Premier League clubs will attempt to find enough common ground on Monday to agree on a tentative step towards the resumption of the football season even if opinions differ sharply about the length of the road ahead.
Raheem Sterling has suggested that even if players’ protection from coronavirus could be guaranteed, the ambition of playing matches in mid-June is fanciful because “you’d need a full four to five weeks” of training to regain fitness after being out of action since early March.
At Monday’s meeting executives from all 20 clubs will hold a video conference to discuss the ratification of a medical protocol under which players would begin training in small groups, subject to physical distancing and regular testing for Covid-19. Players returned to their training grounds last week for the first time since the league’s suspension, but only for individual work.
Allowing contact-free group training would mark progress towards a restart but many hurdles would remain, as several clubs and a large number of players are still unconvinced about the safety of contesting matches in the near future. Many have expressed their concerns about contracting the virus, not only in terms of their own health but for the potential for transmitting it to vulnerable family members.
Sterling, meanwhile, said in an interview with the US women’s captain, Megan Rapinoe, on his YouTube channel, that even if enough players were to be reassured enough to agree to a restart, they would need a lot of work to regain fitness: “You can’t come back in with one and a half or two weeks [of training]. You’d need a full four to five weeks, especially if you’re going to go back into competition when you’re literally paid to win. You do need to do that preparation – you can’t just go straight in.”
Even if the protocol is approved, talks are likely to become more thorny in the course of this week, as Uefa has requested that all European leagues should indicate by 25 May whether and how they will restart. Uefa last week intimated that that is not an ultimatum but it is clear that Europe’s governing body wants to see progress.
The Uefa president, Aleksander Ceferin, has insisted that the 2019-20 Europa League and Champions League can still be completed by the end of August even though the French and Dutch leagues have declared their seasons to be over.
“We have an idea but we have to wait for the executive committee of Uefa to confirm the dates. I can say that the European season will be finished, if everything is as it is now, in August,” Ceferin told beIN Sports. “As things look now, I’m sure that we can finish the European season and this means Uefa competition. I think the majority of leagues will finish the season.”
That raises the possibility of Manchester City and Chelsea having to follow a Premier League resumption with the completion of their Champions League campaigns, while Wolves and Manchester United would have to fit in Europa League ties.