On Tuesday, club managers and players were sent official instructions and guidelines around the return to team training as a beginning aspect of the first phase for Project Restart. According to BBC, these ‘team sessions’ will demand the observance of social distancing, that pitches are disinfected, groups do not exceed five players, those players are not allow to tackle, and sessions can only be 75 minutes.
“Official protocols sent to players and managers on Tuesday and obtained by the BBC reveal that social distancing must be “strictly observed”.
Corner-flags, balls, cones, goalposts and even playing surfaces will be disinfected after each session.
League bosses hope training can begin on Monday, restricted to 75 minutes”.
In addition to these guidelines, players are told “a central register of Covid-19 test results (subject to their consent and Professional Footballers’ Association agreement) will need to be maintained.”
The guidelines even go as far as calling out player’s personal hygiene needing to be maintained as a recommended “control measure”. Rules that were previously established around arriving to training alone, in their own vehicle, ready to train appear to still be in effect as the attempt to shift to whatever form of “team training” you want to call this begins.
The BBC completes their article by noting that some players who fall into categories more likely to suffer from heightened severity should they contract COVID-19 have begun to voice their concerns. These include players with asthma, as well as, those black and minority ethnic (BAME) players who have reason for concern as called out by the PLDG last week.
While we have heard little from players in a unified sense, tweets and messages from Norwich’s Todd Cantwell saying ,“we are just people too,” or Danny Rose’s blow up saying “I don’t give a f**k about the nation’s morale” as he commented that Project Restart is “bulls**t”, suggests one may be coming. After all, project restart will only be possible if the player’s themselves agree to take the pitch.
As far as the training goes, we can hardly declare this a “team session” given the rules, but I have no doubt that staff and managers like Arteta will be chomping at the bit to show how creative they can be to achieve team goals within the guidelines.
As for the aspect of returning to full sessions or matches when clubs go beyond these rules, I struggle to imagine the division that would form between supporters if Project Restart is given an official greenlight and players refuse to play in the conditions provided. It was a near fistfight between Arsenal supporters when players leveraged their PFA rights to turn down an initial wage cut – much less, outright, refuse to play. Would they still get paid? A point that could only fuel the fire of people’s rage if this were to be the case.
However, currently, it is not the case and there are certainly reasons for players to be concerned for their own safety. While the league is trying to offer circumstances and conditions that mitigate risks while increasing the likelihood of the season returning, concerns from medical experts and team doctors call the whole thing into question.
On Wednesday, the Premier League, PFA, and medical staff will meet and offer their concerns. Everything seems to be moving along more out of necessity to meet UEFA’s timeline with a decision than because things are going smoothly.
There is little doubt in my mind that the view of players will be forced to emerge soon, which is when we will be better equipped to assess the full playing field of this situation’s opinions. We can only hope clubs opt to not play a role in pressuring their player’s opinions – although that feels like almost too much to ask for. If there is a suggestion of them playing a role, it will increase the moral grey area of the situation as people point out that a club’s influence may force players to side with the overall club to not suffer future wrath or fallout.
Until we know more – stay safe, stay healthy.