Premier League wins battle with broadcasters over coverage

Top flight 1-0 Television! Premier League wins battle with broadcasters as plans for extra microphones, cameras and interviews are REJECTED – with audio access to coin toss set to be the only concession

  • Premier League won battle with broadcasters over extending access for games
  • Plans for extra cameras, microphones and interviews were all rejected by clubs
  • An audio feed from the captains’ pre-match coin toss is likely to be an addition
  • As well as a fixed camera in tunnel providing more pictures of teams running out

The Premier League has won a battle with broadcasters over extending access when the season resumes, with proposals for cameras in dressing rooms, microphones in the technical area and player interviews at half-time all rejected by the clubs.

The only significant changes to television coverage following the resumption on June 17 are likely to be the addition of an audio feed from the captains’ pre-match coin toss and a fixed camera in the tunnel providing more pictures of the teams running out on to the pitch. 

Both ideas are expected to be rubberstamped at a meeting of the clubs on Thursday.

Premier League won battle with broadcasters over extending access when season resumes

An audio feed from the captains’ pre-match coin toss is likely to be an addition to TV coverage

In some respects the television rights-holders will have less access when the Premier League restarts, as under operational plans first revealed by Sportsmail on Wednesday, only one commentator and one co-commentator will be granted access to the stadiums. 

As a result, presenters such as Gary Lineker and big-name pundits including Rio Ferdinand will provide their analysis from off-site studios, while broadcasters will be prevented from doing any filming on the pitch.

Premier League clubs received the first draft of matchday protocols for each stadium on Tuesday evening, providing the first indication as to how the slimmed-down version of the sport will operate when the competition returns later this month.

Clubs will have to get used to working with far fewer personnel, with the Premier League planning to limit staff to 20 players per club (18 in the squad and two on standby), 12 members of their medical and coaching teams, and 10 directors and executives.

Four doping control officers would also be permitted along with six opposition scouts, one from each of the next three sides the two teams are set to face. Two press officers from each club would also be present.

Under the Matchday Operations Plan, which the Premier League want the clubs to approve on Thursday, stadiums would be split into three areas: the red zone, which relates to the pitch and tunnel; an amber zone, which covers the stadium bowl; and a green zone including outside areas such as coach parks. 

A fixed camera in tunnel providing more pictures of the teams running out is a likely change

A maximum of 105 people would be permitted in the red zone, with around 300 people allowed to attend in total, although this remains subject to change.

The plans would also see a substantial reduction in the media presence, with all pre- and post-match press conferences to be held via a video conferencing platform.

The host broadcaster would be allowed 98 staff inside the stadium and 75 off-site. While that may sound like a big group, it is well down on normal numbers, which are usually in three figures.

A maximum of 25 written press would be permitted to attend, along with 15 radio broadcasters — although as many as four of those would be from the clubs’ own media operations.

The Premier League’s broadcasting arm, Premier League Productions, would be allowed 23 staff, and there would be 15 international commentators.

The BBC — unless they are showing the game live themselves — would be allowed just two people inside the venue.

Sources have said that the guidelines seem fair but may well cause issues, especially among clubs with large numbers of staff.

There may also be issues with the media. Around 60 written press, for example, would be expected at the top matches under normal conditions.




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Manchester United reporter notebook: New Odion Ighalo deal wasn’t plain sailing

Like everyone, everywhere, Manchester United are getting accustomed to dealing with uncertainty but there’s been delight in the corridors of Old Trafford that one of those doubts has been crossed off the list.

The deal to keep Odion Ighalo at the club has been one of United’s recruitment priorities since football was put on hold and, with the prospect of a lot of games in a compressed period, retaining a player of his pedigree was considered crucial.

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That doesn’t mean to say it was an easy negotiation, however. The initial loan deal secured in the few remaining hours of the January window hadn’t been an easy one to conclude, and going into talks to extend his stay further wasn’t something those involved were particularly relishing either.

If there was brinkmanship involved in those discussions at the start of 2020, then it was a case of deja vu this time around, with United making it clear they wanted to get something sorted one way or the other before Ighalo’s initial spell at Old Trafford was scheduled to end at midnight on May 31.

Once again the deal got done, but it wasn’t plain sailing and it was hung in the balance last weekend. While the negotiations were ultimately successful, the reaction to phase two of the Ighalo project was somewhat different; for all those who scoffed and laughed in January, far more were nodding their heads in approval this time around because the player’s stats and impact speak for themselves.

It was obviously a considerable help to the wrangling that Ighalo is living out his dream of playing for the team he supports, while loving his time in Manchester, but his four goals from three starts make it a far more compelling decision than just a romantic one.

Ighalo’s goals equate to one every 77 minutes that he’s played in a United shirt, and they’ve been important goals too, especially the two he managed in the FA Cup, which illustrated his particular talents and one of the reasons Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was keen to keep him.

Yes, the opening goal in the slightly bizarre victory in Austria last time out was a beauty, but the 30-year-old showed his predatory instincts with his pair at Pride Park, scored with the sort of desire and determination Solskjaer wants to see from the likes of Marcus Rashford, Anthony Martial and Mason Greenwood. He wants them to add the ‘meat and drink’ goals to their games, and Ighalo can help with that process, particularly with Greenwood.

It’s true United were more relaxed going into the second phase of talks with Shanghai Shenhua because Rashford is fully fit again and raring to go for when the Premier League returns, boasting 12 goals in his last 16 games before the back injury that made Ighalo’s signing a necessity.

But the fact the deal they’ve negotiated, costing them in the region of £6m for the loan fee and wages, extends to the end of January next year gives the recruitment team more time to consider other potential striking options and not necessarily prioritise a new front-man in the next window. Added to that, Ighalo is not an unknown anymore. He’s fitted in well and there’s an argument he’ll only thrive more now he’s got to grips with his new environment.

Transfer landscape will be tough for United

However, the transfer landscape that awaits United and every other club when the next window finally opens is hugely uncertain. Perhaps the only certainty is that they won’t be signing Raheem Sterling from Manchester City, but that aside, no one quite knows what rules will be applied when deals start being done again.

The worldwide pandemic has had massive financial implications on the entire football pyramid and United aren’t immune from that. Yes, they’d like to sign Jadon Sancho – his name’s at the top of the list – but talk of a £100m fee just doesn’t seem likely. In the current circumstances, it’s difficult to make an argument for spending that sort of money on anyone.

That doesn’t mean a deal won’t happen but the negotiations around such mega-purchases could now involve player swaps, players-plus-cash, or sell-on clauses that provide greater protection and potential revenue to both parties, when huge transfer fees are impossible to pay.

So what about the loan market and the players that United own, but who are playing for other clubs? Well, after finding an agreement to keep Ighalo, it would be rather inconsistent for them not to allow their players to remain where they are, at least until this season wraps up.

No official decision has been made as yet but it seems more than likely that Dean Henderson, Alexis Sanchez and Chris Smalling will all get to stay put at Sheffield United, Inter Milan and AS Roma respectively. With a fully fit squad to call upon, Solskjaer has no real reason to bring them back.

Pogba fit ahead of the restart

I’m told the atmosphere has been fantastic at Carrington now that everyone’s got to grips with the new rules on training and testing, with great excitement ahead of the return of the Premier League. Arguably United will emerge from their enforced hibernation in better shape than they were when the pandemic struck, and at that stage they were unbeaten in their previous 11 games in all competitions having scored 29 times and conceded just two.

As I’ve already mentioned, Rashford is back and he’s not yet had the chance to play with Ighalo, but it’s the midfield options that have got everyone excited. Bruno Fernandes has established himself as an upcoming Old Trafford hero with just nine games in his number 18 shirt. Paul Pogba’s fully fit too, and the pair could team up together for the first time when United return to action at Tottenham.

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Liverpool players offer Black Lives Matter support amid worldwide George Floyd protests

Liverpool’s first-team squad have given their support to the Black Lives Matter movement amid protests at the death of George Floyd.

Floyd, an unarmed black man, died last week in Minneapolis as a white police officer named Derek Chauvin knelt on his neck against the ground for nearly nine minutes.

Despite Floyd repeatedly saying he could not breathe, he passed out and died in the street, with Chauvin continuing to keep his knee on the 46-year-old’s neck for nearly three minutes while he was motionless.

The incident, caught on camera by witnesses, has sparked outrage across the United States and the world, with peaceful anti-racism protests held in the United Kingdom including in Liverpool.

There are said to have been protests in over 140 US cities across the past six days, with curfews having been imposted in at least 40 and National Guard members activated in over 26 states.

It is the largest scale of civil unrest and anger in America since the assassination of Martin Luther King in 1968.

Chauvin has since been charged with three-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. He and the three officers present were fired by the Minneapolis Police Department.

But protestors are demanding more is done with the killings of black Americans in police custody a long-standing issue in the States and the problem of systemic racism still very much a global one.

And Premier League leaders Liverpool have offered their support to the movement, with the Liverpool players all sharing the same image of the squad taking a knee on the Anfield centre circle and facing a camera high up in the stands.

In the picture can be seen 27 members of Jurgen Klopp’s squad, some in red training gear and others in black, with all of them tweeting a caption which read: ‘Unity is strength #BlackLivesMatter.’

It is the first collective gesture from a Premier League club to show solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement.

It comes just a day after Liverpool’s Rhian Brewster, currently on loan at Swansea City, called for an end to racial inequality and injustice in a powerful series of Twitter posts.

The 20-year-old, who has spoken of his multiple experiences of racism on the pitch previously, said: “This is way deeper than just pointing out who’s staying quiet and who’s speaking up. 

“Unfortunately for us black/brown people etc, this is a real life & everyday occurrence in so many different ways. 

“For years & generations we’ve been screaming out for change and to be heard yet the pain continues…

“We’ve all been shown films like Roots, we’ve all seen films like Boyz in the Hood where this reality is covered and showcased. 

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“Yet we are still living these movies in real life. In 2020, today.

“This goes beyond just #JusticeForGeorgeFloyd, we need justice for us as Human beings. 

“We don’t want special privilege. A level playing field is all we have been crying for, forever. Hear us. #BlackLivesMatter’.”

Liverpool’s squad are the latest of a string of sports stars to make powerful gestures in support of Black Lives Matter.

England international Jadon Sancho on Sunday unveiled a ‘Justice for George Floyd’ undershirt after scoring in Borussia Dortmund’s win over Paderborn in the Bundesliga, as did team-mate Achraf Hakimi.

Earlier in the day, Borussia Monchengladbach’s Marcus Thuram took a knee while celebrating a goal, with Schalke’s Weston McKennie having worn a ‘Justice for George’ armband on Saturday.

Players have also taken to social media to demand justice and an end to police brutality and racial equality, including Kylian Mbappe among many others.

Manchester United’s Marcus Rashford said in a statement: “I know you guys haven’t heard from me in a few days.

“I’ve been trying to process what is going on in the world.

“At a time I’ve been asking people to come together, work together and be united, we appear to be more divided than ever. People are hurting and people need answers.

“Black lives matter. Black culture matters. Black communities matter. We matter. #justiceforgeorgefloyd #justiceforahmaudarbery #justiceforbreonnataylor.”

British Formula One champion Lewis Hamilton – the only black driver in F1 – has also been vocal about the matter, hitting out at the silence of his peers last night.

He said on Instagram: “I see those of you who are staying silent, some of you the biggest of stars yet you stay silent in the midst of injustice.

“Not a sign from anybody in my industry, which of course is a white-dominated sport. I’m one of the only people of colour there yet I stand alone.

“I would have thought by now you would see why this happens and say something about it but you can’t stand alongside us. Just know I know who you are and I see you.

I do not stand with those looting and burning buildings but those who are protesting peacefully. There can be no peace until our so-called leaders make change.

“This is not just America. This is the UK, this is Spain, this is Italy and all over. The way minorities are treated has to change, how you educate those in your country of equality, racism, classism and that we are all born the same!

“We are not born with racism and hate in our hearts, it is taught by those we look up to.”

A number of F1 drivers have responded with posts of their own since Hamilton’s comments.

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Chelsea players got ‘bored’ under Maurizio Sarri, says Gianfranco Zola

Chelsea players got “bored” under Maurizio Sarri, says club legend Gianfranco Zola.

Sarri arrived as Chelsea head coach from Napoli in 2018, with many excited about the style of football he could bring to Stamford Bridge.

Sarri’s reign started well before things turned sour in the middle of the campaign and Zola – who was his assistant at the time – says the players eventually grew tired of the Italian’s methods.

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“At the beginning the players were very much behind everything that we were saying, they were brilliant,” Zola told beIN SPORTS.

“They were following everything, but then as the weeks passed due to the repetition and the amount of games they were playing, the players got tired and they also got bored in a way.

“But boring is part of our job. Sometimes you need to get bored but when you get bored you persist in what you’re doing and you get better.

“I remember that when I was learning to play football, kicking a ball for example, I used to do it 300-400 times a day at least.

“There were moments when I got tired but I needed to do it repeatedly because if I wanted it to become a part of me, this was the process I needed to go through.”

However, Sarri’s year at the club still ended in success when his side, inspired by Eden Hazard, beat Arsenal in the Europa League final and finished fourth in the Premier League.

Despite confidence in Sarri’s methods waning by the end of the campaign, Zola believes the players’ professionalism helped them to finish the season strongly.

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Five Premier League clubs 'ARE battling for Philippe Coutinho

Chelsea, Newcastle, Manchester United, Arsenal and Leicester ‘ARE battling for Philippe Coutinho in the summer… and the Barcelona midfielder has prioritised a move back to the Premier League’

  • Five Premier League clubs are very interested in signing Philippe Coutinho
  • The Brazilian midfielder is likely to leave Barcelona permanently this summer
  • Chelsea, Newcastle, Manchester United, Arsenal and Leicester all want him
  • Reports in Spain claim they will need to pay around £90million to get a deal done

Five Premier League clubs are facing a tussle to win the signature of Barcelona cast-off Philippe Coutinho this summer, according to reports in Spain.

The former Liverpool midfielder is currently on loan at Bundesliga giants Bayern Munich but they will not be making the move permanent at the end of the season.

Coutinho is no longer wanted by Barcelona after failing to live up to expectation since his big money move from Anfield in January 2018. 

Mundo Deportivo has claimed five Premier League clubs want to sign Philippe Coutinho

Bayern Munich decided against signing Coutinho permanently so he will return to Barcelona

But a host of Premier League clubs are willing to take the Brazilian off of their hands with as many as five clubs interested in a move this summer, according to Spanish outlet Mundo Deportivo.

Their front page on Thursday boasts the headline ‘Premier Coutinho’ with the playmaker said to have his heart set on a return to the Premier League.

Chelsea, Newcastle, Manchester United, Arsenal and Leicester are all said to be interested in buying Coutinho this summer but, it is claimed, those clubs will need to pay around £90million to get a deal done.

The report reveals Chelsea are well placed in the race to sign the ex-Inter Milan prodigy but Arsenal are catching up them with Mikel Arteta keeping a particularly close eye on things.

Newcastle, if their big-money Saudi takeover goes through, would also be an attractive opposition but their chances of landing Coutinho would depend on who is the manager.

The Brazilian midfielder has failed to impress since moving to the Nou Camp from Liverpool

United and Leicester are also interested but Old Trafford chief Ed Woodward has already warned the club will not be making expensive signings this summer. It remains to be seen if Leicester can afford such a fee and their squad will need strengthening if they qualify for the Champions League.

Coutinho made the switch to Barcelona from Liverpool in January 2018 but struggled to settle at the Nou Camp, where his current deal runs until the summer of 2023. 

This season at Bayern, Coutinho has scored eight goals and provided six assists in 22 Bundesliga appearances.  

Coutinho is currently struggling with an ankle injury which has kept him out of all three of Bayern’s games since the Bundesliga returned earlier this month.




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Premier League's crunch broadcast meeting… what's on the agenda?

Premier League holds its crunch broadcast meeting with a hefty £330m rebate bill (and that’s a minimum!) and access for TV companies to enhance coverage on the agenda – and just how many games will fans be able to watch from their own homes?

  • The Premier League is enduring its most crucial week ahead of Project Restart
  • There is a meeting on Thursday regarding broadcasting in the Premier League
  • It is anticipated that a discussion on the likely rebate to broadcasters will be held
  • All 20 clubs will face an overall bill of £330million, with the possibility of more
  • Here’s how to help people impacted by Covid-19

Project Restart faces its most crucial week yet as the Premier League desperately attempts to get the show back on the road again by mid-June.

The football season was decimated in early March due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, and it is expected to have significant detrimental effects going forward for every club across Europe.

While the main priority remains getting football back safely in England, plenty of other issues need to be resolved as soon as possible.

This week, the Premier League are looking to approve a series of new measures and issues – like a rebate to domestic and overseas broadcasters. And that is exactly what they will be doing on Thursday.

Ahead of Thursday’s crunch meeting, Sportsmail takes a closer look at what exactly will be on the agenda regarding broadcasting issues…

The Premier League are looking to finalise details to restart the season again by mid-June

HOW MUCH MONEY WILL CLUBS HAVE TO PAY BACK?

Premier League clubs are facing a chunky bill of £330million, which is due to broadcasters even if the 2019-20 campaign is completed after subscribers have been lost during the pandemic. But that’s not where it stops.

All 20 English top-flight clubs will have to pay back an extra £36million to the relevant broadcasters every week the season stretches beyond its official end date of July 16.

It is understood that there is anger at these plans, and concerns there could be job losses across the division as a result. 

While this appears an intimidating fee, it is essential that the Premier League campaign finishes.

If the season is scrapped altogether with no more more matches played, then Sky Sports, BT Sport and international broadcasters are owed a staggering rebate of £762m.

According to the Telegraph, full details of the financial rebate models are expected to be presented to the 20 clubs during Thursday’s conference call. 

There were high hopes that the Premier League would eventually resume again on June 12, but June 19 is now expected to be the earliest restart date, meaning it is likely to have cost clubs £36m already.

Premier League clubs face a £330m rebate from broadcasters even if the season is completed

HOW WILL THE PREMIER LEAGUE CLUBS PAY THE £330M REBATE?

Premier League clubs reportedly do not want to pay the £330m fee upfront amid the financial fall-out of the coronavirus crisis.

Therefore, clubs will ask for the money owed to the TV companies to be paid over five years to limit the impact of the pandemic on football.

The Telegraph reports that the 20 chief executives of the Premier League clubs would want to negotiate a deal where the £16.5m – which is owed by each outfit – could be paid in installments over five years.

Furthermore, with the next cycle of TV rights coming into play in 2022, the rebate could potentially come out of the next deal to help clubs negotiate their cash-flow problems in the post-coronavirus football landscape.

Clubs, especially the lesser sides in the Premier League, fear that offloading the money over a period of five years would soften the blow of the harsh new financial reality.

WHY EXACTLY IS THERE THIS REBATE?

There is an argument among broadcasters that they have lost a huge number of subscribers during this unprecedented period, who may not return once the Premier League campaign gets underway again.

Furthermore, Sky, BT Sport and Co are set to be challenged with a different product to what they originally paid for when Project Restart is finalised.

Without fans inside stadiums, the experience will not be the same for consumers, which could have a detrimental effect for broadcasters.

Sky Sports and BT Sport have lost out on Premier League action for the last three months

WHAT ACCESS COULD BROADCASTERS GET AT GAMES?

After losing at least three months of live sport during the shutdown, Sky and BT have made a series of demands in the hope of enhancing their coverage.

When the season does eventually resume, games will be played behind closed doors so it is imperative that customers can enjoy the best possible experience while watching matches from their comfort of their own homes.

Sportsmail recently reported that the broadcasters have asked for a camera to be placed in the dressing room, an audio feed from the technical area which can be broadcast live, and a camera in the tunnel.

Furthermore, they want half-time interviews with managers or players from both teams. 

The Premier League have indicated their intention to offer additional content and greater access to broadcasters to make up for the loss of matches during the lockdown.

According to the Telegraph, there was an acceptance recently that there was quite a ‘sterile’ atmosphere at the Bundesliga matches played behind closed doors.

Other ideas are being considered among the Premier League as to the best ways to deal with the absence of supporters within stadiums. These include adding artificial fan noise. 

Matches will be played behind closed doors when the Premier League eventually resumes

 HOW MANY GAMES WILL FANS BE ABLE TO WATCH FROM HOME?

On Thursday, the Premier League are set to discuss the distribution of the remaining 92 matches – with 45 of them having not initially been selected for broadcast.

And according to the Mirror, Premier League supporters will be treated to a ‘TV bonanza’ when Project Restart kicks off next month.   

With armchair fans starved of live football since Leicester’s victory over Aston Villa on March 9, England’s top flight is reportedly planning weekends of wall-to-wall coverage.

Sky Sports and BT Sport have live rights to 47 games and remaining 45 will be further shared

It could reportedly see all 10 games over a matchweek put on live television, with five shown back-to-back on Saturday and another five on the Sunday.

Games would start every two hours from 12pm, with further kick-offs at 2pm, 4pm, 6pm and 8pm.

The bulk of the remaining 92 games will take place over weekends, but there is believed to be a push from broadcasters to show some games in midweek.

That would see a Champions League style format take over with kick-offs at 6pm and 8pm.

Sky and BT Sport have the live rights to 47 games and the remaining 45 – that were originally not chosen for broadcast – will be further shared. Sky would get 32, BT eight and five would go to Amazon and the BBC.

Sky Sports customers who ‘paused’ their monthly subscription because of the pandemic are set to be billed again from June 19, according to reports. 

There could be a TV bonanza for Premier League supporters when it gets given the green light




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Kylian Mbappe: Jurgen Klopp behind ‘ruthless Liverpool machine’

Kylian Mbappe has revealed how impressed he has been by Liverpool this season, saying Jurgen Klopp has turned them into a “ruthless machine”.

The Reds have dominated the 2019/20 Premier League, and sat 25 points ahead of second-placed Manchester City when the competition was halted due to coronavirus in March.

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Liverpool’s success has impressed Mbappe, who has been taking note from France, where his PSG side were declared champions for the seventh time in eight years after the season was curtailed.

He told The Mirror: “This season Liverpool have been a machine in the Premier League. They have made winning look easy – but the truth is that is never easy.

“To be as ruthless as they have been would come from having a very good manager and lots of hard work in training. Performances like they have been having don’t just happen.”

The 21-year-old is no stranger to success himself, having already won four French titles, a French Cup, a French League Cup, as well as the World Cup with France in 2018.

Mbappe finished fourth in the vote for the Ballon d’Or that year, but he says climbing to the top of that podium to claim football’s biggest individual honour is not one of his priorities.

“It would be nice to win – but it is not something that keeps me awake at night,” he said. “I don’t think I have to win it next season or the season after – there is no time limit I have put on it.

“Always I will put PSG and the national team as my priority – then if personal honours come from my performances then it is a bonus.”

Analysis: How can Liverpool improve?

Sky Sports’ Adam Bate…

‘Liverpool have not even had the chance to wrap up that first league title in 30 years yet but such is the capacity for football to throw things forward – even when at a standstill – that it feels natural for thoughts to turn to how Jurgen Klopp’s side might be able to improve.

‘Not easy with a team that was on course to break the Premier League points record…’

Read more here

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Barcelona's Premier League flops, from Overmars to Coutinho

After Alex Song admitted he joined Barcelona for the money, who are the other Premier League stars who flopped at the Nou Camp? From Marc Overmars to Philippe Coutinho, the Spanish giants have a history of bad buys from England’s top-flight

  • Alex Song recent revealed he joined Barcelona in order to ‘become a millionaire’
  • The midfielder was bought for £15m from Arsenal but failed to make an impact
  • Song is not the only player from the Premier League to fail to make the grade
  • Alex Hleb, Marc Overmars and Emmanuel Petit struggled after leaving Arsenal
  • Barca broke their transfer record to land Philippe Coutinho but he’s now on loan 

Alex Song’s revelation this week that he was never too bothered by failing at Barcelona because they paid him so much money was a reminder that the Catalan club have been burned buying Premier League players on more occasions than they would want to remember. 

Song, who spent four years as a Barca player but was shipped out on loan after two seasons, was quoted by Cameroonian website Lion Indomptable, saying: ‘I met Barca’s sporting director, and he told me I would not get to play many games. But I didn’t give a f***. I knew that now I would become a millionaire.’ 

Here, Sportsmail take a closer look at five of their other famous flops – with four of them having come from the same English club.

Alex Song flopped at Barcelona after joining the Spanish giants from Arsenal in August, 2012

ALEXANDER HLEB 

Barcelona paid Arsenal £11.8million for Hleb in 2008 and the talented Belarusian should have become an integral part of Pep Guardiola’s revolution. 

Instead, he never got to grips with the new coach’s demands in training and so rarely showed his ability in the team. 

Guardiola wanted his players turning up an hour before training started so they would be out on the training pitch and ready for the start of the session in good time. Hleb would often be the last to arrive. 

He fell foul of Guardiola’s system of fines as a consequence. He also never made any progress learning Spanish. 

One of the coach’s maxim’s was: Not alert in training – not going to be alert on the pitch, so there were few chances to shine. 

When he did get the opportunity, he overindulged on the ball, perhaps in an attempt to hide the way much of the team play practised in training had gone over his head. 

Guardiola got rid after just one season.


Alexander Hleb joined Barcelona from Arsenal for £11.8m but couldn’t nail down a starting spot

MARC OVERMARS 

Overmars joined Barcelona in 2000 for £25m but never came closing to justifying that outlay. 

He was brought in to replace Luis Figo but the former Arsenal winger fell short. 

No one doubted his ability or his application and there were moments of magic. But having cost so much, and with such big boots to fill, he had to be an almost instant and then consistent success, and dogged by injury, he wasn’t.


Marc Overmars also left Arsenal for the Nou Camp but he failed to hit top form in Spain

THOMAS VERMAELEN 

The elegant Belgian defender was perfect for the way Barcelona like to defend. 

He had pace to burn so that sitting as high up as the halfway line while his team attacked and then having to race back was never going to be a problem. 

He was good on the ball too so there would be no rushed long clearances so frowned on at the Nou Camp. And he was exceptional in the air which would help Barcelona strengthen an area where they were weak. 

There was only one problem: his terrible luck with injuries. 

Barcelona knew this before he arrived. He was injured when they signed him. It did not put them off. They spent £15m on him and then watched as he watched from the sidelines. 

He joined in 2014 and didn’t leave until 2019. The team won plenty of trophies while he was there and when he was fit enough to play he looked the part, but ultimately the gamble on him did not pay off.


Thomas Vermaelen’s career was destroyed by injuries after he left the Gunners for Barcelona

EMMANUEL PETIT 

Petit came with Overmars in 2000 and fared even worse. 

He had looked so good at Arsenal alongside Patrick Vieira but it goes down as another early example of the Arsenal to Barcelona curse. He was gone within a season sold to Chelsea. 

Barcelona’s success rate with Arsenal would later pick up when they signed Giovanni van Bronckhorst and then Thierry Henry. Before things returned to normal with Hleb, Song and Vermaelen.


Emmanuel Petit was a favourite at Arsenal but he was shipped out of Barcelona after just a year

PHILIPPE COUTINHO 

Not all the underwhelming signings arrived from Arsenal. 

After a long drawn out saga, Barcelona broke their transfer record for Philippe Coutinho in January 2018. The deal, which was worth £145m with add-ons made, him the third most expensive player in history behind Kylian Mbappe and Neymar. 

It hasn’t all been bad. There have been goals and assists and his Copa del Rey final performance in 2018 was superb, but the riddle of fitting him into the team with Lionel Messi and an awkward relationship with supporters – they jeered him, he put his fingers to his ears in one sarcastic goal celebration in response – meant the club soon began to look for a way of getting their money back on him. 

On loan at Bayern Munich he has played well enough until injury, but Barcelona want around £90m for him and the German champions were never going to pay that. 

He could yet fit in under Quique Setien, but if not Barca will have to take at least a 50 per cent loss on the money they paid for him.


Philippe Coutinho became the most expensive player in Barca’s history when he left Liverpool




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Premier League 'curtailment STILL a possibility', says Richard Masters

Premier League ‘curtailment is STILL a possibility’, according to chief executive Richard Masters – who admits scrapping relegation is ‘up for discussion’… but he is confident the season will restart in June

  • Richard Masters said the Premier League was confident of restarting the season 
  • But he said there had to be flexibility on a date to get the season back underway 
  • Masters also said halting the season was possible, as was scrapping relegation
  • He sought to reassure concerned players that it was safe to retun to training 
  • Here’s how to help people impacted by Covid-19

Premier League CEO Richard Masters says the organisation is ‘as confident as we can be’ about Project Restart, but admits the possibility of curtailing the season remains on the table.

The top-flight season was suspended in early March as the coronavirus began to shut down sport across the globe, but as the Bundesliga has returned to action the spotlight now falls to the English league as clubs return to group training. 

Officials are still without a solid date for resuming the season as discussions with clubs and the government continue, and Masters said while it was a great sign to see players back together, it was vital to be ‘flexible’ in their plans to get the action up and running again. 

Premier League CEO Richard Masters said the group were ‘confident’ of resuming the season

There is a target date to restart in mid-June, but Masters said they had to be ‘flexible’ in talks 

‘We’re as confident as we can be, we’ve taken the first step,’ he told BBC Sport. ‘There’s been a huge amount of work and consultation and discussion with clubs and players and stakeholders to get us to the point where we can get back to training this week.

‘It’s great for everybody, including the fans, to see our players back on the training ground.’ 

‘We had a staging post of mid-June but we have to be flexible, were able to discuss next week the possibility of going to contact training. Then after that its about how much contact training is required and that really gives you a start date.

There is still the possibility of curtailing the Premier League season, according to Masters 

The fate of the season is still being debated, with some believing there isn’t enough time to complete it and calling for it to be ended now. 

Masters admitted there was a need for ‘contigency plans’ and said ‘curtailment is still a possibility’.

And as restart talks heat up, there has been some opposition to the idea of playing again with teams near the bottom of the table fearing for their top-flight statuses and arguing that it would be fair if relegation was taken off the table. 

Teams near the bottom, such as Aston Villa, will be fighting for safety if the season resumes 

Masters insisted that scrapping relegation was up for discussion in talks over a restart

As seen in leagues that have ended their seasons, such as in Holland and France, the current standings have been used to determine the campaign, with teams in the relegation places sent down.

But Masters insisted that if the decision to end the Premier League season was taken, the idea of scrapping relegation ‘would come up for discussion’, adding that it was ‘a significant topic.   

‘That will be part of the debate we have. What would happen in that environment [curtailment of season] is something we’re yet to discuss with the clubs.’

Watford captain Troy Deeney said he wouldn’t return to training in a setback to Project Restart

There had been a target date of June 19 to play the first round of postponed fixtures, but there have been some setbacks with some stars admitting their fears of catching the deadly disease and passing it on to family members. 

Watford captain Troy Deeney has refused to return to training amid these concerns, while Chelsea midfielder N’Golo Kante is also having doubts about heading back to the pitch. But Masters insisted that measures had been put in place to ensure it was as safe as possible for players.

‘We ran a very thorough consultation with club doctors,’ he added. We have done everything we possibly can to make return to training as safe as possible.

‘We think it is safe to return. We have to respect players’ decisions not to return to training. I would be comfortable to return to training.’ 

Teams have returned to group training but are yet to receive the all-clear for contact sessions

Known as phase one, the return to group training was the first major step to making Project Restart a reality, and while it is thought the Government could soon permit contact training, Masters said play would not resume until all the necessary stages had been completed. 

‘We wouldn’t have taken the first step to get back to training if we weren’t convinced we had created a very safe environment for our players,’ he said.

‘It is the first step and we have to be sure when we go to contact training we have completed those processes. 

‘You have to have plans and you have to have a staging post and we’re not going to go back to playing until we’ve passed through contact training, and we haven’t decided to do that yet so there will be plenty of time for reflection.’  




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Liverpool chairman Tom Werner: It’s important to finish Premier League season

Liverpool chairman Tom Werner feels it would be “good for the country” to complete the Premier League season.

The Reds squad returned to training at Melwood on Wednesday after a two-month hiatus caused by the coronavirus pandemic, with the players working in small groups and following social distancing guidelines prior to the resumption of contact training.

The return to training is especially significant for Jurgen Klopp’s side, who are 25 points clear at the top of the table, needing just two wins from their remaining nine games to clinch the Premier League title.

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Their chairman Werner wants to see the season completed but accepts safety – and the discovery of a vaccine – is a key priority as the pandemic continues.

“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.

“The most important thing is safety. I do think the protocols that the Premier League are working on as somebody said its probably safer to play behind closed doors than to go to a supermarket.

“It’s a terrible situation we’re all in. Someday, hopefully, there will be a vaccine and we can return to the joy of being in a stadium and watching the elegant play of great football players.”

In the first two weeks of the lockdown, Liverpool decided to place some non-playing staff on a government furloughing scheme to cut costs but reversed that decision after backlash from their fans.

The club has also maintained funding for community work, from supporting fans challenged by mental health issues to providing supplies for food banks.

“It’s better to admit to a mistake than to dig your heels in,” said Werner. “Hopefully people will know that all we really care about is trying to support the fans and support our players and our club in a way that is sustainable.”

Henderson’s hopes for Liverpool

Liverpool captain Jordan Henderson has challenged the Reds to “pick up where they left off” when the Premier League season resumes.

The footballing authorities are yet to reach an agreement on the exact date of the Premier League’s behind-closed-doors return, but Henderson insists he and his team-mates have kept themselves sharp during lockdown with a view to picking up where they left off before the interruption.

“To be honest, my mindset hasn’t changed from where we left off because I always felt as though the season needed finishing at some point, whenever it was safe to do so,” Henderson – speaking to Sky Sports’ Patrick Davison – said.

“So, in my head, it’s always been [important] to stay as fit as I can because when the time comes that we do go back and we do start playing games, I need to be ready and so do my team-mates.

“We all need to be ready for when that time comes to be able to perform at the highest level and finish the season as well as we’ve started it and maintained it up until this point.

“That’s been our motivation to keep training and keep as fit as possible, so when the time comes, we pick up where we left off.”

On a return to training he said: “It’s been great to get back and see the lads, get the balls out and be able to pass into each other and interact a little bit

“Football is taken away from you and it’s obviously difficult because at the end of the day it’s the most important thing to us. “But then something like this happens and it puts everything in perspective.”

Klopp: We must adapt – but we’ll be ready

Klopp has insisted Liverpool will do everything in their power to prepare for a resumption of competition, despite the challenges.

“We have to be as creative as possible at the moment because pre-season usually starts differently.

“First and foremost, when you have a pre-season you know when the seasons starts. We don’t know that at the moment, so that is of course different, and also we are not allowed to do a couple of things that we would usually do in the first few sessions.

“We just needed to start because we prepare a body for physical work. We can’t start today and then start playing tomorrow. That doesn’t work. We need time to get match fit and that’s what we are doing at the moment.”

“We will be in the best possible shape we can be. You know from pre-seasons, managers usually say, ‘We don’t know where exactly we stand at this moment, we need maybe one, two, three or four games to know more about our situation’.

“But now, the challenge is that we all have to be ready for the first game, whenever it will be. That’s interesting. Our game is, for different reasons, always different.

“You never have the same game again. You never have the same situation again. Everything can be perfect for a second, then you have injured players and you have to adapt to that.

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