TWO MONTHS of nitpicking and name-calling has weakened the bonds holding together the Premier League’s 20 clubs.
But if there is one thing that unites them, it is cold, hard cash.
And while some of the strained relationships will perhaps never be the same again, the thought of watching millions of pounds disappear down the drain proved the catalyst for a new resolution.
Even the biggest of the Prem giants will be hit by losing their share of more than £300million being demanded back by broadcasters for a disrupted, delayed and virus-distorted season.
Waving goodbye to all £760m they have already banked between them for the final quarter of the season would be a hammer blow to every one of them.
League chief executive Richard Masters, who has recognised the scale of his job in recent weeks, denied vitriol had been an issue but agreed that the bitterness had to end.
He said: “When we’re dealing with some of the challenges and complications, it’s understandable there are differences of opinions between clubs.
“We were able to paint a picture about what would happen in various scenarios, playing out the season and not playing out the season.
“The way the clubs came together, I feel people can see some of the issues are now starting to be addressed and I can see momentum building.
“What there was, was a view that we were better together and talking through one voice and better off acting at all times like a collective. That was the unanimous view.”
It was an overdue but necessary reassessment, especially as the FA made clear that, one way or another, football’s bosses at Wembley will insist on relegation.
The clubs are willing to face down FA chairman Greg Clarke on that issue if it comes to a crunch.
But finances were equally part of the plea to see if the forced use of neutral stadiums can be overturned.
On the football side, it was felt that Prem chiefs had accepted the police line, that public safety was at risk, too readily. Why had they not pushed back?
And what was forcefully pointed out, is that many of the sponsorship deals clubs rely on include huge branding issues.
A club sponsored by Nike, let’s say, would not be happy playing host to rival brands.
Big-money sponsors expect a proper bang for their buck.
That is the exposure they get from a home game in the wealthiest league in the world, something that could not be guaranteed at neutral venues.
Masters conceded: “Obviously it is people’s jobs to work out what the best way of managing the risk of supporters turning up outside football matches is and that’s why we need to listen very carefully to the advice.
“But our clubs would argue that, in relation to policing their own fans, they have a good relationship with them.
“They feel they can encourage their fans not to turn up while they’re playing behind closed doors and that they’re in a better position to control that.”
Whether that will be enough to persuade the Government, so desperate to see football back as a signal to the nation that we are on the way out of the crisis, to lean on the police is another story.
Even the rebel clubs will accept the inevitable and swallow neutral grounds if this last bid fails. That is because, in truth, football has to return for the good of the game.
While contingency plans for “curtailment” were discussed, there were no details.
Prem bosses hope Germany’s Bundesliga — which is reopening in home stadiums this weekend — can lead the way.
Masters confirmed a “sister company” of the one being used in Germany will be in charge of the 40,000-plus Covid-19 tests required.
And he insisted that, at this stage, it was all about “training” rather than playing, even if the target date of a June 12 restart is still in place.
Masters said: “The players have to be consulted. The first meetings will take place this week.”
But agreeing that clubs will be allowed to extend the contracts of players whose deals run out on June 30 is all about restart planning.
Masters added: “We’ve been working to ensure clubs complete the season with the same squad prior to the suspension.
“It was agreed players can extend their contracts until the end of the season but it must be agreed by both parties.”
The “building blocks” are starting to be put in place but this is still a precarious construction.
And goodwill alone will not keep it upright.
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