Gary Neville believes talk over a potential return for football is ‘purely for economic reasons’ and says the governing bodies must assess the risk that continuing the season would bring.
Football is currently suspended indefinitely amid the coronavirus pandemic, with several of Europe’s leading leagues – including the Eredivisie and Ligue 1 – having already cancelled the remainder of the season.
English football remains in talks over a safe resumption, and the Premier League have been given until May 25 to inform UEFA if they intend to continue or cancel the current campaign, the authorities considering several methods to potentially finish the season behind-closed-doors.
A so-called ‘Project Restart’ has reportedly pencilled in a date of June 8 to get football back underway, though Neville believes that it is the financial implications of cancelling the season are the sole force driving a potential return to football at present, and warned of clouded judgement given the ‘huge investments’ involved.
“We’re hearing different things every day, but I think if this was a non-economic decision, there would be no football for months. What we’re seeing now is that people are assessing risk. What is the risk we’re willing to take to bring football back?” Neville said on Sky Sports The Football Show.
“The reasons we’re discussing football coming back at this moment in time are purely economic reasons, but I get it. I’m across the road from a construction site in the centre of Manchester, and there are people still wandering around who have been for the past four or five weeks.
“These people will see it as a risk that’s no greater than the industry that we’re in. There will be people who will look at it as a risk factor, but if people are really serious about putting health first, we wouldn’t be discussing football returning at this moment in time, but players themselves will want to go and play.
All Premier League players who are currently abroad have been asked to return to England by next Tuesday.
This looks to be the next step in 'Project Restart' as the league looks to give clubs and players a suitable mini pre-season before returning to the pitch. pic.twitter.com/gtkEaOqmwK
— Footy Accumulators (@FootyAccums) April 28, 2020
“Players at the lower levels will want to go and play because they’ll recognise that the alternative is bad – 1,400 players are out of contract in three months so they’ll need football to resume so their livelihoods can continue.
“You’ve got clubs who’ve got huge investments in this season, in respect to clubs at the top of divisions. There are big prizes up for grabs and huge economic loss that’s going to be incurred and it does cloud minds, in terms of the level of risk people are willing to place on lives in order for the return of football.”
Neville added that any plan to finish the current campaign would have to come during the summer months, admitting it would be ‘very difficult’ to pick the league up heading into September.
The former Manchester United defender believes the current talks of a restart is a result of the relevant authorities ‘testing the water’, while suggesting that governing bodies may wait to see if Germany’s Bundesliga is successful in their resumption before making any decisions.
“I think it’s very difficult to pick up the league going into September because of the contract situations, with players at existing clubs,” he added.
“A lot of players are out of contract across Europe. An extra month might be palatable, but the idea of going into August and September is something that would be very difficult to implement.
“The French government has stepped in. Our government is testing the water, typical of what our government do, they test the water over the last few days to see if it is palatable to the fans, the public, for football to return.
— Football Daily (@footballdaily) April 29, 2020
“They drip feed a bit in each day, as do the Premier League, test the water, see what the feeling is and then make a decision on the back of that. The reality is, my feeling is the Premier League will probably wait for the Bundesliga to see how they go, and then they’ll react off that.
“I keep coming back to it; the minute one member of staff or player goes into intensive care, what are they going to do? What are they going to do?
“That’s the bit on one shoulder telling them: ‘It’s a risk, it’s a risk.’ And they’re not sure. They really are not sure at this time how to deal with it.”
May 9th has been suggested as a date for German football to return, though even that is now in doubt following a recent rise in transmission rates after the country recently loosened their lockdown restrictions.