Some Premier League clubs are to resume training in small groups on Tuesday, with a return to top-flight football edging closer amid the coronavirus pandemic.
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.
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Stage one enables squads to train while maintaining social distancing, but contact training is not yet permitted.
On Tuesday morning, Liverpool captain Jordan Henderson arrived at Melwood, so too Steven Bergwijn at Tottenham’s training ground, while members of Wolves’ squad – including Conor Coady and Diogo Jota – were seen doing isolated fitness sessions.
Manchester United’s players will return to training at Carrington on Wednesday, having been tested at the Aon Training Complex on Sunday.
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Watford are also set to resume on Wednesday, although captain Troy Deeney said he would not take part amid concerns for his son’s health.
Newcastle boss Steve Bruce said on Tuesday: “Let’s get up and going and see where it takes us. I think all of us want to get it started and finished.”
Premier League chief executive Richard Masters says they expect to have the first batch of COVID-19 test results by 2pm on Tuesday and training can start to begin once that happens.
Masters also stated there remains flexibility over the league resuming on June 12, and players’ fitness levels will be taken into consideration when that decision is made.
“I think once you know when you can start full contact training, and we’ve had a proper discussion about clubs over how much is required to create the fitness levels before they can start playing, you’re then in a position to confirm when the season start date is,” he said.
“We haven’t changed the start date; we have to be flexible about it. What we don’t want to do is continually to move that start date. So, we haven’t changed it but we need to be flexible and acknowledge we’re in a step-by-step process.”
In a statement, the Premier League said: “This first stage has been agreed in consultation with players, managers, Premier League club doctors, independent experts and the government.
“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.”
⚽ Newcastle United's players are set to return in small groups to the club's training ground this week as they begin their preparations for the proposed resumption of the 2019/20 Premier League campaign.
Before the Bundesliga returned last weekend, there were reports players would have to isolate for 14 days before the league started. This was eventually decided against because of the clubs’ regular testing capacity.
Premier League medical advisor Dr Mark Gillett admits he is unsure whether the same thing will happen before the Premier League restarts and says it is something that will have to be discussed.
“The advice we are getting from government is that if you are going to isolate you have to do it for 14 days. So you will need to be in a hotel environment for 14 days to make it truly effective,” he said.
“Now that is something we are going to need to think about and consult widely with players, managers, clubs, LMA, PFA – all the stakeholders as we move through into that phase.
“It’s certainly something that will be discussed. And ultimately when we get into phase three in particular we will make a decision on that and it will be one that everyone is happy.”
Top-flight football was suspended indefinitely on April 3 and the last Premier League fixture was played on March 9.
League officials have previously stressed games will only be played again when it is “safe and appropriate”.
What will training look like?
In preparation for training in small groups to resume, Premier League clubs have been:
- Disinfecting all training equipment including balls at their training grounds.
- Delivering training kit to players so they can arrive ready to train.
- Marking out designated parking spaces for players with gaps of three spaces between each car.
- Allocating players to different groups of four or five in which they will train on designated pitches.
- Drawing up lists of staggered arrival times for different players.
- Drawing up lists of club employees who will be allowed at the training ground.
Players are aware of the strict rules which will be in place for phase one training.
That means no tackling or spitting and maintaining social distancing from everyone else at all times.
Many players are believed to be encouraged by what they saw after watching games being played again in the Bundesliga this weekend.
German clubs began training in small groups from April 8 with their first round of league fixtures starting on May 16.
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Sky Sports News’ Chief Reporter, Bryan Swanson:
In the Premier League’s own words, this is a first step to games resuming when it is safe to do so.
It will please the Premier League this was a unanimous decision because they like their clubs to agree collectively on the big decisions.
This is the first phase but we are not quite at the stage where the green light has been given for games to resume. That’s because further talks are planned over the next phase, which is a return to contact training.
It’s one step at a time but still a significant decision on the journey towards a Premier League restart.
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