Chief executive of Premier League side backs Leeds United to be promoted into 22-team top flight

BRIGHTON'S chief executive Paul Barber has backed Leeds United and West Brom to be promoted into a 22-team Premier Division next term if Coronavirus curtails the rest of the campaign.

By Lee Sobot
Sunday, 15th March 2020, 4:00 pm

All professional English football has been suspended until at least Friday, April 3 as a result of the COVID-19 virus which is not expected to peak in the country until at least three months' time.

Doubts have consequently been raised about the prospects of the current season being completed with just under a quarter of the season remaining and Leeds still having nine games left of their Championship campaign.

It has been suggested that the Premier League could end the season now and hand the title to runaway leaders Liverpool but have no relegation and a 22-team division next season with the current top two promoted from English football's second tier.

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BACKING: For Leeds United and West Brom from Brighton's chief executive Paul Barber. Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images.

Leeds sit one point ahead of second-placed West Brom who are six points ahead of third-placed Fulham.

Barber's Brighton outfit sealed automatic promotion from the Championship in 2017 and the Seagulls CEO believes there is definite merit to ending the season now with the Whites and Baggies going up.

"I think it's a possible option to leave the 20 teams in the Premier League as it is but to bring the top two teams in the Championship up," said Barber, speaking on BBC One's Football Focus this weekend.

"It gives us a larger league next season, perhaps with four relegation places next season and then two teams coming up again to get the league back to 20 the following season.

"It has some merit.

"Clearly there are a number of details in there that need to be worked through and a number of issues to work through, not least the qualification for European places but we are in unprecedented times and we may have to take unprecedented solutions.

"Every league starts with an expectation of completing all 38 fixtures, as it is in the Premier League, and we really want to be able to do that.

"Our intention must be to play the fixtures but we have got to put people's health first and at the moment it is really hard to imagine putting on a football game in the Premier League in two or three weeks' time given the scenario we are in.

"If we were to freeze the league it would be incredibly unjust for Liverpool to not be awarded the title, because everybody in the game appreciates what a fantastic season they have had and what a wonderful team they are.

"That would be very unjust but equally it would be unjust for teams to be relegated when there are still nine or 10 games left to play in the Premier League and the financial consequences of that for those teams is very difficult.

"It would be equally unjust for Leeds and West Brom not to get promoted because we know how hard it is to get out of the Championship

"We know how hard they have worked even to get to this stage of the season in the top-two."

Asked about how that would feel for those teams currently in the Championship such as Fulham and Nottingham Forest, Barber said: "If I was in that position I would really feel for them but I think we are all in a situation where with seven, eight or nine games to go, we could all ends up in a better place than we are.

"If we can't complete the season then we have got to look at quite radical solutions and get over a shorty team hump as it is.

"We could actually find ourselves delaying a season but then we would probably impact another season into that as well if we were to delay for too long so there's a whole load of different issues here.

"Player contracts obviously come into it because will expire in one form or another on June 30 or at least that would be the natural break for many contracts.

"If we extended the contract into July or August or further what would be the implications for that?

"Would we have the same squad, would we have different squads, would players be able to move between teams at that time.

"There are so many implications of delaying the season beyond a certain point and it may be where we get to a point where we just have to be pragmatic, we have to be sensible, we have to ask everyone for their understanding and cooperation.

"The most important thing in all of this is that we put people's health first, not just players and coaches and spectators but also the staff at the clubs.

"We can't put ourselves in a situation where we are relying on emergency services to attend stadiums behind closed doors when they could be needed elsewhere in the community."