Players accepting that matches may have to be played with no fans – PFA

Players accepting that matches may have to be played with no fans – PFA

The majority of players accept there is “no alternative” to holding matches behind closed doors when the football season resumes, according to Professional Footballers’ Association deputy chief executive Bobby Barnes.

The coronavirus pandemic has led to widespread postponements of sporting events across the world and football in the United Kingdom was put on hold earlier this month.

The Football Association has agreed that the current season can be “extended indefinitely” with the FA, Premier League and EFL expressing a commitment to finding ways of completing the season “as soon as it is safe and possible to do so”.

Liverpool’s Virgil Van Dijk admits he would be “gutted” for the club’s fans if they were absent when the runaway leaders secured the Premier League title, but Barnes believes players are coming round to the idea of playing matches in empty stadiums.

“I think it’s more a case of there being no alternative,” Barnes told The Athletic.

“Players are realistic. In an ideal world we would be playing in front of crowds. But we’re not in an ideal world and certainly, the players I’ve spoken to accept that if that is what’s going to be, that’s what it will have to be.

“I’ve been speaking to players – including two or three very high-profile Premier League players more or less on a daily basis – and the conversations I had with them at the outset were based around not wanting to play behind closed doors if at all possible.

Virgil Van Dijk would be “gutted” if fans missed out on Liverpool winning the Premier League title (Peter Byrne/PA)
Virgil Van Dijk would be “gutted” if fans missed out on Liverpool winning the Premier League title (Peter Byrne/PA)

“I said to them, ‘Look, none of us, in an ideal world, want to play in front of empty stadiums’. Football is about fans. But the reality is that for the vast majority of the players, particularly at the highest level, their income is funded by television money and there are contracts that have to be adhered to.

“In order for us (the PFA) to be able to protect those players in terms of securing their salaries…if that’s the only offer we have on the table to complete the season, then that is what it will be.

“To be fair, most players very much took that on board when we spoke to them. The players get it. They understand the alternative. Quite frankly, if we’re going to get the season finished in a timely fashion so that we can even consider starting next season, we’ve got to be open to all options.

“If it means playing behind closed doors has to happen in order that contracts are protected, fixtures fulfilled and commercial deals honoured, then I think we’ve all got to come together and accept we’ve all got to make sacrifices to try and find a solution for the industry as a whole.”

A general view of closed gates at Anfield, Liverpool (Martin Rickett/PA)
A general view of closed gates at Anfield, Liverpool (Martin Rickett/PA)

Sacrifices could include players taking salary cuts to help their clubs, although Barnes admits that is more likely to happen in the Premier League than lower down the football pyramid.

“Under the right circumstances and with suitable reassurances, mechanisms like wage deferrals are something that might have to come on to the table; certainly, it’s up there for discussion,” Barnes added.

“Obviously, as you go down the leagues, deferrals bite a little bit deeper because the salaries aren’t as high. There’s got to be discussion and negotiation, and I’m sure there will be in the days and weeks to come.”

Barnes has urged players to contact the PFA if they need any support – they operate a 24-hour wellbeing hotline – and said that the organisation’s significant cash reserves can be used to give grants to players.

“If people come and demonstrate hardship, they have to be helped and there is no prioritising,” Barnes added. “Every case has to be considered on its merits. Our reserves will be drawn upon and rightly so.”

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