There are early signs that football may be on its way back in England. Boosted by the return of the Bundesliga this weekend, five weeks on since training resumed, many players are now encouraged that it is possible provided the correct steps are taken and plans are in place. During an emergency conference call on Monday the Premier League clubs unanimously voted in favour of resuming training in small groups from Tuesday. League officials, medical experts and representatives from all 20 sides held talks on Monday via a video conference call and agreed to stage one of the return to training protocols. In a statement, the Premier League said;
Strict medical protocols of the highest standard will ensure everyone returns to training in the safest environment possible. The health and wellbeing of all participants is the Premier League's priority, and the safe return to training is a step-by-step process. Full consultation will now continue with players, managers, clubs, the PFA and LMA as protocols for full-contact training are developed.
Championship clubs are also taking steps with the aim of returning to training on Monday 25th May. Players will begin testing on Thursday and Friday with results being analysed within 24 hours but will not be made public. A positive test means the training group self isolates for 14 days. Championship clubs will follow the Premier League's decision to test their players twice a week. It is understood a target restart of 20th June has been discussed, a week after the Premier League. Games would be played on five consecutive weekends with four midweeks in between. The last league games would be played on the 19th July with play-offs following.
Strict protocols in place
Stage one of the return to training involves strict protocols and procedures being put in place for both the Premier League and Championship. These include;
- Delivering training kit to players so they can arrive ready to train
- Players training in different groups of four or five on designated pitches
- Marking out designated parking spaces for players with gaps of three spaces between
- Staggered arrival times for different players
- Limiting club employees who will be allowed at the training ground
- Maintaining social distancing at all times
- No physical contact, including no tackling or spitting
- No 'manual therapy' such as massages, only essential medical treatment allowed
- Disinfecting all training equipment including balls
Leeds in pole position?
In days gone by under different ownership Leeds would probably have been one of the least prepared clubs for a return to football, but that isn’t the case now. Leeds United’s head of medicine, Rob Price, revealed to Phil Hay that preparations started back in January with individual training plans developed for players to work on during lockdown with bundles of equipment purchased ready to ship to their homes so that fitness levels could be maintained in quarantine. Leeds United’s players could return raring to go despite the six-week layoff due to the exemplary preparation and fitness levels seen under Marcelo Bielsa. Leeds had even ordered their own on-site Covid-19 testing machine, though they will now use the process put in place by the EFL.
It's not just the health and fitness aspects either, Marcelo Bielsa has tasked his coaching staff with in-depth analysis on set-pieces across Europe’s top five divisions, plus the Championship, with a view of identifying the most efficient zones to target. Set-pieces, especially corners, have not been lucrative for Leeds United this season and any marginal improvement in this area because of this analysis could reap serious rewards given how many corners Marcelo Bielsa’s side win. Bielsa has also been making surprise visits to Throp Arch and sending the grounds staff notes on what improvements can be made. Even in the middle of a global pandemic lockdown, Bielsa still strives for perfection.
These factors, combined with a genuine determination to finish the season from the players, Leeds United could be in pole position should the season restart next month.