AFL will emerge from hiatus with 18 clubs: McLachlan

AFL CEO Gillon McLachlan is committed to the league retaining all of its 18 clubs in their current composition when the competition shutdown ends.

With the game suffering a catastrophic economic hit as a result of the coronavirus, forcing the AFL to secure a whopping $600 million line of credit from the banks, comprehensive cost-cutting has been a major focus.

This has led to widespread speculation about the ability of some debt-riddled clubs to survive the turmoil in their current form or whether mergers, relocations or, more ominously, going out of business altogether might occur for some of them.

But while McLachlan wouldn't offer a long-term view of how many AFL clubs there would be in years to come, or where they would be located, he was adamant about the short-term.

"We are going into this with 18 clubs and we'll come out with 18 clubs," he told SEN on Tuesday morning.

"That's our commitment over the next four, six, eight, 10 months, whatever it looks like, that we will have the same structure at the elite level.

"There's a whole lot of speculation going on about that and I'm not going to add to speculation," McLachlan said when asked if mergers or relocations could take place in the long run.

"It's not something I've thought about or buying into.

"Right now our task is to preserve our revenue streams, cut costs, raise liquidity, have a focus on the other side [of the shutdown] so when we can restart in June, July, August, September, whatever that period is, we start with the 18 teams in the locations they are, playing AFL football.

"We're dealing with the issues at hand, and doing that in the knowledge that hopefully our supporters and our members come out of this tough period going, 'I can't wait to go and watch my team'.

"I want them to know that's the total focus."


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Championship clubs already hit by financial impact of the coronavirus

Championship clubs hit by the financial impact of coronavirus with some sides already £5MILLION worse off than they would have been if the outbreak had not happened

  • The sesaon has been suspended until at least April 30 due to the pandemic 
  • Clubs are missing out on gate receipts and other matchday-related income 
  • The EFL came up with a £50m relief package to try and ease the cash crisis 
  • Birmingham and Leeds have also agreed wage deferrals with their players
  • Coronavirus symptoms: what are they and should you see a doctor?

Championship clubs have been left quickly counting the cost of football’s shutdown with some sides already more than £5m down.

Just over two weeks have passed since all action was suspended in England, firstly until April 3 and then for a further four weeks until April 30.

It is widely expected that date will be pushed back again leaving a number of clubs fearing how bleak their financial situations may become before matches with supporters and a major source of their income returns.

Birmingham and Leeds have agreed wage deferrals with their players due to coronavirus

The EFL came up with a £50m relief package to try and ease the cash crisis across their three divisions in the short-term.

Birmingham and Leeds have also agreed wage deferrals with their players to further help soften the blow.

They are unlikely to be the last with second tier clubs already well into the millions in terms of money they have missed out on during this recent period of inactivity compared to previous campaigns.

While they are still paying out, significantly on wages at clubs where reductions have not yet been agreed, missing out on gate receipts and other matchday-related income have been big contributing factors to the income drop that has hit many clubs.

The EFL came up with a £50m relief package to try and ease the cash crisis for clubs

Another major problem has been a slowdown in the uptake of season ticket sales for the 2020/21 campaign.

The coronavirus pandemic and suspension of football has coincided with the period when clubs usually make a concerted push to encourage supporters to secure their seats for the following season.

Some fans, though, have held off doing so with this season still unresolved, their club’s fate beyond it unclear and the structure of next season also uncertain.

As a result many teams have been forced to announce extensions to their deadlines for either renewal or cheaper season tickets to take football’s pause into account.


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Faldo believes delay could give McIlroy chance to win ALL four majors

‘This could play right into the hands of Rory’: Sir Nick Faldo believes delay could give Rory McIlroy the chance to win ALL four majors this year

  • All four majors could be shoehorned into a tightly-packed window later this year
  • Sir Nick Faldo says it could offer the game’s top players a chance to make history
  • No professional has ever managed to win all four majors in the same season to complete the Grand Slam

Sir Nick Faldo believes that if all four majors are shoehorned into a tightly-packed window later this year, it will offer Rory McIlroy and the other leading lights a real opportunity to rewrite golf history.

No professional has ever managed to win all four majors in the same season to complete the Grand Slam, but Britain’s greatest golfer believes the forbidding odds on such a feat will shorten considerably if a condensed schedule sees players go practically from one major to the next.

Speaking from his home in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida — adjacent to where the Players Championship is held each year — the six-time major champion said: ‘This could play right into the hands of Rory, Brooks Koepka and three or four other guys. 

Sir Nick Faldo believes a top player could have a chance of winning all four majors this year

‘When you win a major, you’ve got a month before the next one when you’re playing in a couple of events, doing all the interviews and over that period of time you kind of lose the magic. 

‘We all know the hardest thing about majors is the time you’ve got to think about them. But what if you’ve only got a week or so? What if you’ve got all that emotion and confidence from winning inside you and you walk straight to the first tee at the next major? How wonderful would that be if you’re playing great?

‘I think someone who is mentally prepared and mentally strong enough could get on an unbelievable roll later this year. There’s a real chance for one guy to win two or three and we could even see a clean sweep.’

Faldo’s optimism that we will see all four majors played, let alone one man win them all, is a tonic for these hard times when we’re peering for some light at the end of the tunnel.

Faldo says the likes of Rory McIlroy could have a real opportunity to rewrite golf history

‘There are obviously a lot more important things going on right now and it’s hard for all of us sitting at home watching what’s unfolding,’ said Faldo, who was due at the Masters next week for another stint as lead analyst for CBS television in America. ‘But I do think the Masters will be played later this year, as well as the other three majors.’

Tiger Woods — shock, horror — is the only pro to hold all four majors at the same time, winning the last three in 2000 and completing the set by winning the 2001 Masters. In 1953, Ben Hogan won the three majors in which he played, and in 1930, American Bobby Jones won the Grand Slam when it comprised the two Opens on either side of the Atlantic and the British and US Amateur Championships.

As for Faldo, his best year came in 1990 when he won the Masters, finished third in the US Open, won the Open and finished tied 19th at the USPGA.

Regarding the Ryder Cup, due to be staged amid the majors frenzy in September, the Englishman added: ‘It’s difficult to know the best way to proceed. I can see the idea to crack on and raise morale, but equally how can you have a true Ryder Cup without a proper qualifying period? It’s a tough one.’

Faldo was saddened when he heard last week about the mandatory closing of golf courses in Britain and Ireland. ‘I get the vital reasons why we all need to be really disciplined, stay at home for the most part and practise social distancing,’ he said. ‘I can see it’s vital that clubhouses are closed and nobody touches things like flagsticks.

Tiger Woods is the only player to have held all four majors at the same time back in 2000/01

‘I just think with a little imagination you could keep the actual courses open. What would be the harm in staggering tee-times and people going straight from the car park to the first tee and playing on their own?

‘You’ve got hundreds of acres of open land where you could be belting a ball around with no one anywhere near you. Imagine how that would help keen golfers in terms of mental health?’

Intriguing thoughts, as ever, from the maestro. Roll on late summer, and the chance to see if anyone can complete the Shoehorn Slam.


Now for the Back Nine by Peter Dawson and Simon Hawkins (£20 Zsazseva)

Golf instruction books are always aimed at the young and athletic. But what about the rest of us on the inward nine of life? 

Former Ryder Cup player Dawson became one of the nation’s leading teaching professionals when he hung up his competitive spikes and here he passes on his wisdom for the back-niners, as he calls the senior ranks. The book is a delight for anyone whose backswing is no longer quite so full but is not ready to give in just yet to all the ravages of time.

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Atletico Madrid may struggle to survive coronavirus lockdown

With the most expensive manager in world football, a club-record £113m signing and on-going payments for their Wanda Metropolitano stadium, Atletico Madrid may struggle to survive coronavirus lockdown

  • Atletico Madrid could struggle to pay Diego Simeone’s wages during lockdown
  • The manager, who earns £36million a year, has led Atleti to six European finals
  • The club accrued £178m of debt during their move to Wanda Metropolitano
  • Meanwhile, Atletico have continued to spend big money in the transfer market
  • Los Rojiblancos must adapt to survive financial impact of coronavirus pandemic 
  • Coronavirus symptoms: what are they and should you see a doctor?

With coach Diego Simeone earning £8.9million (10million euros) more than any of his peers in football management, the spending last summer of a club-record £113m (127m euros) on then-19-year-old Joao Felix, and the on-going payments for their new stadium, it is little wonder that Atletico Madrid are being seen as one of the clubs who could most struggle financially from the coronavirus shut-down.

It is indisputable that Simeone has earned fortunes for the club. Two Champions League final appearances, another semi-final, two Europa League finals and two European Super Cups have brought in well over £268m (300m euros) in prize-money.

But his deal is one of the reasons why the club could be out on a financial limb if the season cannot be finished satisfactorily and television and match-day revenue be salvaged. 

Diego Simeone’s massive salary could place Atletico Madrid under financial strain 

The club will continue to pay for Wanda Metrolpolitano stadium during coronavirus lockdown

And although recent attempts to sign flair players at great cost (Joao Felix and Thomas Lemar both smashed club transfer records) came from money raised in the transfer market, Atletico still managed to spend big while moving into a new stadium.

Most clubs struggle to do that and the new stadium is still to be paid for. The club went into debt with Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim to pay for the move from the old Vicente Calderon to the out-of-town Metropolitano.

That debt of around £178m (200m euros) owed to Slim’s company Inbursa is not due to be paid off in full until around 2028. The club has stayed competitive in the transfer market through the move but they have done so operating at the limit of their finances that was always going to be tested by any unforeseen circumstances. 

After an underwhelming first season, Atletico may regret spending £113million on Joao Felix 

Atletico left Vicente Calderon (above) for Wanda Metropolitano after the 2016-17 season

The club have already announced an, as yet unspecified, package of pay-cuts and temporary lay-offs for its entire staff. That will only last for as long as Spain is in lockdown and is therefore unlikely to stretch beyond April 11. What will be more significant is transfer activity next summer.

Atletico’s wage bill stands at £310m (348m euros). When the club announced its budget at the start of the season, projected revenue was set at £459m (515m euros). That figure is in danger of not being reached if remaining games have to be played behind closed doors or even not played at all.

Even if things get back to normal there is a feeling that Atletico Madrid will need to adjust this summer. The club’s Sporting Director Andrea Berta told Tuttosport this week: ‘I think they could get rid of the summer transfer window that now could coincide with the end of the (rearranged) season, and everyone stays with the team they have until January when the market reopens.’

Diario AS reported last week that Atletico will only bring in players if they can sell whenever the next window opens. Lemar is one who could leave. 

Debt of around £178m is owed to Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim after the stadium move

Los Rojiblancos will consider selling Thomas Lemar in a bid to alleviate the financial pressure

Thomas Partey is another with a foot out of the door thanks largely to a £45m (50m euros) release clause but the club are confident they can renew the 26-year-old Ghanian international without losing him.

Improving Jan Oblak’s terms looks unavoidable if he is to stay. Unavoidable but desirable after he showed how important he is at Anfield in the Champions Leauge.

And there will be another of the staggered payments for Joao Felix to meet. He is not just the club’s record signing, he is also the third most expensive player in history.

The purchase of the teenager looked daring last summer. Now, after an underwhelming first year and with the financial consequences of football’s shutdown looming large it looks more ill-advised.

Simeone will have to earn his money by managing a squad without any significant new investment. Underling the club’s situation, he wanted Edinson Cavani in January but there was no money to pay the £27m (30m euros) Paris Saint-Germain were asking.

Atletico will struggle to satisfy the wage demands of star goalkeeper Jan Oblak

France Football published the top earners in management last month and it was a reminder of just how much more Simeone is paid at Atletico Madrid than other managers.

His income is still dwarfed by the top players: France Football listed Lionel Messi as receiving £117m (131m euros); Cristiano Ronaldo £105m (118m euros) and Neymar, £85m (95m euros), but in terms of coaches no one comes close.

He topped the list of highest-paid managers grossing £36m (40.5m euros) a season, just under £8.9m (10m euros) more than second-placed Antonio Conte who earns £37m (30m euros) and third-placed Pep Guardiola on £24 (27m euros).

According France Football, Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola earns £24million 

Simeone has led Atleti to six European finals, lifting the Europa League trophy in 2018

The club announced Simeone’s last deal on St. Valentines day in 2019, in part as a homage the number 14 shirt he used to wear. They put an ‘in love with Atleti’ headline on their announcement of the deal. He is a symbol of the club, the most important figure in its history and about to rack-up 3,000 days of being in charge.

No one can question these past eight years have been the best in the club’s history but maintaining him as the highest paid coach, plus paying for a new stadium, and breaking transfer records in successive seasons, has come at huge cost.

Now with football teetering on the brink of recession clubs will have to adjust, and Atletico Madrid might have to adjust more than most.

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Premier League’s plan to crown Liverpool champions before coronavirus suspension

Jurgen Klopp came agonisingly close to lifting the Premier League trophy as part of a secret plan to crown Liverpool champions before the lockdown.

Mirror Sport can reveal top level talks took place to try and bring forward the presentation amid the growing fear of uncertainty in football because of the coronavirus.

Liverpool were just two wins away from winning their first title in 30 years and the plan was to crown them champions at Anfield on Saturday, March 21.

It could have potentially happened if Liverpool had beaten Everton in the Merseyside derby the previous Monday – and then they could have clinched the title against Crystal Palace.

While it had not been formally agreed, talks had taken place about then taking the trophy to Anfield, making the presentation in front of the home fans and allowing Liverpool to celebrate their landmark moment.

It could have even given Liverpool the chance to have a trophy parade, although in retrospect this would have been difficult to imagine because the coronavirus crisis quickly escalated.

Premier League coronations can vary when the champions are crowned.

Manchester City lifted the trophy on the final day last season as it went to the wire and it is often done on the last home game – but this would have been an exceptional ceremony.

They would have been bringing it forward to March which would have been unheard of, having the trophy on standby before it was won in the expectation that football was about to shut down.

But they never got the chance to take the plan any further.

Liverpool remain 25 points clear at the top of the Premier League table and the expectation is that the season will resume after the coronavirus crisis begins to ease.

However, there still remain lingering fears that it could be scrapped with UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin admitting at the weekend the season “could be lost” unless football restarts by the end of June.

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‘That’s a question for Peter’: RLPA boss on players taking larger pay cut than NRL executive

Rugby League Players Association boss Clint Newton had just finished another marathon meeting, slumped into the back of a car, loosened his tie, then was asked via a video conference call if he thought it was fair for players to take a 46 per cent pay cut when the NRL executive only gave up about 25 per cent.

"That's a question for [chairman] Peter [V'landys] and the [ARL] Commission around whether they think it's fair,'' Newton said.

RLPA boss Clint Newton.Credit:Getty

The players have already received their first five months of pay, and will receive a further two months for the remaining seven. The top earners, including Daly Cherry-Evans and Ben Hunt who will lose north of $500,000, will feel as much pain as those on the minimum salary.

There will also be an option for players to tap into their retirement savings if needed.

"Two months [of pay] have been secured, and how they want to divvy that up will be determined by the individuals,'' Newton said.

"Some might want to spread it out, some might want two months up front and do their best from there, or take one month and separate the remaining month's pay.

Big earner Ben Hunt will be out of pocket north of $500,000.Credit:Adam McLean

"There is also the ability to withdraw funds that are connected to each individual's retirement accounts. That's also part of the detail we'll work through with the NRL around the guarantees of that money being available if or when the players want it.''

Newton said there was a ''fair level of disappointment'' when it was discovered about $10m was missing from the players' retirement fund. The NRL stressed that money would be there by the end of the current collective bargaining agreement.

Newton added the past few weeks had made everyone realise it had cost too much money to run the game, and changes needed to be made, something which had already been publicly addressed by V'landys.

"It's unsustainable to keep operating the way it has been, given the significant financial stress clubs are now under [especially] if we were to not play any more matches,'' Newton said.

There has been talk of the salary cap being reduced next year to help ease the financial strain on clubs – with suggestions the cap could dip as much as 40 per cent. Newton said it was important all contracts were honoured, and if there was a reduction ''we'd look to work on a proportionate amount of what is reduced''.

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UFC world reacts to Khabib bombshell

First it was a broken rib (Khabib), then fluid in the lungs (Tony), then a failed weight cut (Khabib), then an injury tripping over a wire (Tony) — and now a global pandemic.

UFC fans’ long wait to watch lightweight stars Khabib Nurmagomedov and Tony Ferguson throw down appears to have been delayed again after the champion revealed he cannot leave Russia under coronavirus restrictions.

“Currently, I am in Dagestan and I am training and preparing every day, although I don’t know what am I preparing for, because after we came to Russia we also learned that the borders are going to be locked. Same like in the States, same like in Europe, Emirates – everywhere. The whole world is in quarantine right now,” Khabib said on a live Instagram video.

“So now I am hearing that they are looking to organize it with or without me. OK, go ahead.

“Everyone should follow the laws. I am not against it. I know that fighters need to feed their families and pay their bills. I know how hard it is for the fighter. Unless they fight, they aren’t getting any money.

“I am even hearing that they are looking for an opponent for Tony, because he is in the States and I am here in Russia. But I am here not on my own will.”

Ferguson reacted to the news by tweeting: “April 18 is getting close Khabib and you’re hiding in Russia. Travel bans will not prevent me from whoopin’ that ass. Don’t use it as an excuse to back out. You have been sent many locations, send us one. Still my b****.”

Tony Ferguson. Picture: Harry How/Getty ImagesSource:AFP

The UFC had pressed on with its plans for the April 19 blockbuster despite most other sporting competitions around the world shutting down.

It appears determined to hold a pay-per-view on the date and reportedly wants Justin Gaethje to fill the gap if Khabib can’t fight.

Other fighters have also begun raising their hands for the opportunity if the Gaethje fight can’t be made.

Dustin Poirier texted Helwani saying he was available, while welterweights Jorge Masvidal, Kamaru Usman, Tyron Woodley and Colby Covington all suggested they could be available if the UFC wanted a 170-pound headliner.

Whatever the UFC comes up with will still feel like a major letdown compared to a match-up that was first scheduled for the Ultimate Fighter 22 finale in December, 2015.

I find it hard to believe Khabib couldn’t get out of Russia if he really wanted to. I’ve experienced Russia many times.
Rules don’t apply to people like him over there.
Something off.

How can it even be suggested Khabib or Tony fight anyone else? This isn’t a normal fight. It’s a once in a lifetime match up to determine the lightweight GOAT. If you can’t get Tony to Russia, you delay the damn fight.

I love Justin and the rest of the killers in that division but this is just like blue cheese……If its not Khabib vs Tony……Go fuck your Mother!!!!

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Rio Ferdinand reveals one issue with Jadon Sancho's £120m move to Man Utd

Former Manchester United captain Rio Ferdinand has warned Jadon Sancho he must be mentally prepared to take on the challenge if he accepts the no.7 shirt at Old Trafford.

The England superstar is expected to join the Red Devils this summer with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side leading the chase for his signature.

The 20-year-old is keen to return to the Premier League and United are prepared to smash their club transfer record to sign him for around £120m.

United will also offer Sancho the coveted no.7 shirt and the club believe he can be the poster boy of Solskjaer’s revolution at the Theatre of Dreams.

Ferdinand agrees about Sancho’s talent but he’s warned the Dortmund star that talent alone is not enough, citing the example of Barcelona winger Ousmane Dembele as a player who has failed to fulfil their potential.

‘[Ousmane] Dembele, who was at Dortmund before and went to Barcelona, was thought of very similarly, he went for massive money, but it’s not quite worked out at Barcelona, and that’s what I don’t want to see happen with Jadon,’ Ferdinand said on Instagram Live.

‘I want to see Jadon go a team where he’s going to play, for starters, and have a team and management staff who can help him improve and he can see a pathway to getting trophies.

‘The likes of Barcelona are interested in him but they are too heavily loaded. I think Man United is the place for him to go because I’m biased.

Asked if Sancho should wear United’s No.7 shirt, Ferdinand replied: ‘Of course. Has to.

‘If he’s going to wear the No.7 he has to be there for 10 years, that’s what that shirt deserves and demands.’

Much has been made of Sancho’s price tag and any move is likely to blitz the £89m that United paid for previous record holder Paul Pogba in 2016.

However, Ferdinand believes Sancho will prove value for money and is worth the ‘risk’ given the winger is at an early stage of his career.

‘I think Sancho goes for over £100 million, in today’s going rate, his potential, you’re buying someone for 10 years at your club,’ said Ferdinand.

‘It’s massive money but I’d take him, I’d risk it, I’d say ‘you’re the guy we’re going to build the team around’.

‘He’s got that X-factor, he’s got skills for days, that’s what people at stadiums want. Sancho is that guy.

‘I think he’s got all the potential to be a humongous superstar.’

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Chelsea 'handed boost in chase for Bayern Munich's Manuel Neuer'

Chelsea ‘handed boost in chase for Manuel Neuer as Bayern Munich star turns down new contract offer due to length of deal on table… with Frank Lampard keen to replace £72m Kepa Arrizabalaga with Germany stopper’

  • Chelsea have been given a boost as they attempt to sign Manuel Neuer
  • Neuer has rejected Bayern Munich’s contract offer due to the length of the deal
  • Frank Lampard wants to bring in Neuer as a replacement for Kepa Arrizabalaga 

Chelsea have been given a boost in their pursuit of Manuel Neuer, with the experienced goalkeeper having turned down the offer of a new contract at Bayern Munich.

Frank Lampard is eager to bring in a new goalkeeper and Neuer, whose current Bayern deal runs until the summer of 2021, is amongst the options being considered. 

As reported by BILD, Bayern offered Neuer a contract until 2023, but the shot-stopper wants a deal that will run until 2025.

Chelsea target Manuel Neuer has rejected the offer of a new contract from Bayern Munich

Bayern are wary of offering Neuer such a deal as they already have an agreement to bring in 23-year-old Alexander Nubel from Schalke ahead of next season.

Having bounced back from a lengthy spell on the sidelines and a less serious injury last campaign, Neuer has featured prominently for Bayern this season. 

Chelsea boss Frank Lampard is determined to bring in Neuer to replace Kepa Arrizabalaga

The 34-year-old is eager to play on for as long as possible and may elect to leave Bayern if he cannot agree a new deal. 

Lampard is looking to bring in a replacement for Kepa Arrizabalaga, who joined the Blues for £72million from Athletic Bilbao in 2018.

Kepa, who was dropped by Lampard before regaining his place in the side, could leave Stamford Bridge this summer.  

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UEFA arranges coronavirus video call for Wednesday to discuss fixtures and contracts

UEFA has invited the leaders of its 55 national member associations to a video conference on Wednesday as they continue to react to the coronavirus pandemic.

The conference call will begin at 11am UK time and will receive an update from working groups set up on March 17 in the wake of the Covid-19 crisis.

One working group is looking at how the 2019-20 fixture calendar can be completed, while the other was focused on economic and regulatory issues such as adjustments to player contracts and transfer windows.

A decision was taken to postpone Euro 2020 until next summer at that March 17 meeting, alongside a commitment to completing domestic and European club competitions by June 30.

That target looks optimistic in the extreme, with the continent still in the grip of the pandemic.

There have been more coronavirus-related deaths in Spain than in China, where the outbreak originated.

Italy has also been hit extremely hard, with more than 10,000 fatalities there linked to the virus, while the United Kingdom is on lockdown, with the death toll passing 1,000 over the weekend.

It has been reported one proposal member associations will be asked to consider would involve finishing the 2019-20 season in August and then playing a shortened 2020-21 campaign, to avoid that season overlapping with the new dates for Euro 2020.

A statement from UEFA on Monday read: “UEFA has invited the general secretaries of its 55 member associations to a video conference on Wednesday April 1 at midday to share an update on the progress made by the two working groups that were created two weeks ago and to discuss options identified with regards to the potential rescheduling of matches.

“The meeting will look at developments across all UEFA national team and club competitions, as well as discussing progress at FIFA and European level on matters such as player contracts and the transfer system.”

UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin accepts any firm forward planning is almost impossible given the current uncertain outlook.

Ceferin told Italian media outlet La Repubblica over the weekend: “There is a plan A, B and C. We can start in May, in June or the end of June. If we can’t do it on any of those three dates then the season probably would be lost.

“There is also the possibility to finish the season at the start of next season, with next season starting a little late. It would have to work with respect to the players and the signing periods.”

In terms of player contracts, world players’ union FIFPRO, which is represented on the second working group, has expressed support for the idea of deals being extended until the 2019-20 season is complete, provided it applied to all contracts and not just those of players that clubs wanted to keep.

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