Players hold the key to Project Restart amid the coronavirus crisis

IAN LADYMAN: Players hold the key to Project Restart if we are to determine champions, cups, promotions and relegations amid the coronavirus crisis

  • Players will soon be asked to grapple, breathe and sweat on each other
  • They will need to do something considered inappropriate for most people 
  • We cannot conclude an interrupted season unless the footballers are on board
  • Here’s how to help people impacted by Covid-19

Almost buried beneath the fall-out from Friday’s Premier League meeting was the most salient fact of the day. Just two paragraphs in the Daily Mail on Saturday. One fat one in The Times. But crucial, nevertheless. In Germany, three Cologne players had tested positive for Covid-19. 

As English football conjures ever more fanciful ways to conclude an interrupted season, this is the problem. 

Anyone can get it — as the Government slogan goes — and that includes footballers. And it’s the footballers we need. We cannot do this without them. 

We cannot find a way to conclude an interrupted season unless the footballers are on board

We cannot find a solution. We cannot determine champions, cups, promotions and relegations. We cannot keep the lawyers at bay and satisfy the broadcasters. We cannot do any of it unless the footballers are on board and, the closer we get to a resumption, the more inconceivable it seems that they will be able to give us what we want. 

At a time when their wives and parents are being told they cannot go to a cafe or cinema and when their children remain shielded from schools, players will soon be asked to compete with each other, grapple with each other, breathe on each other and sweat on each other. Would you say yes if it was you? Would you really? 

The messages from clubs vary. It depends on who you speak to. Vested interests are everywhere, naturally, and by that token we cannot expect the commitment of players to be uniform across the board, either. 

Cologne’s players are continuing to train despite the three positive tests for coronavirus

For example, I imagine the players of Liverpool will want to get this done if possible. Also, perhaps, those at Manchester United — looking for Champions League qualification — and Aston Villa, in the bottom three but with a game in hand. But what about those with less to play for? 

What, say, would be the motivation for the players of Crystal Palace and Burnley, due to meet in three games’ time? Neither club will go down, neither will trouble the European places. So why put yourself through it? 

Why suffer the suffocating routine of isolation, testing and unnatural procedure? Why, in short, take the risk? To finish this season, we are asking our players to do something considered inappropriate for the majority of the population. 

To mix, to travel, to stay away from home. It may make sense for football’s immediate economic and sporting prospects. But that is where the logic runs out of road. Further down the pyramid, it gets more stark. 

Many Premier League training grounds provide safer and more controlled environments than your average hospital. Not so in Leagues One and Two, where many facilities are not even privately owned. So the lower we go, the greater the risk and, surely, the more diminished the incentive to play. This is not primarily a medical conversation, as strange as it sounds. The scientists will rule on the safety of it all. 

No, it’s about perception and human instinct. At some stage the latter will surely take over. A big weekly wage has never offered protection from fear. It is feasible that we will get this season started again. I hope so. But what happens when the positive test arrives? What happens when English football gets its first Cologne? 

Personally, I still think the Government will pull the plug on Project Restart before it reaches the start gate. 

But even if it doesn’t, then one by one, little by little, voice by voice, I suspect the players might. Palace chairman Steve Parish presented an intelligent argument for a resumption in the Sunday Times. 

Within it he stressed that proposed protocols would make playing Premier League football ‘safer than a visit to the supermarket’. That’s as may be, but persuading the players to believe that is another matter entirely.

Ozil’s pay is his business

Juan Mata has a genuine social conscience, but I was not always comfortable with one knock-on effect of his Common Goal campaign. 

After the Manchester United playmaker began to donate one per cent of his salary to charity, other players were encouraged to follow. It remains a fine idea, but the pressure placed subsequently on others in the game by the media felt inappropriate. 

Arsenal star Mesut Ozil (above) has given generously despite refusing to take a pay cut

It is nobody’s business what any of us do with our money and that brings me to Mesut Ozil of Arsenal. 

His refusal recently to take a pay cut requested by the club didn’t look particularly great, but now it turns out he has donated £80,000 to Muslims fighting Covid-19 in Turkey. We have no idea if this is a one-off gesture and that is kind of the point. 

Individual choices should remain exactly that and at least Ozil knows where that £80k is going.

Bassett made money go far

My colleague Mike Keegan reveals the highest-paid fitness coach in the Championship earns just shy of £285,000 a year. 

Back in simpler times, it was possible to construct an assault on the top division with that amount. 

Dave Bassett (above) guided Wimbledon to sixth place on a budget of £285,000 in 1986

Having won promotion with Wimbledon in 1986, Dave Bassett was given a budget of £300,000 by Sam Hammam with which to pay 23 players and six staff, including himself, for the season. Bassett — who earned £19,000 a year — promptly took Wimbledon to sixth place. 

His first-team pool included 13 homegrown players and was eventually sold off for somewhere in the region of £8million. Bassett stuck to his budget. He spent £285,000 on salaries and at the season’s end asked Hammam if he could have half the £15,000 he had saved him as a bonus. The Wimbledon owner said no.

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