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English Premier League Won’t Return Until At Least June First With Strict Protocols

Sadio Mané of Liverpool scores his sides third goal during the Premier League match between Liverpool FC and West Ham United at Anfield on February 24, 2020 in Liverpool, United Kingdom. (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – With the weekend fast approaching, and the return of German soccer on Saturday morning, the focus of soccer in Europe is starting to turn to what happens next in England, Italy and Spain.

The lead taken by Germany and its government has maybe sped up the interest in a restart of soccer around the world. However, countries are at different stages of dealing with COVID-19. Italy’s Serie A, voted this week to return on June 13. Sixteen of the 20 clubs agreed to the date, the other four also agreed, but preferred a June 20 return.

It seems that Italy and Spain are a little further ahead with their process.

The UK government announced no live sport until after June 1 but this doesn’t mean the EPL will return immediately on June 1. The teams have only recently started individual training programs at their training facilities. With next week a supposed upgrade for training with small groups. I don’t see full-group sessions starting until late May, but more likely the start of June. Meaning there would probably be at least three weeks of full squad involvement training before clubs will agree on a schedule for playing games. I see this step as a week or week and a half behind Italy.

The most important thing about the safe return of soccer are the protocols that will be in place.

For the EPL, whilst the players will use the pitches to work out on; the gyms, locker rooms and restaurants will all be closed. Players will arrive in their training kit, park in a designated spot, three cars away from anyone else.

The training sessions will last no longer than 75 minutes. In these sessions, no more than five players will be at the training ground and no more than three coaches. In the training sessions, players will be encouraged to wear a mask or snood. As a parent of a young soccer player, he and I will both tell you how hard and uncomfortable it is to train with a mask on.

When the 75-minute session is finished, players will immediately walk to their cars and drive home. There will be no team meetings on site. Those will continue to be held via video conferencing.

The idea behind all the protocols and stages set, is that all 20 EPL training grounds will be some of the safest and cleanest places in England. To go along with that, players will be tested twice a week, and also go through a mini-medical to check for any respiratory or cardiac issues. Going through the COVID-19 testing alone is so uncomfortable that agreeing to abide by this rigor shows the dedication of the players and the clubs to overcoming and hopefully eradicating this virus.

Now, with all this in place, there is the small matter of the UK government’s desire to protect the players, which I think is absolutely vital. They state that no professional athlete should be forced to return to training and stressed that the choice should be a personal one. For the most part, I think players are chomping at the bit to return, as are the fans.

We’re not all the same, and we need to make sure there is a fair environment for those who think differently. If players are kept informed they’ll feel cared for and their best interests are a top priority and returning to a safer than normal environment will go along way to alleviating any fears they may have for their health and safety.

The flip side of not protecting players is if players don’t feel like they’re a priority it can play havoc for the positive social environment coaches try to instill in their squads. With so much on the line, the psychological impact on the players probably outweighs the physical at this time.

Until next week, wash those hands and wear your masks.

You can follow Spenno on Twitter here and catch him hosting The Lions Den with Tom Hackett, powered by KSL Sports. 

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