Why Brighton, Aston Villa and Watford are wrongly labelled bad boys of flawed Project Restart

Brighton chief executive Paul Barber has warned a premature return from the coronavirus pandemic could "cost lives" as opposition continues to grow to the Premier League's Project Restart.
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Watford became the latest club against plans to end the season at neutral venues, with chairman Scott Duxbury saying the league has a "duty of care" to address concerns about a "distorted nine-game mini-league".

Barber has made Brighton's opposition clear from the start and ramped up his concerns: "We have got to be careful that we do not misstep here because if we do, it could ruin lives. It could cost lives. And we cannot afford that."

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Ahead of Monday's crunch meeting of top-flight shareholders, Watford, Brighton and Aston Villa have now made their opposition to the current plans clear.

Brighton and Hove Albion chief executive and deputy chairman Paul BarberBrighton and Hove Albion chief executive and deputy chairman Paul Barber
Brighton and Hove Albion chief executive and deputy chairman Paul Barber

Barber said: “I don’t like the word threat. I don’t like the briefing that goes on behind the scenes to create a scenario where one small group of clubs are made to look like the bad guys.

“There are genuine concerns at all levels of the league about neutral venues so I think the way some people have painted it as the bottom six versus the rest are misguided and wrong.

“Everybody at this stage of the season has a level of self-interest which is totally understandable, totally reasonable, because we’re all competing at different levels for different things.

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“It’s totally reasonable that those who have something to win or something to secure, like a European place, clearly want to play on as much as possible.

“Clubs in the middle who, perhaps, haven’t got anything to lose and maybe a bit more to gain, it’s totally reasonable why they’d want to push on, particularly if they have nothing to lose and why they would want to talk about the greater good and the wider benefits to the football pyramid.

“I totally understand that but it’s a lot easier to make all of those comments and judgements when you haven’t got a huge amount to lose.

“We’re one of those clubs in a group of six or seven or eight or whatever it is who have a lot to lose if we make the wrong decisions for our clubs.”

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“We need to be united, we need to supportive of each other, we need to support each other’s respective positions.

Watford Premier League future also hangs in the balance despite their improvement under Nigel Pearson. Watford were above the relegation zone on difference only. "There is no altruism in the Premier League," Duxbury's said. "There are 20 different vested interests, which sometimes align but more often than not work purely to protect each individual club.

"That is why some clubs are happy to sign up to 'Project Restart' because arguably there is only an upside in participating in this compromised format; it means Liverpool can win the title, other clubs can book their place in Europe next season or potentially fight their way up the table from a position of safety.

"But when at least six clubs - and I suspect more - are concerned about the clear downside and the devastating effects of playing in this kind of distorted nine-game mini-league, then I believe the Premier League has a duty of care to address those concerns.

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"If we start and finish a whole season under these conditions and at neutral venues when everybody knows the rules when we start, not created in a time of crisis, then that is clearly fair.

"To be asked to finish a quarter of the season under new rules and conditions is an entirely different proposition.

"How can the long-term future of clubs be determined under these fundamentally changed conditions? How is there any semblance of fairness? To wave aside all the fears and concerns is too simplistic.

"Surely all 20 clubs must agree the fairest way forward to complete the season? I hope we can now come together and find a solution to enable the season to end safely and fairly."

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Duxbury accepts matches must be played behind closed doors due to the ongoing coronavirus situation but having to play away from Vicarage Road is not an idea he buys into.

"We are now told we cannot play our remaining home games at Vicarage Road and the familiarity and advantage that brings," he said on the club's website.

"This against a backdrop of players who, having seen their lives turned upside down along with the rest of the world, are suddenly expected to perform as if nothing has happened, despite the rest of society probably still facing the kind of restrictions unenforceable on a football pitch.

"We have club medical staff working under conditions that no doctor or physio has ever experienced with guidelines that, in no small part, are based at this stage on supposition rather than scientific fact.

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"And with all these compromises and health risks we are asked to finish a competition that bears no resemblance to the one we started, which could end a small club like Watford's time in the Premier League.

"So is this fair? Does it have any semblance of sporting integrity? Of course not."