Premier League clubs approve contact training as players’ fears linger
The Premier League is on course to restart next month after clubs approved plans on Wednesday to resume contact training even as some players are concerned about taking to the field again during the coronavirus pandemic.
The vote by the 20 clubs came after gaining clearance from the government for players to work together as a squad as restrictions are eased across England.
For the last week, players have been working in smaller groups and avoiding contact. The next phase in training sessions still acknowledges the social distancing required in wider society.
“Premier League shareholders today voted unanimously to resume contact training, marking another step towards restarting the Premier League season, when safe to do so,” the league said in a statement.
“Squads are now able to train as a group and engage in tackling while minimising any unnecessary close contact. Discussions are ongoing as work continues towards resuming the season, when conditions allow. The Premier League’s priority is the health and wellbeing of all participants.”
The Premier League was put on hold in March due to the pandemic, with Liverpool agonisingly close to the title.
Germany’s top division restarted on May 16 and Spain has government approval for games after June 8. England is hoping to resume in the second half in June.
Failure to resume the season could cost the league around 750 million pounds ($921.75 million) in lost revenue from broadcasters according to British media estimates.
Clubs last week began the first phase of ‘Project Restart’ after agreeing to a return to training in small groups under strict limitations and no contact.
The announcement that Phase Two can commence follows 1,744 tests on players and staff for coronavirus which produced eight positives, including Watford defender Adrian Mariappa and Bournemouth keeper Aaron Ramsdale.
A third round of testing took place on Monday and Tuesday with the results not yet back.
Some players still have reservations about playing particularly at Watford, who are a place above the relegation zone.
“I’m not in favour of the Premier League returning, in a sense that not everyone is comfortable with it,” Watford backup goalkeeper Heurelho Gomes said in a video interview. “I believe the virus isn’t going away from one day to another. We obviously hope it does, but the problem will remain until a vaccine is developed.”
Watford captain Troy Deeney has not returned to training after three positive cases were registered by the Hornets over concerns he could spread the virus to his five-month-old son.
“Some players need more time, and that can be a disadvantage to some smaller clubs as they don’t have too many replacements,” Gomes said. “We should only return when everyone is cool about it and we have more time for training and adapting.”
A targeted return date of June 12 was described by Premier League chief executive Richard Masters last week as a “staging post”.
Players and coaches have argued they will need until at least the end of June to reduce the risk of injuries after such a long lay-off.
Germany’s Bundesliga has already managed to complete two rounds of fixtures since returning behind closed doors and there has been little player opposition to La Liga’s plans to return in Spain from June 11.
Liverpool captain Jordan Henderson said playing at an empty Anfield and winning the Premier League title with no fans present would be “pretty strange”.
Liverpool were 25 points clear of 2019 champions Manchester City when the league was shut down, on the verge of being crowned English champions for the first time in 30 years.
“Of course it would feel different because if you win any trophy and receive it without any fans there, it would be pretty strange,” he told the BBC.
“We still have work to do and we still need to perform at a high level right the way until the season finishes because we want to finish as strongly as we can to make sure it is a full season,” he added.
On Thursday Premier League shareholders will discuss the business aspects of ‘Project Restart’, including a possible broadcast rebate and what to do if the season is curtailed.
Some reports said clubs could lose out even if the league restarts should broadcasters demand a 330 million pounds rebate.