The Professional Footballers' Association (PFA) claims "essential public services" would lose important revenue if players take the 30 per cent pay cut proposed by Premier League clubs.

Highly-paid stars have come under increasing public pressure to commit to a wage reduction after the coronavirus pandemic brought England's top flight to a halt until at least May.

Liverpool on Saturday joined Tottenham, Newcastle United, Norwich City and Bournemouth in placing a number of non-playing staff on furlough. The scheme sees the United Kingdom government cover 80 per cent of an individual's wages up to the value of £2,500.

Health secretary Matt Hancock called on footballers to "play their part" and Premier League clubs agreed at a meeting on Friday to approach them over a pay cut.

No agreement was reached with the PFA, which suggested it was not the right approach, mooting that services such as the National Health Service (NHS) could suffer a financial blow.

However, the players' union stated a "substantial contribution" will be made once talks have been concluded.

The PFA's statement read: "The players are mindful that as PAYE [pay as you earn] employees, the combined tax on their salaries is a significant contribution to funding essential public services - which are especially critical at this time.

"Taking a 30 per cent salary deduction will cost the Exchequer substantial sums. This would be detrimental to our NHS and other government-funded services.

"The proposed 30 per cent salary deduction over a 12-month period equates to over £500m in wage reductions and a loss in tax contributions of over £200m to the government.

"What effect does this loss of earning to the government mean for the NHS? Was this considered in the Premier League proposal and did the health secretary, Matt Hancock, factor this in when asking players to take a salary cut?

"We welcomed the opportunity to discuss this with the Premier League today and we are happy to continue talks.

"It is our priority to finalise the precise details of our commitment as soon as possible. However, to achieve a collective position for all Premier League players - of which there are many different financial and contractual circumstances from club-to-club - will take a bit more time. 

"The PFA Charity has also agreed to make a substantial contribution to a player-led initiative once the details are finalised.

"There should be no doubting the players and captains are committed to achieving this as soon as possible. They recognise their role in wider society and what they need to do, as a group, to help and support others."

The PFA also claimed the Premier League's decision to advance £125million to EFL and National League clubs and donate £20m to the NHS and other charitable causes was insufficient.

"£20m is welcome, but we believe it could be far bigger," said the statement.

"The EFL money is an advance. Importantly, it will aid cashflow in the immediate, but football needs to find a way to increase funding to the EFL and non-league clubs in the long-term.

"Many clubs require an increase in funding just to survive. We believe in our football pyramid and again stress the need for solidarity between all clubs."

The statement added that players want to ensure their financial contributions support clubs, players and staff at all levels of the football pyramid and the NHS, whose workers it called "the real heroes".

Premier League clubs have agreed to consult their players about taking 30 per cent pay cuts due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The proliferation of COVID-19 has seen the majority of global sport grind to a halt, with a meeting of Premier League shareholders on Friday acknowledging England's top flight will not get back under way at the start of May.

Tottenham, Newcastle United, Norwich City and Bournemouth have placed at least part of their non-playing staff on furlough leave at the United Kingdom government's expense.

Health secretary Matt Hancock called on Premier League footballers to "take a pay cut and play their part", with the Professional Footballers' Association (PFA) attracting criticism for a lack of action in agreeing such measures.

However, clubs will now approach their players about reducing their salaries while football is on hiatus.

A Premier League statement read: "The sporting and financial implications for Premier League clubs as well as for the FA, EFL and National League were considered at today's meeting.

"In the face of substantial and continuing losses for the 2019- 20 season since the suspension of matches began, and to protect employment throughout the professional game, Premier League clubs unanimously agreed to consult their players regarding a combination of conditional reductions and deferrals amounting to 30 per cent of total annual remuneration.

"This guidance will be kept under constant review as circumstances change. The League will be in regular contact with the PFA and the union will join a meeting which will be held tomorrow between the League, players and club representatives."

The Premier League also announced that £125million would be advanced to the EFL and National League due to the "severe difficulties clubs throughout the football pyramid are suffering at this time".

All leagues overseen by the EFL and National League have been suspended indefinitely.

An additional £20m has been committed to support the NHS, communities, families and vulnerable groups during the pandemic.

"This includes a direct financial contribution to the NHS and funds to enable clubs to refocus their efforts and develop significant outreach programmes to help communities, including those most in need. This funding will enable both immediate and longer-term support during the crisis," the statement read.

"In response to COVID-19, Premier League clubs have been supporting tens of thousands of people in their communities each and every day through targeted activity including donations to foodbanks, telephone calls to the elderly, food parcels delivered to the vulnerable and a wide range of free resources to support wellbeing and education.

"Many Premier League clubs are also working closely with their local NHS Trusts to provide valuable support through the provision of resources, volunteers and facilities. Now, more than ever, clubs are playing a vital role to support the wellbeing of those in their communities and alleviate pressure on critical health services.

"Working closely with the Department of Health and Social Care, Public Health England and the NHS, the wide reach and appeal of the Premier League and our clubs will continue to be used to promote important public health messaging throughout this crisis.

"The Premier League would like to reiterate that the thoughts of all our clubs are with all those directly affected by COVID-19​."

The Premier League and the Professional Footballers' Association (PFA) are discussing player wages as part of talks over how football in England should respond to the coronavirus pandemic.

Representatives from the English Football League (EFL) and League Managers Association (LMA) were also involved at the summit, which will continue for the next two days.

Premier League clubs Newcastle United, Tottenham, Norwich City and Bournemouth have placed members of non-playing staff on furlough, taking advantage of the UK government scheme in response to COVID-19 that will pay employees 80 per cent of their wages up to £2,500 per month.

Bournemouth and Norwich said they would top up those salaries to ensure furloughed staff receive full pay, although Tottenham's decision to cut staff pay by 20 per cent across the board came in for criticism given the wage packets of head coach Jose Mourinho and his playing squad are set to go untouched at this stage.

The resumption of the 2019-20 season and player safety was also on the agenda at Wednesday's meeting.

A statement issued by the PFA read: "Senior representatives from the PFA, Premier League, EFL and LMA met today and shared a constructive meeting regarding the challenges facing the game as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

"The meeting reiterated that the overriding priority is the health and well-being of the nation - including that of players, coaches, managers, club staff and supporters – and everyone agreed football must only return when it is safe and appropriate to do so.

"No decisions were taken today with discussions set to continue in the next 48 hours with a focus on several high-profile matters, including player wages and the resumption of the 2019-20 season."

Professional football in England is currently suspended until at least April 30, with the Football Association extending its June 1 deadline to complete the season indefinitely.

Jadon Sancho is the name on everyone's lips.

The Borussia Dortmund teenager has taken Europe by storm and clubs are queuing up.

But Manchester United are reportedly at the front of the line.

 

TOP STORY – UNITED IN TOUCH WITH SANCHO AGENT

Manchester United have contacted Jadon Sancho's agent as they look to sign the Borussia Dortmund sensation, according to Fabrizio Romano.

Sancho tops the list of United's transfer targets following his exploits for the Bundesliga side, with Liverpool and Chelsea also reportedly interested.

But Dortmund – who will not stand in Sancho's way of a departure – are unwilling to budge on their €110million (£98m) valuation.

 

ROUND-UP

- Tuttosport reports Chelsea are preparing a huge contract offer for Milan goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma. It comes as the Blues reportedly look to sell Kepa Arrizabalaga.

Juventus are interested in Achraf Hakimi, says Calciomercato. Achraf is set to return to Real Madrid following a two-year loan spell at Dortmund. Chelsea and Paris Saint-Germain have also been linked to the Moroccan full-back.

Inter have named their price for Barcelona target Lautaro Martinez, Calciomercato reports. With a release clause of €111m, Inter want at least €80m in cash.

- Birmingham City's 16-year-old star Jude Bellingham is set to reject a transfer to United in favour of Dortmund, says Bild.

Tottenham and Arsenal, along with Crystal Palace and West Ham, are eyeing Liverpool defender Dejan Lovren, according to Team Talk.

- Calciomercato claims Inter have not given up on signing Napoli forward Dries Mertens on a free transfer. The Belgian star is out of contract at the end of 2019-20.

Madrid is the preferred option for Rennes teenager Eduardo Camavinga, says Marca. Liverpool, Dortmund and PSG have also emerged as possible suitors for the 17-year-old.

- Corriere dello Sport says Valencia are eyeing Inter centre-back Diego Godin, who has been linked to United and Tottenham.

Roma are lining up a move for Atletico Madrid striker Diego Costa, says Diario AS. Clubs in Brazil and Qatar are also reportedly circling.

James McClean has been fined two weeks wages and agreed to delete his Instagram account after an apparent IRA joke, Stoke City have confirmed.

With social distancing measures in place in the United Kingdom amid the coronavirus pandemic, Stoke winger McClean uploaded a controversial post to his Instagram story.

Captioned "Today's school lesson - history", with a laughing emoji, the 30-year-old was pictured facing his children wearing a balaclava - imagery synonymous with the IRA.

A Stoke statement confirmed McClean's punishment and read: "The player has expressed contrition and recognises that the post was ill-advised and offensive."

McClean added: "I never wanted to cause any offence but I now realise that I did so and for that I apologise unreservedly.

"I have spoken to the club and will be deleting my Instagram account."

The Republic of Ireland international has previously complained of "constant sectarian abuse" in English football and was booed by Stoke supporters last season for refusing to wear a poppy, the traditional symbol of Remembrance Sunday.

McClean has suggested wearing a poppy would represent "a gesture of disrespect for the innocent people who lost their lives in the Troubles - and Bloody Sunday especially".

Leeds United players, coaches and senior officials have taken a voluntary wage deferral to allow the club to continue to pay non-football staff during the coronavirus pandemic.

The spread of COVID-19 has caused massive disruptions across the sporting calendar, with English football on hold at least until April 30.

Experts have suggested such a prolonged and unplanned hiatus could threaten the very existence of smaller clubs across the world, as they are committed to paying football and non-football staff even without matchday revenue.

But some clubs are asking certain high-earning employees to defer their wages or take salary cuts during the interruption.

Leeds are the latest to make such a move, with players and football staff volunteering to defer their wages over the coming months.

A statement read: "Leeds United can confirm that the players, coaching staff and senior management team have volunteered to take a wage deferral for the foreseeable future to ensure that all non-football staff at Elland Road and Thorp Arch [Leeds' training facility] can be paid and the integrity of the business can be maintained during these uncertain times.

"The lack of fixtures, cancellation of events, impact on ancillary revenue and closure of the football financing market will cost the club several million pounds each month.

"Following a regular catch up between chief executive Angus Kinnear, director of football Victor Orta and several senior players, the decision was made by the squad to defer part of their own salaries to ensure that the club can continue to pay all 272 members of full-time staff and the majority of casual staff for the coming months."

Orta praised the players for their collective attitude in such a time of crisis.

"My players have demonstrated an incredible sense of unity and togetherness and I am proud of their actions," he said. "To Marcelo [Bielsa] and his staff and all of the players, we thank them for putting our wider team first and taking care of family.

"Now we must focus on public health, and when the people are safe, finish what we started."

Before English football was suspended, Leeds were top of the Championship with 71 points.

Gary Neville believes it is too soon for the Football Association, Premier League and English Football League to consider playing matches behind closed doors in order to restart the season.

On Thursday, the Premier League and EFL confirmed there would be no professional matches played until at least April 30 as the United Kingdom continues its attempts to slow the spread of coronavirus.

All games in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are currently postponed, with the FA having agreed to extend the current season beyond June 30 if it is necessary. 

Some matches in Europe were played behind closed doors prior to the widespread postponement of leagues across the continent.

But former Manchester United defender Neville does not believe putting on games without fans in attendance is the best course of action at this stage.

"There are a lot of things to happen before we contemplate behind closed doors," Neville told BBC Radio 5Live.

"I said no on this about three or four weeks ago because I felt that it takes away from the essence of football.

"I also felt that EFL clubs and non-league clubs would suffer too much from the revenue loss and it would put them under.

"At the moment, the behind closed doors idea has got to come only after the health priority.

"Will fans turn up outside the stadium? Will fans congregate outside the stadium if their team can get promoted or get relegated, or if they can get into Europe?

"How are we going to stop that? How are the police going to man it? How are they health services going to react to incidents that happen off the back of it and do we need to put any more pressure on the services at this point in time?

"However, if those fears could be overcome somewhere down the line within this 12-week period then [behind closed doors games] could be the case."

Neville last week confirmed the two Manchester hotels he co-owns with Ryan Giggs would be open free of charge to health workers during the crisis.

There have been over 5,600 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Britain, with 285 people losing their lives to the virus so far.

Wayne Rooney said he believes the coronavirus pandemic might mean the loss of the 2020-21 season in English football but insisted the Football Association is right to prioritise completing the current season whenever that becomes possible.

The former England captain commended the FA's decision to extend the length of the current season indefinitely, describing it as "the fair thing" for promotion, relegation and title races to be settled.

Rooney, who plays for Derby County in the Championship, indicated he is opposed to matches being played behind closed doors given the strain emergency services are already under across the UK.

"It wouldn't surprise me if finishing the season takes until the end of 2020," Rooney said in The Times.

"Football, like every other industry, is in unknown territory and, just like every other industry, has to listen to the advice and take all necessary precautions. For me, that rules out finishing the season behind closed doors.

"When you play behind closed doors it still means bringing together a fairly large group of people. You need ambulances, doctors, paramedics. They're mandatory. Police may be needed too. Why bring them all to a football match when in this crisis they will be needed elsewhere for things that are far more important?

"I wouldn't be comfortable playing a game knowing there were people dying or very sick because of coronavirus and we're taking those workers away from the front line."

Despite enjoying two spells at Everton and spending 13 years at Manchester United, Rooney hailed his former clubs' rivals Liverpool as deserving winners of the Premier League and tipped them to finish the job when the season resumes.

Derby are 12th in the Championship but only five points outside the play-off positions, and Rooney underlined the importance of avoiding the legal ramifications that abandonment of the current season would trigger.

"The FA helped to clarify that the league season will finish and that is fair," said the 34-year-old striker.

"Liverpool will win the Premier League. [They] have been fantastic. They have put so much work in. They deserve this title. Can you imagine waiting 30 years and then having it taken away like this? The right decision has been made.

"It's also right in terms of promotion and relegation and places. These issues are so big for the clubs involved that I imagine there would be a lot of legal fights if the season was just abandoned. The fair thing is to finish 2019-20 — even if we have to lose next season in the process."

Football may be on hiatus in most of Europe and across the globe due to coronavirus, but Fabian Ruiz's future is still making headlines.

The Napoli and Spain star has established himself as one of the best midfielders on the continent since arriving from Real Betis in 2018.

Now, Liverpool are desperate to prise Fabian to Anfield but they have competition.

 

TOP STORY – REDS MAKE FABIAN TOP TARGET

Napoli midfielder Fabian Ruiz is Liverpool's top transfer target, reports The Express.

Fabian has attracted interest from his homeland, where LaLiga giants Barcelona and Real Madrid are battling for the Spain international's signature.

However, Premier League leaders Liverpool are ready to pay £74million (€80m) for Fabian.

 

ROUND-UP

- The Mirror says Manchester United – led by executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward – have re-opened talks with star midfielder Paul Pogba's agent Rino Raiola. It comes amid uncertainty over Pogba, who continues to be linked to Madrid and former club Juventus.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic will leave Milan at the end of the season, reports Sport Mediaset. The 38-year-old return to San Siro on a one-year and had been discussing a renewal before chief football officer Zvonimir Boban was sacked, angering the Swede.

Liverpool and Arsenal are among a number of clubs monitoring Eintracht Frankfurt's Evan Ndicka, claims Sky Sports. The defender has also been linked to Milan, Inter, Valencia and Sevilla.

- According to The Mirror, Chelsea, United, Arsenal and Tottenham have enquired about Barca's Philippe Coutinho, who is on loan at Bayern Munich.

United are confident of beating Borussia Dortmund to the signing of Birmingham City's 16-year-old sensation Jude Bellingham.

- Celtic striker Odsonne Edouard is being eyed by Arsenal, The Mirror reports, amid doubts over Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. Aubameyang has been linked to Paris Saint-Germain and United.

Manchester United boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has paid tribute to "incredible human being" Peter Whittingham following the former Cardiff City midfielder's death at the age of 35.

Cardiff confirmed on Thursday that Whittingham had passed away after reportedly suffering head injuries in an accidental fall last week.

Whittingham represented Aston Villa, Burnley, Derby County and Blackburn Rovers during a 15-year playing career but was best associated for his decade at Cardiff.

Solskjaer, who spent nearly nine months working with the Villa academy product in south Wales, told United's official website: "I was deeply saddened to hear of the passing of Peter Whittingham.

"Peter was a fantastic footballer and an incredible human being. I thoroughly enjoyed working with him during my time at Cardiff City.

"It's hard to believe that he has been taken from us at such a young age. Peter will be deeply missed and our thoughts are with his family at this very sad time."

Whittingham was twice Cardiff's Player of the Year and was named in the Football League Team of the Decade for 2005-2015.

Juventus star Aaron Ramsey started his career with the Welsh club and paid a touching tribute of his own to his former team-mate on Instagram.

"I will forever be grateful for you taking me under your wing," he said, accompanied by a picture of the pair playing together in their Cardiff days.

"You were one of the most technical and gifted players I've played with and that left foot of yours was like a wand.

"I'm proud to have played alongside you and will always remember the young vs old games and you just running the show.

"My thoughts and prayers go out to your family, rest in peace Whitts, was too young."

Cardiff City have confirmed that former midfielder Peter Whittingham has died at the age of 35.

Whittingham was reported to have been hospitalised this week after sustaining head injuries following an accidental fall.

In a statement issued on Thursday, Cardiff revealed Whittingham has passed away.

The club stated: "It is with an immeasurable amount of sorrow that we must inform supporters that Peter Whittingham has passed away at the age of 35.

"We are heartbroken.

"The news of Peter's sudden and untimely passing has shaken us to our very foundation. Our love goes out to his wife Amanda, their young son and family. They are at the forefront of our thoughts and, on their behalf, we ask for their privacy to be respected at this unfathomably cruel and difficult time.

"First and foremost, Peter was a family man - and somebody who could light up a room with his sense of humour, warmth and personality. Then, as a professional footballer - as a Bluebird - he excelled with talent, ease, grace and humility. Nobody did it better.

"The loss of Peter will be painfully felt by our city, supporters and indeed all who ever had the pleasure of knowing him. We love you Pete and your memory will eternally stay with us."

Whittingham began his career with Aston Villa and also had spells with Burnley, Derby County and Blackburn Rovers.

However, the former England youth international was best known for his decade with Cardiff.

Whittingham was part of the side that won promotion to the Premier League by winning the Championship in 2012-13, while he also played in the finals of the 2008 FA Cup and 2012 EFL Cup.

He was twice Cardiff's Player of the Year, in 2009-10 and 2011-12, and was named in the Football League Team of the Decade for 2005-2015.

The Football Association has agreed to extend the 2019-2020 season indefinitely, while prolonging the suspension of all its leagues until at least April 30.

Last week, the FA halted the Premier League, the English Football League, domestic cup competitions and the women's professional game in response to the coronavirus pandemic wreaking havoc on the sporting world.

The body's rules and regulations state that its leagues "shall terminate not later than June 1" but the FA's board has confirmed the season can now go beyond that date in order to try to complete the calendar.

It was originally decided the professional game in England would be suspended until April 3, with that date now extended until at least the end of next month.

The FA said UEFA's decision to postpone Euro 2020 until next year allowed for flexibility in their efforts to finish the domestic season.

A statement read: "The FA, Premier League, EFL and women's professional game, together with the PFA [Professional Footballers' Assocation] and LMA [League Managers Association], understand we are in unprecedented times and our thoughts are with everyone affected by COVID-19.

"We're united in our commitment to finding ways of resuming the 2019-20 football season and ensuring all domestic and European club league and cup matches are played as soon as it is safe and possible to do so.

"We've collectively supported UEFA in postponing Euro 2020 to create space in the calendar to ensure domestic and European club league and cup matches have an increased opportunity to be played and, in doing so, maintain the integrity of each competition.

"The FA's Rules and Regulations state that 'the season shall terminate not later than June 1' and 'each competition shall, within the limit laid down by the FA, determine the length of its own playing season'.

"However, our board has agreed for this limit to be extended indefinitely for the 2019-20 season in relation to professional football. Additionally, we've collectively agreed that the professional game in England will be further postponed until no earlier than Thursday April 30."

There have been 2,626 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the United Kingdom, with 108 people having died.

Liverpool are 25 points clear of Manchester City at the top of the Premier League having won 27 of 29 matches in their bid to secure a first top-flight title since 1990.

Debate has been rife as to what should happen if leagues are not able to be completed, with many pundits saying the season should be declared null and void despite Liverpool's sizeable advantage, while others have argued they should be awarded the title.

The former option would cause a headache in determining promotion and relegation and the potential make-up of leagues in England for 2020-21.

Things have not worked out for Philippe Coutinho since his big-money exit from Liverpool.

Coutinho failed to establish himself at LaLiga champions Barcelona, while the Brazilian star has struggled to convince during his loan spell with Bayern Munich.

Now, a Premier League club are reportedly ready to hand Coutinho a lifeline.

 

TOP STORY – CHELSEA LEAD COUTINHO RACE

Chelsea are favourites to bring Barcelona's Philippe Coutinho back to the Premier League, according to AS.

Coutinho left Liverpool for Barcelona in a deal reportedly worth €160million (£151m) in 2018, however, he has not been able to match the lofty heights he reached at Anfield.

The 27-year-old was shipped out to Bundesliga powerhouses Bayern Munich at the start of the season, and Frank Lampard's Chelsea have reportedly sounded out Barca about a transfer.

 

ROUND-UP

- Where will Paul Pogba be playing in 2020-21? Linked to former club Juventus and Real Madrid, Manchester United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has previously insisted the Frenchman will be at Old Trafford next season. However, The Sun says United are now willing to sell Pogba for £100m (€105m).

United are desperate to beat Borussia Dortmund to Jude Bellingham's signature. Dortmund are reportedly favourites to sign Birmingham City's 16-year-old sensation. However, the Mirror claims United are prepared to outlay £30m to sign Bellingham, who toured the club's training facilities last week.

- Mundo Deportivo claims Barca are considering swap deals to facilitate the signings of Inter forward Lautaro Martinez and Paris Saint-Germain's Neymar. The report says Ousmane Dembele and Coutinho could be moved on.

- The Athletic says Liverpool are willing to pay RB Leipzig striker Timo Werner's release clause, but Barca are set to provide competition.

Chelsea are chasing CSKA Moscow striker Fedor Chalov, reports the Daily Star. Brighton and Hove Albion, West Ham and Crystal Palace are also interested.

- According to Gazzetta dello Sport, Gianluigi Donnarumma is happy to extend his Milan contract but CEO Ivan Gazidis is open to cashing in on the 21-year-old Italy goalkeeper.

For so long, Donny van de Beek has been tipped to join Real Madrid.

Madrid previously contacted Eredivisie champions Ajax over a possible deal for the midfielder at the start of the season.

The LaLiga giants reportedly have an agreement in place for Van de Beek, however, Manchester United are still fighting for the Dutchman.

 

TOP STORY – UNITED OUT TO HIJACK MADRID'S DONNY PURSUIT

Manchester United are looking to beat Real Madrid to the signing of Ajax midfielder Donny van de Beek, according to Marca.

Madrid reportedly have a pre-agreement with Van de Beek, who was close to swapping Amsterdam for the Spanish capital at the start of 2019-20.

Now, United are trying to pip Madrid to Van de Beek amid doubts over star midfielder Paul Pogba, who has been linked with a move to the Santiago Bernabeu.

ROUND-UP

- Calciomercato claims Juventus remain the preferred option for Pogba, despite United insisting the Frenchman will be at Old Trafford in 2020-21.

- Paris Saint-Germain's Kylian Mbappe and Borussia Dortmund sensation Erling Haaland team-mates at Madrid? The LaLiga giants are interested in the pair, however, Marca has described it as an "impossible dream". That is because Mbappe and Haaland reportedly do not get along following the Champions League last-16 tie, which saw PSG mock the Dortmund forward.

- Calciomercato says Napoli and Inter are set to go head-to-head for Sassuolo midfielder Jeremie Boga.

- PSG full-back Thomas Meunier will join Borussia Dortmund on a free transfer at the end of the season, reports RMC. Meunier's contract is due to expire in June.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic's future at Milan is uncertain. Gazzetta dello Sport says Ibrahimovic will only extend his contract if the Rossoneri build a strong winning team in Serie A.

Wayne Rooney believes footballers in England were being treated "like guinea pigs" amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Despite initially planning to go ahead with fixtures across the weekend, the Premier League and EFL announced on Friday that matches had been postponed until at least April 3.

The decision brought England's competitions in line with the rest of the major European leagues, with Ligue 1 having been suspended indefinitely while LaLiga and Serie A are off until April at the earliest – the Bundesliga has also been postponed.

Derby County forward Rooney - who is Manchester United and England's record scorer - believes the right decision was taken, though he was left frustrated by how long the authorities took to make the call.

"After the emergency meeting, at last the right decision was made," Rooney wrote in a column in The Times.

"Until then it almost felt like footballers in England were being treated like guinea pigs.

"The rest of sport - tennis, Formula One, rugby, golf, football in other countries - was closing down and we were being told to carry on.

"At Derby County, we sat at training on Thursday waiting for [prime minister] Boris Johnson to speak. People were anxious.

"Thankfully football made the right call in the end. We had to put the season on hold. Some people won't be happy but I just think, in this case, football has to come second. It's a sport. It's just a sport."

It remains unclear how the season will continue when the pandemic is over.

On Tuesday, the 55 member nations of UEFA will convene to discuss plans for the Champions League, Europa League and Euro 2020, while the Premier League has called another emergency meeting on Thursday.

Rooney, though, says players will be happy to go with whatever decision is made, as long as it is safe to play again.

"If people's lives are at risk, that has to come first, regardless of whether you're going to win the league title, whether you're trying to get into Europe or whether you're going to get relegated or promoted," he added.

"We're happy to play until September if the season extends to then, if that's how it has to be. That's our job. As long as we know we're safe to play and it's a safe environment for spectators, we'll play."

On Thursday, Arsenal confirmed head coach Mikel Arteta had tested positive for COVID-19, as has Chelsea youngster Callum Hudson-Odoi.

© 2020 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.