Beware of tackles after return from long break
Lions winger Faris, SSI's Dr Rashid and Kedah's Aidil weigh in on play resumption
It is like coming back from a long injury layoff, minus the pain.
That is how Singapore international Faris Ramli described the feeling of returning to competitive action after more than five months of coronavirus-enforced disruption to the football calendar.
The Terengganu winger is among a handful of overseas-based Lions whose football careers have returned to some semblance of normalcy with the restart of league action.
But unlike Faris in the Malaysian Super League (MSL), Irfan Fandi in Thai League 1 or his brother Ikhsan in the Norwegian second division, the domestic Singapore Premier League (SPL) has yet to restart after it was suspended on March 24 due to Covid-19 control measures.
The Football Association of Singapore has scheduled Covid-19 swab tests for SPL players and match officials this week, which could pave the way for a potential return within the next fortnight.
Clubs have been allowed to resume full-team training since Sept 1 after about two months of non-contact training in groups of five.
So what is it like returning to action after such a long hiatus?
Faris, who made his first competitive appearance against Sabah on Aug 29, told The New Paper: "It's like when you come back from a long injury (layoff) where you haven't been playing games and you have to catch up to the level of your team.
"It's like that, but without the pain (you may have after coming back from an injury)...
"We were leading 3-0, so coach decided to put me in, but I could feel that I was a bit 'heavy'. I just focused on building on my match fitness... It's not about your actual weight, it's just a heaviness of your body and your legs during a game."
When asked what advice he has for his SPL counterparts ahead of their eventual return to competitive action, the 28-year-old said: "They just need to be mentally and physically prepared that it is going to be harder than before.
"You have to push doubly hard in the first game, but you'll still not be up to your normal standards... It'll take two or three games to get back to your normal self...
"You can be fully fit but, in your first match, you really have to be careful in terms of your tackles and turns."
Dr Abdul Rashid Aziz, the team lead of physiology at the Singapore Sport Institute, also flagged tackling as a potential source of injuries after the enforced break.
WARY OF MISTIMED TACKLES
He noted that players are unlikely to tackle with the same intensity during training sessions as compared to match situations, so they must be wary of mistimed tackles when they return to action.
Said Dr Rashid: "When you play among your own teammates, you don't go all out, you hold back a little bit.
"I'm concerned about one thing - tackling. Because they have not been playing at a competitive level, when they start the competition and go all out, they might mistime challenges. And that would result in the risk of injury."
Dr Rashid suggests that coaches conduct tackling drills in training to mitigate this risk, adding that another important area is recovery.
He said: "After every match, you have to try and hasten the recovery of the players.
"Maybe by cold water immersion, compression garments, taking care of their nutrition, hydration and sleep. All this must be well taken care of."
One tactician who has managed the return to action well is Kedah's Singaporean coach Aidil Sharin. His side have won all but one of their five matches since the MSL resumed last month, shooting up to third in the 12-team table.
He said: "The planning of the session and the recovery is very, very important.
"You have to monitor their body fat, their fitness tests - everything you have to do in detail so that your players are not injured when the season starts.
"Some individuals have to be separated from the rest if they've not been pushing... (to) make sure some players don't interrupt the training session if they are not fit."