Leeds United need to seal promotion from the Championship this season or else Marcelo Bielsa may not remain at Elland Road, according to Nigel Martyn.

The West Yorkshire club appeared on course to end their long wait to seal a return to the Premier League when the 2019-20 season was halted in March due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Bielsa had his squad sitting top of the table and while only a point clear of nearest rivals West Brom, they had created a comfortable cushion between themselves and the rest of the chasing pack in the race to clinch one of the two automatic spots.

It remains unclear when the action will resume in the Football League - chairman Rick Parry has said the campaign must be completed by July 31 - but Martyn fears Bielsa will not stick around without the prospect of playing in the Premier League in 2020-21.

The former Leeds and England goalkeeper is full of praise for the work done by the Argentinian coach, describing him as a "breath of fresh air" while applauding his impact on the players, both on and off the field.

"Without wanting to sound too downbeat, I didn't see him doing another season if they didn't get promoted,” Martyn told Stats Perform.

"It was kind of a last chance saloon with Leeds and this manager, and he's been a breath of fresh air with his attitude, not just to playing football but to life in general.

"What he's brought to that club and the humility he’s bought, is good to see. It's rubbed off on his players, who looked like they were enjoying winning and everything that went with that.

"Let's hope we don’t miss out on Bielsa in the Premier League, because that would be good to see."

Leeds had seemingly overcome a wobble prior to the suspension in proceedings, recording five successive league victories to get their promotion push firmly back on track.

However, Martyn acknowledges the long hiatus will allow all in the Championship to reset in preparation for a short run-in, while some teams could be hampered by changes in personnel due to the different situations concerning loan signings and their parent clubs.

"At this point, you'd say they [Leeds] deserve to go up. I would love to see them in the Premier League with everything back to normal, but that's not the situation," Martyn said.

"I want the season finished, obviously, because so much has been invested into it. However, there are a lot of players out of contract, on loan from other clubs that might have to go back, so it won't be the same.

"Situations have changed, so it is going to be new for everybody despite being a continuation.

"They were in a good place and you would say they would have gone up this year, all things being equal, but if the season is able to be completed, it's the same for West Brom, Nottingham Forest, for everybody.

"You can put all the excuses there, but it's the same for all. Possibly it won't be the same squad that finishes it, but it’s the same for everyone. If you all sign up to it, there's no coming back."

Clubs should not be promoted to the Premier League if they are unable to complete the 2019-20 Championship season, according to Norwich City's sporting director Stuart Webber.

Professional football in England has been on hold since March due to the coronavirus pandemic, with no resumption in fixtures until at least June 1.

Both the Championship and Premier League appear committed to finishing their respective campaigns on the pitch, though the uncertainty around the situation means an absolute decision is impossible at this current time.

There remains the possibility of leagues following the example of France's Ligue 1 and Ligue 2, which have been ended prematurely and final positions determined on a points-per-game basis.

Norwich sit bottom of the Premier League, six points adrift of safety, and Webber insists it would be unacceptable if the Canaries were to be relegated on the pitch, only to see a Championship side promoted without playing again.

"In my opinion, it needs to be settled on the pitch, not off the pitch," Webber told Sky Sports. "A big question we have around restarting is, it's fine if we restart and three teams get relegated – we look at it as though we're only six points off 16th rather than being adrift.

"But if we do [get relegated], that's fine, because that's where football should be played. Football should be played on a pitch and not in the boardroom. But the Championship has to restart and play all their games also.

“What we could not accept is a situation where we play out all our games, get relegated but then the Championship can't play - because we don't even know if the government are going to let them play - and then they automatically promote some teams who haven't finished the season.

"It's a bit like saying, we can't complete the FA Cup, but we're in the quarter-finals, we've beaten a Championship top-six team away, we've beaten two Premier League teams away, so does that mean we win the FA Cup then and qualify for Europe and we all get a medal, because the level of games we played were harder than the other teams left in the quarter-finals?

"That's a really important sporting point - it needs to be settled on the pitch, both coming up or going down."

Hard-hit English clubs from outside the Premier League may want to look again at tie-ups with top-flight sides after the coronavirus period, a former Football Association chief has suggested.

Dan Ashworth served as FA technical director until departing after the 2018 World Cup to join Brighton and Hove Albion, where he holds the same job title.

He was involved in talks while at the national governing body that took in discussions about B teams and feeder clubs, but in 2017 said he could not see the shape of the English game "changing anytime soon".

The English Football League (EFL) also took a strong stance against the notion of B teams, at a time when it was suggested an extra tier could be added in a restructuring plan.

However, clubs are facing up to unprecedented hardship because of the COVID-19 crisis, with football suspended and little hope that spectators will be allowed inside stadiums until 2021 at the earliest.

It could mean many clubs are left with crippling debts and others go out of existence, potentially leaving holes to fill in the EFL's competitions, which may create space for B teams of Premier League clubs.

Those teams from the Championship, League One and League Two that survive might welcome the prospect of being propped up by elite clubs, who are fighting to protect their huge broadcast revenue.

Ashworth, quoted widely in the UK media, said: "The sort of things we explored a number of years ago, during my time at the FA, were strategic loan clubs, B teams or partner clubs.

"Maybe, just maybe, things like that come back on the table.

"If there is a shortage of money and everybody has to cut their cloth accordingly then maybe there're ways we can share resources and help one another.

"Ground sharing is one that has been looked at before, artificial surfaces that can be used for concerts and training. You could have women's and men's games in the same venue."

Manchester United attacker Daniel James revealed his anger when a move from Swansea City to Leeds United fell through in "crazy" fashion last year.

James, 22, was on the verge of joining Leeds in January 2019, just months before his switch to Old Trafford.

The 10-time Wales international said he had agreed to head to Leeds before the move fell through as the window closed.

"I got to Elland Road about 6pm, did all the pictures with my shirt, all the interviews, because they wanted it to go out in the morning, and then it was strange," James told former Swansea team-mate Kenji Gorre on the Living The Dream podcast.

"It got to about 9pm and I'd signed all the papers and then it was from club-to-club. I had people texting me saying, 'What's happening?' and I literally didn't know. It wasn't until 15 minutes to go until I thought, 'This might not happen now.'

"I ended up ringing the chairman [of Swansea] to ask him what's happening. It was all a bit crazy and then it wasn't done. I threw my phone.

"I thought it's not real. The chief exec of Leeds wasn't happy at the time, but then it was just a case of driving home. It was a very weird situation and I think it helped me in some ways."

James ended up finishing the season with Swansea before joining Manchester United for a reported £15million in June 2019.

He had scored four goals in 37 games in all competitions for United before the season was suspended due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Discussions relating to the return of Premier League football have been held in "constructive meetings", according to the United Kingdom government's foreign secretary Dominic Raab.

The Premier League has been on hiatus for almost two months due to the coronavirus pandemic, which has impacted much of the world and brought professional sport to a standstill.

'Project Restart', as it has been dubbed, is being planned by the Premier League, as decision-makers look to determine the best way to resume matches.

According to reports, numerous ideas are being considered, such as playing the remaining matches behind closed doors at neutral venues, while Professional Footballers' Association chief Gordon Taylor has suggested matches could even be shortened.

Raab confirmed the government has already held talks with sporting bodies with regards to allowing athletes and players to resume training, and while he suggested discussions are going well, he stressed safety is the priority.

"I think it would lift the spirit of the nation," Raab said in the government's daily briefing on Tuesday.

"The government has had constructive meetings with sports bodies over plans for athletes to resume training when it's safe to do so.

"The culture secretary has also been working on a plan to get sports played behind closed doors when we move to the second phase.

"We can only do it when the medical and scientific advice is that it can be done safely and sustainably, but that is certainly something under active consideration."

The UK has had almost 195,000 confirmed cases of the virus, while the death toll has reached 29,427, the largest total in Europe.

Cancelling relegation from the Premier League this season would outrage Championship clubs, according to Rick Parry, the EFL chairman.

Parry added that the 2019-20 campaign needs to be finished by July 31 for sides outside the top flight.

Former Liverpool and Premier League chief executive Parry was giving evidence to the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport committee on the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

Professional football in England has been suspended since March, with Parry revealing that clubs below the top flight are facing a £200million shortfall by the end of September as a result.

"Our end date realistically is 31 July because of the situation with contracts," said Parry of when the season needs to come to a close. "We can't go beyond July.

"Players and staff have been furloughed and to expect clubs to bring them back in now, to forgo the furlough, only to then find in a month they can't play would be a complete mess.

"We need within days to be taking decisions.

"We have a great deal of uncertainty around next season and the undetermined matter of when we'll be able to return with crowds, which for the EFL is absolutely critical.

"We're much more dependent upon the revenue and atmosphere generated by crowds than the Premier League."

Some Premier League clubs are reportedly uneasy about the competitive disadvantage of playing behind closed doors at neutral venues as they battle relegation, believing the drop into the Championship should be taken off the table.

However, Parry said: "The Premier League is aware of our position on that. There would be a degree of outrage from a number of clubs in the Championship and it would be a breach of the tripartite agreement."

Parry added that "lawyers are going to get wealthy" if relegation is scrapped.

Norwich City, Aston Villa and Bournemouth were in the relegation places when the season was halted. West Ham and Watford were only outside the bottom three on goal difference, with Brighton and Hove Albion two points clear of the drop.

Gordon Taylor has revealed playing less than 45 minutes per half has been proposed ahead of the return of football in England.

There has been no professional football in England since mid-March due to the coronavirus pandemic, and players' union boss Taylor does not envisage a return until at least the middle of June.

The Premier League launched 'Project Restart' in a bid to conclude the 2019/20 campaign, with games potentially played at neutral venues in England or even overseas.

World governing body FIFA has proposed increasing the number of substitutions in an attempt to ease players' workload, with the prospect of a hectic schedule to come if the action gets under way again.

Professional Footballers' Association (PFA) chief executive Taylor says reducing the duration of matches has also been discussed.

He told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme: "We don't know the future, what we do know is what propositions have been put, what ideas have been put, the possibility of having more substitutes, games possibly not being the full 45 minutes each way.

"We've talked of neutral stadiums, there's lots of things been put forward, try and wait and see what the proposals are and then have the courtesy to let the managers and coaches and players come to a considered view."

Taylor believes it would be unrealistic to expect games to take place before the middle of next month.

He added: "I wouldn't expect games to be played, if everything was positive and promising, you wouldn't be thinking of matches being played until around about the middle of June."

Manchester City striker Sergio Aguero said players are "scared" to return and Taylor stated it is their choice over whether they take to the field.

The long-serving PFA boss said: "Sergio is a top-class player and is entitled to his opinion of course.

"It's not a question of being scared, it's a question of being fully informed and for the relevant authorities to try and make sure it's as safe as it possibly can be to return, and to pick out any particular statements or choose any parts of that process is not really fair until we've looked at the whole menu."

Taylor added: "They are professional sportsmen and professional sportswomen and of course they are concerned about their own safety, they are not stupid and neither are they naive, so they have to be satisfied that it is safe to return and it is their choice."

Hopes are fading that spectators will be allowed into English football grounds before 2021 after a revelation from former Premier League club Bradford City.

Now in League Two, Bradford said they had suspended 2020-21 season-ticket sales after being told of an "ever-growing possibility" of having to play behind-closed-doors games until next year.

Bradford, who were last in the English top flight in 2001, said it was "highly likely" next season would at least begin with games played without fans due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The West Yorkshire club's decision followed their involvement in a conference call with the English Football League (EFL) on Thursday.

Bradford said in a statement: "'City For All' 2020-21 season-ticket sales have today been suspended.

"The decision has been taken as the club continues to await further information regarding a conclusion to the current campaign, with the start date for next season yet to be confirmed.

"This comes following a meeting yesterday held between the EFL and the Bantams' League Two colleagues.

"City officials have recently been informed of the ever-growing possibility of supporters being unable to attend matches until 2021.

"And it is now highly likely that next season will commence behind closed doors."

The 2019-20 season stalled in March with the arrival and spread in England of COVID-19, and reports have claimed the EFL campaign could be abandoned because of the amount of testing that would need to be conducted just to allow closed-doors games to be played.

It remains to be seen whether the Premier League and EFL have joined-up thinking on matters such as playing games without supporters next season.

Although the Premier League has huge broadcast deals, which it is eager to preserve, clubs lower down the pyramid are facing a harsh reality of losing vital matchday income, amid fears many could be forced out of business.

The EFL has pledged to have rigorous coronavirus testing in place before its leagues resume in England, and insisted the return of football must not negatively affect key workers.

Reports on Saturday suggested Premier League football may return within weeks with matches taking place behind closed doors.

The UK government is said to have begun looking at proposals for the resumption of live sport as part of a bid to boost morale during lockdown as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

The EFL said its own position regarding the return of action in the Championship, League One and League Two remains unchanged and that football will only resume when it is safe to do so.

An EFL statement read: "The position of the EFL remains unchanged in that the priority is to resume the 2019-20 season as soon as it is possible with matches only returning at an appropriate point and based on guidance from the relevant authorities. The health and well-being of the nation has to come first.

"Clearly, before any return to football can take place, suitable testing arrangements for participants must be in place and this is core to our current planning, as is ensuring there is absolutely no negative impact on the country’s front-line workers, the emergency services, league and club staff members.

"The EFL's medical advisor is working with a select group of medical professionals and sports scientists to ensure their collective expertise is utilised to address these issues. This group will consider the latest medical information and evidence from both in the UK and abroad, particularly around the viability and accessibility of the various COVID-19 tests that are currently available."

The EFL has been suspended since March 13 and the body's chairman Rick Parry said last week matches will likely take place behind closed doors with the intention to finish the 2019-20 season when it is deemed safe to do so.

Saturday's EFL statement added football can only resume successfully with a "collaborative approach with all stakeholders, including the Premier League and Football Association".

The scheduling of fixtures, promotion, relegation and the opening and closing of transfer windows are among issues the EFL said remain under discussion.

Manager Graeme Jones has left Luton Town by mutual consent to help the Championship strugglers cut costs amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Luton were second-bottom in their first season back in the second tier of English football when the campaign was suspended due to the COVID-19 crisis in March.

Former Belgium number two Jones was only appointed by the Hatters last May, but his tenure was ended on Friday.

Luton revealed the club were "taking an early move to restructure in order to reduce its cost base and to create efficiencies within the football department."

Assistant manager Gary Brabin, first-team coach Inigo Idiakez and technical goalkeeping coach Imanol Etxeberria have also departed.

Chief recruitment officer Mick Harford will act as a "relationship manager between the board, staff and the playing squad on football matters" on an interim basis and Luton will not consider starting a recruitment process until it becomes clear when they will next be in action.

Leeds United are to rename a stand at Elland Road in honour of the late Norman Hunter.

The Championship club announced the news on Thursday, just under a week after the 76-year-old died after succumbing to coronavirus.

Hunter made 726 appearances for Leeds over a 14-year career with the club, proving integral to their success under Don Revie.

His wife Sue told the club's official website: "As a family we are touched by the club's decision to name the South Stand after Norman and we would like to take this opportunity to thank the supporters of the club and the game in general for the amazing messages of sympathy we have received in recent days.

"Finally, once again we would also like to thank all the doctors and nurses and everyone in the NHS who supported Norman too."

Hunter won two First Division titles, the League Cup and the FA Cup. He was a part of Leeds' Inter-Cities Fairs Cup-winning sides in 1968 and 1971 and tasted defeat in the final of the European Cup in 1975, having lost at the same stage of the European Cup Winners' Cup two years earlier.

A part of England's World Cup-winning squad in 1966, Hunter won 28 caps for his country, scoring two goals.

Luis Suarez showed "phenomenal" strength to recover from biting bans to become a Barcelona star, according to former Liverpool team-mate Charlie Adam.

Suarez has won 13 major trophies with Barca since moving from Liverpool in 2014, including the treble of LaLiga, the Copa del Rey and the Champions League in his first season in Spain.

The Uruguay star secured a switch to Camp Nou after a stunning campaign in the Premier League in 2013-14, in which he scored 31 goals in 33 league games to win the European Golden Shoe and be crowned the PFA Players' Player of the Year and the Premier League Player of the Season.

Suarez could not make his Barca debut until October 25, though, after he was banned for four months by FIFA for biting Giorgio Chiellini at the World Cup.

It was the third time in his career Suarez was found guilty of the offence, the player having bitten Otman Bakkal while playing for Ajax in 2010 and then Branislav Ivanovic of Chelsea three years later, which saw him given a 10-game ban.

Adam, who was a team-mate of Suarez in his first season at Liverpool in 2011-12, says the way the forward has kicked on in his career is remarkable.

"He will have been disappointed at what had happened [his ban for biting], how he got involved in the situation, both situations, and how it occurred," Adam told Stats Perform.

"But the way he's bounced back from that mental toughness has been incredible. I still say he's one of the best number nines in the world where he could occupy a defence on his own.

"He's hungry to score goals, he's playing for one of the best teams in the world with the greatest player I've ever seen [Lionel Messi]. It's phenomenal to see that he's made that step up.

"It was crucial for him when he left Liverpool to go to Barcelona and everyone thought 'was he the right type of player for Barcelona?' but he's been phenomenal and I was grateful to be able to share the dressing room with him."

Adam has been hugely impressed with the link-up between Messi and Suarez at Barca, which has yielded four LaLiga titles in the past five seasons.

"The top players connect well. Even when Neymar was there, the three of them seemed to connect," said the Reading man. "There was no ego about any of the players, they wanted the best for the team and that's the important thing.

"You sort of saw it when they signed [Ousmane] Dembele. He was the other type of player that was all about him. When you're at Barcelona it's all only about one person and that's Lionel Messi. It's not being disrespectful, but you have to try and manipulate your game to suit him because he's the main man. But Dembele's not really gone there and expressed how Neymar did.

"Neymar knew that he wasn't going to be the main man at that time, but he got his head down, knuckled down and they had some great success together, the three of them."

Adam moved to Stoke City in 2012, where he played alongside former Barcelona forward Bojan Krkic and ex-Real Madrid man Jese Rodriguez.

Neither player was able to fulfil their promise with the Potters, with Bojan – whose best run of form was interrupted by a serious injury – now playing under Thierry Henry at MLS side Montreal Impact and Jese back with Sporting CP in Portugal, on loan from Paris Saint-Germain.

"Bojan was a player who came with the pedigree of where he'd played, Barcelona, he'd been at Roma and he'd been somewhere else [Ajax], and then he came to Stoke. And from day one he just hit the ground running, he was phenomenal," Adam recalled.

"On day one, you could see the talent he had. But most of all, he was a great guy. He was a great guy to have in the dressing room, always laughing and joking. But his mentality to work hard was incredible.

"The only thing about Bojan was when he got that knee injury, that was when his football went a different way. He had to change and adapt his game, he wasn't as sharp as he was but [he was] a phenomenal player.

"It's a shame to see an injury like that curtail someone's career because he could have been phenomenal for Stoke. I loved playing with him, I was playing that night against Rochdale [in an FA Cup match in January 2015] when he did his cruciate [ligament] and it was heartbreaking for the lads to see it because in the dressing room he was a great guy and it was disappointing for him.

"Jese was one where he came to the club from Real Madrid, he was the boy wonder at Real Madrid. He got that serious knee injury from that tackle with [Sead] Kolasinac [for Madrid against Schalke in 2014] and he ended up with a cruciate injury as well.

"He probably never fulfilled the potential or the career that he was going to have before that injury and that's what serious injuries do to you. For Jese, I think there was a lot of other things going on off the pitch, which probably never helped, and that was difficult.

"It was a strange one but, as a group of players, you've got to adapt and you've got to try your best but unfortunately, it never worked out for him."

Michael O'Neill has permanently left his role as Northern Ireland manager with immediate effect.

O'Neill was appointed Stoke City boss in November but pulled double duty to see out Northern Ireland's Euro 2020 qualifying campaign.

The 50-year-old was also due to oversee their play-off match against Bosnia-Herzegovina in March, with the winners then facing the Republic of Ireland or Slovakia, but the coronavirus pandemic saw that fixture postponed.

With UEFA suggesting at a teleconference on Tuesday the play-off games will be rescheduled for October, the decision has been taken for O'Neill – who was appointed in December 2011 – to leave now.

"After careful consideration and following discussions with the Irish FA, I feel it is only fair that now is the right time for me to step aside," he told the Irish Football Association's official website.

"I would have loved the opportunity to manage Northern Ireland in the Euro 2020 play-off game versus Bosnia-Herzegovina and the chance to qualify for another major tournament, but the current situation means that this is no longer possible.

"It was important to leave the association and team in the strongest possible shape in order to not only have the best chance of qualifying for Euro 2021, but allow the new manager time to build upon the success that we have had during my eight-year tenure."

Under O'Neill, Northern Ireland qualified for Euro 2016 where they were beaten 1-0 by Wales in the last 16.

"It has been an honour and an enormous privilege to have had the opportunity to manage my country and I will treasure my time as manager of Northern Ireland forever," he added.

"Throughout my time here, I have been fortunate to have worked with many great coaching, medical and support staff who have all contributed to our successes and shared in some great moments.

"As for my players, past and present, I would like to thank them all for an overwhelming level of commitment and professionalism that has helped to deliver so many unforgettable highs and great experiences for us all."

Massimo Maccarone regrets turning down Giovanni Trapattoni to stay working with Gareth Southgate, describing the now England manager as "big talks, no facts".

Former Italy striker Maccarone spent four years as a team-mate of Southgate's at Middlesbrough, before playing his final six months at the Riverside Stadium under the tutelage of his former captain.

Maccarone had found himself out of favour under former boss Steve McLaren but was convinced to stay when Southgate took over ahead of the 2006-07 season.

But Maccarone made just one Premier League start and seven top-flight appearances in total before leaving for Siena in the January transfer window.

Southgate, who oversaw Boro's relegation in the 2008-09 campaign, has earned plenty of praise for his work with England, who he led to the World Cup semi-finals in Russia in 2018.

However, Maccarone was disappointed with his own personal treatment.

"I played the last seasons of his career with him and as a player he has always been correct, kind, humble," he told Stats Perform. 

"As a manager, though, I didn't like very much what he did to me. Besides I had already had some quarrels with his predecessor, Steve McLaren, another one who has managed England, when I reacted berating him a lot and then in hindsight I understood I had made some mistakes myself too. 

"But not with Southgate who talked me a lot into staying at Middlesborough, promising I would have played a lot since he knew well what had happened to me the season before. 

"But then, nothing even if we made seven points in the first six games. Big talks, no facts."

If things had played out differently, Maccarone could have been playing for Salzburg under Trappatoni, the man who had given him his Italy debut.

"When I was in England he was managing Salzburg in Austria," he added. 

"He had called me for one month to convince me to join him there but I still had a one year contract with Middlesborough and I wanted to prove myself there after a negative season despite some sparks in the UEFA Cup. 

"So I stayed with Southgate at Middlesborough when Trapattoni had made my dream of playing for Italy come true."

Asked if that is a decision he now regrets, Maccarone replied: "In hindsight yes. 

"But Southgate had been my team-mate and captain for four years. He kept telling me, 'I can't understand why [McLaren] doesn't let you play' but then when he became the manager he truncated my career at Boro.

"I said no to Trapattoni for Southgate but I should have done the opposite."

Leeds United legend Norman Hunter has died at the age of 76.

Hunter was taken to hospital last week having contracted coronavirus but lost his fight with COVID-19 on Friday.

The midfielder made 726 appearances for Leeds over a 14-year career with the club.

He helped Leeds to promotion from the Second Division in 1964 and was integral to their success under Don Revie.

Hunter won two First Division titles, the League Cup and the FA Cup. He was a part of Leeds' Inter-Cities Fairs Cup-winning sides in 1968 and 1971 and tasted defeat in the final of the European Cup in 1975, having lost at the same stage of the European Cup Winners' Cup two years earlier.

A part of England's World Cup-winning squad in 1966, Hunter won 28 caps for his country, scoring two goals.

Following his departure from Leeds in 1976, Hunter went on to enjoy spells with Bristol City and Barnsley, going on to manage the latter as well as Rotherham United and Bradford City.

"He leaves a huge hole in the Leeds United family, his legacy will never be forgotten and our thoughts are with Norman’s family and friends at this very difficult time," Leeds said in confirming Hunter's death on their official website.

 

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