MANCHESTER, England (Reuters) – Premier League clubs will discuss plans for resuming the season in a conference call on Friday but the practicalities of how to even begin training will be the first obstacle they have to overcome with “Project Restart”.
FILE PHOTO: Soccer Football – Premier League – Southampton v Aston Villa – St Mary’s Stadium, Southampton, Britain – February 22, 2020 General view of match balls on the pitch before the match Action Images via Reuters/Matthew Childs
The league is hoping the U.K government, which is due to review coronavirus lockdown restrictions on May 7, will give the go-ahead to a return to training, albeit with strict medical guidelines in place.
Getting players back on the training field would clear the way to an eventual resumption of the season in early June with games expected to be held behind closed doors, possibly at neutral venues. No matches have taken place since March 9.
Although European soccer’s governing body UEFA has set a deadline of May 25 for leagues to inform it of their plans to resume action — in order to help with the schedule for the remaining Champions League and Europa League matches — the Premier League has plenty of time to complete its fixtures.
UEFA has indicated it is willing to wait until late August to complete the continental club competitions and that gives the Premier League the whole summer to work with.
“Patience is the key here and patience will lead to the correct decision, there simply is no rush where we stand right now,” one club official told Reuters.
Leagues in France and the Netherlands have been cancelled for this season but there appears to be little pressure on the Premier League to follow suit.
While it was a French government decision that led to the cancellation of the Ligue 1 campaign, the U.K government’s cabinet minister responsible for sport, Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden, has said he has been working with the league with the aim of getting games on as soon as possible.
However, some players are apprehensive about the prospect of playing while the pandemic continues with Chelsea defender Antonio Rudiger telling Germany’s ZDF: “If we continue to play and there is a danger, and we ignore that while people are dying somewhere in the world, I don’t know if that would sit right on my conscience.”
Although some clubs, including London rivals Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur, have opened their training grounds, they have said the pitches are only being used for individual work and they are not back in normal practice sessions.
The league has been taking advice from club medical teams on how training could be conducted in a safe manner with the aim of finding an agreed protocol for clubs to agree upon.
The Daily Mirror published parts of a seven-page document which showed some of the plans being considered.
Those proposals include privately funded testing for players before the return to group training and widespread disinfection of training equipment and facilities after each session.
The report said players would wear face masks and there would be a ban on spitting. The Premier League has not commented on the report but is expected to provide an update on its proposals after Friday’s meeting.
The plans are based on players not using inside facilities other than to visit the toilet and a phased return with players initially working in small groups.
The document is part of broader soundings that the league has been taking from clubs about a possible return to action.
Friday’s meeting is likely to focus on whether all Premier League clubs would be in a position to adhere to such a protocol and how the regime would survive if players tested positive during training.
While the need for an agreement on the training regime is a key first step, it does not preclude planning a start on how to carry out the remaining games of the season.
Sixteen teams in the league have nine games remaining while four have 10 matches still to play.
Reporting by Simon Evans; editing by Ken Ferris