The Premier League will attempt to show that players will be safer at club training grounds than they would be at home when they host a pivotal conference call on Wednesday afternoon.
The league has sent its protocols for a return to training via the Professional Footballers’ Association to each club captain or PFA representative, enabling them to be digested and discussed among squads. Now the league will invite the captains or representatives to air their concerns at a meeting seen as crucial to the goal of restarting the season in mid-June.
In a separate meeting on Wednesday morning, the league will talk to the manager of each club, with the League Managers Association chief executive, Richard Bevan, also present. Medical experts will be on each call.
The players, plainly, must be on board with the restart and it is accepted that a proportion of them have fears about putting themselves and their families in danger. Others are simply keen to crack on and play. It has been next to impossible to discern the percentage of the splits, although the clutch of high-profile players to have spoken out against the restart have attracted huge attention. They include Newcastle’s Danny Rose and Manchester City’s Sergio Agüero.
At one club, it is understood that there is work to be done to make the players comfortable, with the opinions voiced by Rose and Agüero chiming with those of the majority of the squad. There is a degree of nervousness, to put it mildly. On the other hand, another club held a call with its manager and players last week and nobody spoke up against the restart.
The league is confident that its plans to create a securely sealed bubble at the training grounds will allay the players’ worries; that they will realise there is more chance of catching coronavirus from, say, a family member who has returned from the supermarket than from anybody in their work environment.
At the same time, the league wants to stress that the players also have a responsibility if the season is to be completed. In short, they must not breach government guidelines in the way that the Wolves midfielder Morgan Gibbs-White did last week when he attended a party in London. He is facing disciplinary action.
What the league wants is to establish better lines of communication than were seen during the wage deferral arguments, which led to an us-and-them mentality among the players. However, some players are annoyed it has taken this long to have been given the information on the protocols; for some the delay has increased the doubts.
The players will be tested twice a week and phase one of the training return will feature physical distancing measures broadly in line with what a member of the public could do in a park. The difference is a member of the public can only meet up with one person outside their household.
The players will drive themselves to training in their kit, they will park three spaces apart, do their work and then go home without showering. They will be encouraged to wear a snood or face-mask at all times – despite criticism of the practicality of this. Some players have already returned for staggered solo training. The hope is work in small groups can begin next Monday.
Wolves, whose players returned to their training ground at Compton Park on Monday, began their testing procedures on the same day, with more than 10 backroom staff members swabbed for the virus by Premier League-appointed medics.
The PFA will support any player who does not wish to play. Ole Gunnar Solskjær and Chris Wilder, the managers of Manchester United and Sheffield United respectively, have said they would not force anyone back into action.