on any other models (for deciding final placings).”

UEFA has given leagues until May 25 to set out a timetable for resuming or abandoning seasons.

Not completing the campaign could have a huge financial impact with worldwide television companies owed around £762m-worth of Premier League matches this season.

Most clubs have already spent some or all of their share. Sheffield United committed to the £22m club record signing of Sander Berge in January on the basis they would be receiving more in television and prize money than they budgeted for.

FA chairman Greg Clarke. Picture: Nick Potts/PA

One sticking point is neutral venues, with some clubs towards the bottom of the table demanding no relegation this season in return for their support. The prospect of Leeds and other Championship clubs being denied promotion appeared to be killed with FA chairman Greg Clarke apparently telling yesterday’s video conference between the top division clubs he would not sanction no relegation, or declaring the season null and void.

Constitutionally, such a change would require FA consent.

Leeds are top of the Championship, seven points clear of the play-off places with nine matches left. Second-placed Rotherham are primed for promotion from League One, while Harrogate are second in the Conference.

Although the National League season has been abandoned, play-offs have not yet been ruled out.

Without them, Harrogate would seem the logical choice to be promoted alongside Barrow.

Barnsley are bottom of the Championship, and could expect to be relegated unless given the opportunity to make up the seven-point gap to safety in the remaining nine matches. Restarting would put Hull City, Middlesbrough and Huddersfield Town in danger.

One issue resolved yesterday was Premier League contracts.

Around 75 players across the top division and 1,400 in the Football League are out of contract as of July.

Of Sheffield United’s, only veteran defender Phil Jagielka has made a Premier League start this season, and manager Chris Wilder is very relaxed about keeping him if needed. The Premier League have agreed any player whose contract is due to expire on June 30 can extend it until the end of the season provided both parties agree no later than June 23.

The Government’s “roadmap” advises organisations to plan for “cultural and sporting events to take place behind closed-doors for broadcast, while avoiding the risk of large-scale social contact” in step two, not due to start any earlier than June 1. Its imprecise quarantine restrictions might force a scramble for overseas-based players and coaches to return.

Those arriving in the country will be quarantined for 14 days, but the Government document only said the rules, “will not come into force on May 13 but will be introduced as soon as possible.”

The Premier League has appointed a sister company to the one conducting tests in Germany’s Bundesliga to do likewise for them and protocols for a resumption are being drawn up and consulted on, with clubs debating how much contact training is needed to prepare players.

If individual players test positive the plan is for them “to be isolated for a period but there would be no need for the rest of the group to be,” Masters confirmed.

The league will also monitor data on the possible heightened risk of coronavirus among black and other ethnic minorities.

“We are trying to create a safe environment where fit young men from whatever background they come from, the science seems to suggest they would be safe, particularly in the environment we are creating for them,” said Masters. “But in regards to that science, we have to stay close to it and we have to recognise it and follow it.”

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