A season like no other: What will the Premier League look like?
Written by on 11 September 2020
Football fans always relish the big kick-off. Normally they just want to know how their team will do and who will win the title.
This time there are so many more questions.
Sports Editor Nick Powell runs through some of the most important.
Can the clubs still afford huge transfer fees?
Not as before.
On the face of it not much has changed, with Chelsea spending around GBP200m on new talent from home and abroad to boost manager Frank Lampard’s squad.
Arsenal and Manchester City have also opened their coffers, and Manchester United have not given up on England winger Jadon Sancho, even though Borussia Dortmund want GBP108m for him.
But Liverpool’s Jurgen Klopp made the point this week that clubs like his have to cut their cloth now, unlike those owned by “countries or oligarchs”.
The total spend may be down by about a third by the time the transfer window closes next month.
So has the bubble burst?
Everywhere a club accountant looks, he or she sees revenue falling.
No gate receipts, no hospitality revenue, rebates paid to TV companies over fixtures lost in lockdown, reductions in prize money.
Like almost all elite sport, professional football is hugely reliant on money from TV rights. The UK figure fell slightly last time but Premier League bosses remained bullish about international income.
Coronavirus has changed all that.
The current GBP564m Chinese deal collapsed amid acrimony last week.
Will the crowds come back – and what if they don’t?
Optimism is on the wane, to put it politely.
Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden has demonstrated awareness of the importance of paying spectators to the prosperity – even survival – of sports clubs.
Pilot events are still scheduled for this month, and the return of crowds from 1 October remains on the table. But for how long, after indoor and outdoor gatherings were cut to six people?
If sport continues behind closed doors, administrators expect clubs to fold, and even Premier League Chief Executive Richard Masters warned of a GBP700m shortfall for his members.
Will we even finish the season?
No one knows.
The league has some confidence that their strict – and expensive – testing programme will enable them to keep going even when players catch COVID-19.
But bosses are working on detailed plans for how to decide placings if they can’t finish.
And who will win the Premier League?
Ah yes, the football.
Manchester City are odds-on favourites to reclaim their crown, after Liverpool’s first title for 30 years.
That feels justified, given Liverpool’s greater reliance on their first choice stars and a sense that a run of injuries would hit them hard.
Improving Manchester United and big-spending Chelsea look best of the rest, and logic says they – and perhaps Arsenal – should finish closer to Liverpool and Manchester City this time.
But – to misquote Tina Turner slightly – what’s logic got to do with it?