An increasing number of Prize League clubs are actively discussing the possibility of ending the season early, with growing concerns about the feasibility of a return even behind closed doors.
The Premier League is suspended indefinitely and last week a meeting of the 20 clubs reaffirmed its intention to complete the season when it is "safe and appropriate". Far from collective discussions, clubs are informally talking about obstacles on the way to a return, with some asking whether the challenges will soon become too great.
Yesterday, David Moyes of West Ham became the first manager to publicly question whether the campaign will be restarted. He said he hoped to continue, but added: "The deeper and deeper you look, the more you will feel to make it work again."
The Guardian spoke to clubs that raised a number of concerns, including finances and sports integrity. The most immediate fear, however, concerns medical security.
Clubs were told last week that play would only resume when there was sufficient capacity for Covid-19 tests, while a provisional medical plan was drawn up with club doctors on how to minimize the risk of infection.
But the practicality of the plan was questioned by a club, which argued that players may have to be separated from their families for a month or more to ensure they are not infected. There is also concern about the number of tests needed, perhaps with the need for several tests per person per departure and the possible insensitivity of this plan when frontline employees at the NHS and other public services are not currently receiving the tests that need.
These feelings have now been echoed by Moyes. "I think we have to realize that there are a lot of people whose lives we could put at risk," he said. "We can't let that happen. I think until we do the test, which we need for nurses and doctors – I find it very difficult to see where the conclusion is and how we can start [to play]. "
Financial complexities focus on extending players' contracts. If the season returns in mid-June – the best scenario – clubs may have to keep players with high salaries who otherwise would have left. Likewise, some clubs in the fund would pay higher salaries than if they had already given up a division and activated demotion clauses. It is also the case that some clubs find themselves in a legal dispute with players for extending their agreements.
If it were considered safe to play and clubs could receive the short-term financial blow in the hope of recovering the money later through transmission revenue, for example, there would be problems with sporting integrity. A compressed remainder of the league season, with 92 games yet to be completed, would take place during the summer months and have a physical impact on players. Clubs with smaller squads would face a challenge.
A club is believed to regard the disadvantage of its team's age as a disadvantage if a regular weekend to midweek pace is required. Another raised the question of what would happen if a player refused to look after welfare issues, or if a player who had been transferred was selected against his potential new club.
Moyes also raised the issue of compaction next season as a result of its extension, with the postponed European Championship to follow. "We have to be careful not to ask for an incredible amount of players," said Moyes, whose team was in 16th place when the season stopped.
Problems can be solved, but it is understood that they were not discussed openly at Premier League meetings. A club officer who attended the meetings said there was no attempt to determine a preferred outcome and none expressed by individual teams. The next Premier League meeting is scheduled for Friday, May 1.