Author: Emily Pulham. Published: 17 May 2020 at 10:43am
Written by : Graham Keeffe
With the Premier League remaining in a state of abeyance, talks between clubs and officials remain ongoing as to when, or if, the season can restart. Currently, it is proposed that the season will resume on June 12th. However, in light of players recently voicing apprehensions over proposed return to play procedures, this is now looking less likely.
At a two hour meeting involving 20 club captains, concerns were raised over player safety as well as the potential legal implications of consenting to play and subsequently contracting and passing on COVID-19. This week saw some clubs returning to training on a heavily restricted basis. From a West Ham standpoint, Rush Green is currently open to players but with strict conditions in place. As reported by Sky, a one-in-one-out policy is in operation, with players to arrive in their training gear and having to wait until they get home to shower. A 60 minute window has also been allocated in between sessions so as to avoid players coming into contact with one another.
With limited sessions taking place and players having being confined to their homes for the past several weeks, it’s difficult to see how fitness levels can be quickly restored to professional standards in time for June. There is a stark difference between “fit” and “match-fit”. Hammers midfielder Declan Rice has highlighted the contrast as regards individual and team training as well as the potential repercussions of teams returning to play too soon. In an interview with Soccer AM via video call, Rice stated that “if you’re looking at going straight back into it, you’re going to see so many injuries.” Given West Ham’s track record with injuries and the fact that several players live in apartments with restricted space, a rush in returning to play could prove detrimental.
When team training does return, it is going to have to be done on an incremental basis. Several reports have speculated that sessions may begin with a maximum of five players and the possibility of face masks being made mandatory. There is also the matter of disinfecting equipment. In Spain La Liga club doctors have urged officials to disinfect pitches prior to play. Irrespective of the number of protocols and level of precaution being taken, it should ultimately be up to the players as to when play can resume. While they may enjoy an elevated social and financial status, they remain human. As per Wayne Rooney, they should not be treated as “guinea pigs”. People are still contracting, falling ill and losing their lives to this virus. The rush to restore the Premier League season should not come at a cost to the health of players and their families.
When football does return, it will not be as we once knew it. Face masks, gloves for throw-ins and periodical disinfecting of balls and pitches may well become the norm. Tackling may be further restricted and crowding of the goalkeeper for corners potentially banned. It is issues such as these which Premier League officials must address if a coherent restart is to be implemented by June. While many may want football back, a heavily restricted bubble-wrapped version in front of empty stadiums may not be the best option. Play needs to return when it’s safe.