Sat | Jun 6, 2020

Liverpool owner anxious about EPL decision

Published:Saturday | May 23, 2020 | 12:14 AM
Liverpool’s Trent Alexander-Arnold (left) puts in a cross while tracked by Leicester City’s Wilfred Ndidi during their English Premier League match at the King Power Stadium in Leicester, England, on Thursday, December, 26, 2019.
Liverpool’s Trent Alexander-Arnold (left) puts in a cross while tracked by Leicester City’s Wilfred Ndidi during their English Premier League match at the King Power Stadium in Leicester, England, on Thursday, December, 26, 2019.

The English Premier League (EPL) trophy should have been in Tom Werner’s hands by now. This week should have featured a victory parade through the streets of Liverpool.

But the wait to end the 30-year title drought continues.

Instead, Liverpool’s chairman is analysing the health procedures required just to ensure it is safe for his team to practise together again. Then further tentative steps can be taken on the path to resuming the season during the coronavirus pandemic.

“Reading through protocols, I’m trying to absorb the words that I never thought I knew a month ago,” Werner says. “Social distancing … all this stuff.”

The words particularly dreaded in the red half of Merseyside are “null and void” – if a decision is made to abandon the season with no champion declared. It took a global health emergency to halt Liverpool’s title charge. Juergen Klopp’s team had surged an unprecedented 25 points clear before the league was abruptly suspended in March with nine games remaining.

“There’s a hole in so many people’s lives,” Werner told The Associated Press. “Football is central to their dreams and their hopes. And certainly, as regards Liverpool, we are playing magnificent football, and we are just a couple of matches away from winning the trophy. But I do put it in perspective …. People are suffering, whether they have lost loved ones, are sick, or are dealing with this unemployment.”

Werner will be helping to fill the football void and provide some light relief when The First Team, a comedy series he has executive-produced for the BBC, debuts on British screens next week.

“Especially right now, when there’s no live football,” Werner said, “it will be a real tonic for people to have some entertainment that revolves around the football stories.”

HOPE FOR RETURN

But Werner hopes his real-life team will soon be back to entertaining, too, by becoming the EPL champions – if a little later than expected.

“There’s going be a tiny element of risk, but this is a very healthy group …, and there’s going to be frequent testing,” Werner said. “Most importantly, if the scientists and the government feel it’s unsafe, then there will be no football. But hopefully, we can figure out a way to play.”

Completing the 38-game season would be ideal for Werner, rather than having Klopp’s team crowned champions without another ball being kicked – as is the case with Paris Saint-Germain in France.

“The more important thing is if we can figure out a way to get these matches played because I think it would be good for the country,” he said. “It will be a boost for people’s morale and give them something to look forward to and a return to normality.”

More than 36,000 people have died in Britain from COVID-19 since Liverpool last played on March 11 – the day the World Health Organisation declared the coronavirus a pandemic and Anfield saw the visit of Atlético Madrid in the UEFA Champions League. Hundreds are still dying each day in Britain, although the rate of infections is declining.

The EPL has government backing to pursue playing again in a month, even while discussing with chairmen like Werner the contingencies for curtailing the season.

Liverpool players returned to practice this week – in groups of less than five – after being tested for the coronavirus. Protocols to allow contact training – while social distancing remains in place for the rest of the country – are still being formulated.

But if there is evidence the easing of the lockdown two weeks ago leads to a spike in new COVID-19 cases, the pause might have to be put on the league’s ‘Project Restart’.

“The most important thing is safety. I do think the protocols that the Premier League are working on – as somebody said – ‘it’s probably safer to play behind closed doors than to go to a supermarket’,” Werner said.

Whenever – if – the EPL trophy is collected, it will not happen in front of Liverpool fans. Mass gatherings are banned.

AP