THURSDAY’S BIG STORIES

Football without fans, again

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We start with some pretty dispiriting news: the project to get fans back into England’s football stadiums has hit a snag. And that snag is called: more people are getting Covid-19 than the government was anticipating. Here’s the Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden:

In light of increasing transmission rates, the government is reviewing the proposed sports and business events pilots ahead of 1 October and we will unfortunately need to scale some back. We know fans and audiences are eager to return, and jobs depend on this too, so work continues […] with the ambition of having audiences back much closer to normal by Christmas, if safe to do so.

Of course football, as the most important of the least important things — isn’t that Carlo Ancelotti line good? — is in no position to be taking risks with something like this. But the prospect of longer without fans, without paying fans, is of great concern to the Premier League’s chief executive Richard Masters.

There are implications, with every match round that goes by without fans there are significant financial implications for every club in the football pyramid so it does have an impact […] we want to play our part in helping the economy to recover as well.

It’s of great concern to the Warm-Up, too. A game played in an empty stadium, watched only through television: that’s not what football is. The hope is that a long stretch without fans would serve to remind everybody just how important they are. But it’s hard not to worry that a worried, tired, pandemic-battered nation could get used to having every game on the TV, and a clever football league could find a way of making that work, at least for some clubs. And then we’d be in the most important, least important trouble.

An update on Jadon Sanch— no, wait, come back!

Still, hope remains for fans of Manchester United’s men’s team. The team they can’t go and watch may yet end up with Jadon Sancho playing in it. There are reports of a “breakthrough” in the summer’s most inert transfer saga: the club have reportedly agreed on the fees that will go to his agent.

Rumours that Dortmund’s hierarchy have decided to get rid of Sancho after watching all fourteen hours of Denmark 0-0 England were made up just now by the Warm-Up.

Anyway, just the small matter of the fee to sort out now. Close followers of United transfer sagas will know that this is the point at which the selling club pick a number, and Ed Woodward offers a smaller number, excitingly structured. The selling club repeat the first number; Woodward counters with another, differently structured, smaller number. And this goes on for some time, until one side gets bored and walks away or Woodward finally offers — perhaps by accident — the same number, and the transfer slides wearily over the line.

USA! USA!

Or perhaps Ed Woodward is a transfer genius and we’re just a know-nothing Warm-Up. Because Manchester United’s women’s team just got significantly and excitingly stronger with the addition of not one but two members of the USA’s World Cup destroying super-squad, Tobin Heath and Christen Press. Not a bad pair of forwards, all things considered.

This brings them level in the Signing USA World Cup Players stakes with Manchester City, who picked up midfielders Sam Mewis and Rose Lavelle earlier in the summer. But while United were unveiling their shiny new imports, City were announcing the return to Manchester of Alex Greenwood from Lyon; Greenwood, of course, spent a season captaining United before moving to France. If they pile any more #narrative onto this Manchester derby, it’s going to collapse.

Strange times for America’s NWSL: that’s four of the game’s biggest names all decamping to England after the cancellation of the 2020 season; four big names that will miss the Fall Series currently underway and whatever comes in 2021. It’s perhaps notable that Heath and Press have both signed single-year contracts, suggesting an attitude of “wait and see” rather than “get out! get out! this competition’s broken!” But for the moment, America’s loss is Manchester’s gain.

IN OTHER NEWS

No messing about.

RETRO CORNER

Did you enjoy that big week of international football? Good, because there’s loads more a-coming. England will play a triple-header in October and another in November: the latter will start with a home friendly against New Zealand in November. England have never played the All Whites at Wembley, though they did play them twice in 1991 while touring the Antipodes. Here’s the highlights of the first game. It’s all very Graham Taylor.

HAT TIP

Today we head over to Vice, and to Will Magee, for a look at how the Covid-19 crisis has impacted non-league football in England. Spoiler: everything’s looking very, very wobbly.

Ahead of the new season, one word comes up time and again: “uncertainty”. While the news last month that fans would be able to return to non-league games was widely welcomed, there are still huge problems to overcome. There has been detailed guidance from the government and the FA in terms of how to prepare non-league grounds for social distancing, sanitisation and so on, but clubs have been given just over a month to prepare.

COMING UP

Having been given a break by the French authorities after reaching the Champions League final, today PSG begin their defence of Ligue 1 away at Lens. However, almost their entire forward line — Mbappé, Neymar, Di María, Icardi — are missing, quarantined. So if you’re going to get any points off them at all, Lens, now might be the moment.

As long as negotiations with Ed Woodward go well, Tom Adams will be here tomorrow to tell you how that all went

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