Football

Phase 1 training is OK, but players worried about phase 2: Troy Deeney

'Project Restart' kicks into gear with teams starting 'small group' sessions from today

English Premier League clubs will return to training from today after agreeing to allow "small group" sessions to begin, the first step on the road to a return to competitive action.

The EPL held a conference call for all 20 clubs yesterday, when the move was given unanimous backing, reported Reuters.

Media reports have suggested that not all teams will return to training today, although West Ham United and Newcastle United have confirmed they will be back on the pitch. Leicester City's players reported for Covid-19 testing yesterday.

It is the first move in the "Project Restart" plans to resume the EPL, which has not held a game since March 9 due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Failure to resume the season could cost the league around £750 million (S$1.3 billion) in lost revenue from broadcasters, according to British media estimates.

Some reports said clubs could lose out even if the league restarts, should broadcasters demand a £330m rebate.

"Premier League Shareholders today voted unanimously to return to small group training from tomorrow afternoon - the first step towards restarting the Premier League, when safe to do so," the league said in a statement yesterday.

"Step One of the Return to Training Protocol enables squads to train while maintaining social distancing. Contact training is not yet permitted."

Newcastle manager Steve Bruce described what training would look like, saying: "In phase one, we're allowed to train four to five people on one pitch, so basically a player has a quarter of a pitch to work within, so social distancing is not a problem.

"We'll train with eight to 10 at a time on two separate pitches. Everything is in place in the safety aspect. I've got no issues."

PHASE TWO

However, Watford captain Troy Deeney told ITV that next week's phase two is what players are worried about.

He said: "Phase two will be next week - six days' worth of training, three to six people training together with contact, and then six days after that you're going into 11 v 11 and you can't social distance with 11 v 11.

"I'm desperate to play football, it's my job, I've got the best job in the world. But there has to be clear and safe measures...

"I have had a lot of texts from players who are worried about coming out and speaking. I would say 98 per cent are very much aware that phase one is very good. I would say 65-70 per cent of people are concerned with phase two. I'd say even higher after that."

Deeney - along with the likes of Danny Rose, Raheem Sterling and Sergio Aguero - had expressed concern about the EPL's desire to return to action.

The league said the decision to return to "group training" had been taken in consultation with players, managers, club doctors, independent experts and the British government.

"Strict medical protocols of the highest standard will ensure everyone returns to training in the safest environment possible," it added.

Safety measures are expected to include tents where temperature checks will be conducted, strict hygiene criteria, no canteens and no showers.

Besides allowing at most five players on the pitch at a time, tackling will be forbidden. Players will be tested twice a week.

The successful return of the Bundesliga last week would have buoyed hopes of the EPL's resumption.

But EPL chief executive Richard Masters said yesterday that the projected June 12 restart could be pushed back.

Football