Five days of training and at least two rounds of COVID-19 testing have been completed in Phase One of the Premier League’s Project Restart, and one conscientious objector aside, so far so good at Chelsea.
That’s not meant to trivialize N’Golo Kanté’s fears and concerns about participating in group activities during a pandemic — which he’s doing so with the full support of the club and the understanding of most fans — but so far no one at Chelsea has tested positive for COVID-19 and even though training is far from usual, some progress is being made in terms of regaining fitness.
Head coach Frank Lampard sat down with the BBC to reflect on this new normal, and as usual, spoke eloquently about the issues and challenges facing us.
“All of us here want to work. It’s our job and we’re very fortunate to have this job, to play football and we want to finish it.
“When we see so many things in the country and the world, much more important things than football happening, I think that’s been a bit of a reset for all of us but what remains is we want to play football. We want to finish this season but the most important thing is when it’s safe and healthy for players and staff. Fans won’t be coming but will it change things in society, the policing, the NHS, all these things need to come together and hopefully we can get our game back.”
Most projections don’t see fans returning to stadiums until at least the end of the calendar year, if not until after next season, which will present an entire new set of challenges not only for the teams financially or the fans themselves, but for the players on the pitch. Crowd noise piped-in may be a temporary mitigating solution, as seen in the Bundesliga this weekend, though that’s not without its own set of issues as well.
But this is all part of the new normal as well, and something for which coaches have to now also prepare the players.
“It’s certainly proper football. There are clear things that are going to be affected, you may not get to the level of what we get with crowds because that’s why the Premier League is for me the best in the world, because our home fans drive us on and that’s why home advantage is so important but when you go away, that hostility and tribalism sometimes drives you on as well. It’s a beautiful thing.
“Of course it’s football [the behind-closed-door games]. There will be things that are different and I’ll have to speak to the players about that but when there’s three points and when you’re playing for your team and you want to get somewhere in the league, then of course the focus is there.”
Of course, we first have to get to the stage where games can be held again. For now, the Premier League have not set a specific date for that, though June 19 has been penciled in. This would be after most of the other big leagues — Germany’s already back; Spain just announced June 8 as the date; Italy’s trending to June 13; much of Central Europe’s targeting this week or next — but the UK’s response to the coronavirus was delayed and not quite on par with the others.
Later this week, clubs will vote on whether Phase Two can begin, which would step up the training levels to bigger groups (maximum of 10), with some contact (not full contact or tackling yet), and no time limit on training itself (currently limited to 75 minutes, with 15 minutes of warm-up and cooldown each). That still won’t be training as we know it, but will be better than the current situation and more helpful in getting players back to match fitness.
The process may be slow and cumbersome, but it’s important to keep things as safe as possible while still allowing for normal life to resume in some manner.
“It’s been okay, it’s been great to see the players. I’ve seen them on many Zoom calls and WhatsApp chats so it’s been nice to keep to working. It [training] is very restricted and we have to abide by the restrictions because they’re there for a reason because of the time that we’re in.
“It’s been good to get some work into the players, it’s individual work. This might be a difficult process or a slow process, safety has to come first. Once we get over phase one and see what phase two might look like and beyond that then we can think about getting games back, albeit behind closed doors.”
-Frank Lampard; source: BBC via Chelsea FC
The second round of testing of nearly 1000 individuals came back with only 2 new infections of COVID-19, both asymptomatic, which is certainly good news for the Premier League’s attempts to resume playing.
Let’s hope things continue trending in the right direction.