By Andrew Warshaw
May 7 – The deepening divisions that are reported to exist over resuming the English Premier League at neutral grounds have been laid bare by the chief executive of relegation-threatened Aston Villa, Christian Purslow (pictured).
Purslow, formerly managing director at Liverpool and who also worked at Chelsea, says switching matches to neutral venues simply isn’t fair.
Top-flight clubs have been told that that using up to 10 neutral stadiums will be the only way to finish the campaign but Purslow said: “Personally I am against it. We’re a club that prides itself on home form.”
Villa were 19th in the table and had played a game fewer than the other teams in the bottom half when the campaign was suspended on March 13. They had won five home games and has taken 17 points at Villa Park.
“We’ve got six home games left to play and I think any Villa fan would agree that giving up that advantage is a massive decision for somebody running Aston Villa and I certainly wouldn’t agree to that unless those circumstances are right,” Purslow told Talksport.
English League Managers Association chief executive Richard Bevan has warned the 2019-20 Premier League season could be called off if clubs do not agree to play in neutral venues at a pivotal meeting on Monday.
It needs 14 votes to pass but Brighton have already said they are “not in favour” of the idea of using neutral venues as it may affect the “integrity” of the league.
“At the bottom end of the table there’s a much smaller revenue base, but the risk of relegation is probably a £200 million catastrophe for any club that mathematically could still go down,” said Purslow.
“When you say to any club, ‘we want you to agree to a bunch of rule changes that may make it more likely that you get relegated’, they’re not thinking about TV money, they’re thinking, ‘my goodness, am I going to agree to something that results in me being relegated and losing £200 million?”‘
Purslow says ‘Project Restart’, which is how the prospective English football resumption has been dubbed, will remain ‘entirely hypothetical’ until safety can be guaranteed.
“Neutral grounds is just one component in a whole package of measures that are going to have to be debated and discussed.”
“It’s a bit like the Brexit process; there is general agreement on what we want to achieve, which is try to find a way to put on football and complete the season, but how we do that is much more complicated.
“So while I’m delighted to talk about the conditions in which we might play football, it’s really important to understand that everybody in football is putting health and safety as the first priority. And until we crack the code of making our great contact sport safe, then the conversation we are having is hypothetical.”
“Are we going to say to a club when four of their players test positive on a Thursday before a game that the game must go on without four of their best players? Again, you can see how that could be catastrophic for lower level teams who don’t have 22 top class players.
“Equally, what are you going to do if on a Saturday morning and you don’t have those protocols in place, presents with a cough and the doctor says he’s got a bit of a milder temperature, but the manager says ‘look we are playing for a crucial three points here’.”
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