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Premier League's crucial vote on Project Restart set to take place on Monday

Published on: 24 May 2020

The Premier League face a crucial test of Project Restart with clubs set to vote on the next tentative stage of a return to full training and to debate what would happen if the league has to be curtailed.

But there is an ongoing discussion as to whether teams will have to quarantine in a hotel for two weeks before the Premier League starts — and it still looks as though June 26 is the likeliest date for a return.

The Mail on Sunday can reveal the key components of the next stages, which involves a return to limited-contact training as early as this Thursday, if the Government allows it, with full contact to resume next month.

Project Restart received a boost with the news that Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez has given La Liga the green light to resume from June 12. With the Bundesliga successfully negotiating a second round of fixtures on Saturday, the resumption of the Premier League looks ever more likely.

The Premier League will meet on Wednesday to discuss the next phase of training, ‘Phase Two’, which involves limited contact. At present players train within small groups of four or five but have to stay two metres apart, with time limits on the length of the session.

If the next stage is approved it will allow:

●Groups of up to 10 players and three staff.

●No time limit to the total length of training session.

●Groups can do some close-contact training but not full contact and it this must be time limited.

For example, a player will be allowed to press their opponent but not tackle him in popular exercises such as the rondo, where players have to pass the ball amongst each other. Phase two is not full-contact training with tackling and small-sided matches, which will have to wait at least another week.

Given that will probably not resume until June 5 and most managers and physiologists are insisting that they need three or four weeks of full-contact training, then June 26 looks a more workable restart date. Few now expect the restart to be on June 12, though June 19 remains a possibility.

Wednesday’s meeting should be relatively straightforward. Watford’s Tom Cleverley had has said that most players have yet to be consulted on phase two but said that he expected to hear more next week from captain Troy Deeney and manager Nigel Pearson.

‘We’re doing phase one now and we have no information about phase two,’ he said. ‘I’m sure Troy and the manager will be in meetings very soon but as players no, it’s a day by day thing.’

Players and managers will be briefed on the phase two protocols on Monday and their feedback will be drafted into the protocols the clubs discuss later in the week.

Cleverley also revealed that there are still fears the entire project could be derailed. ‘Phase two, you could potentially be rubbing shoulders with 15, 20 guys on the same day, so if we get into phase two and there’s all of a sudden a spike in positive cases, that puts the whole thing in jeopardy. If phase two can be done safely, the logistics of a match day is a bit more simple. Let’s wait for the information and the schedule on phase two and see if the players are happy with it.’

Coaches will ultimately have to risk assess all training ground activity and score it from one to 10. Current running and shooting drills, which allow social distance, would be ranked one to two. As contact grows, training exercises such as the rondo without tackling might be ranked five and a five-aside would be ranked seven to eight. Coaches will only be allowed a limited number of high-risk drills per day and only for a short period to minimise the risk of virus transmission.

The Premier League will also move with the Government’s guidance to elite sports on what is allowed, so will require them to move to phases two and three before they can proceed.

Thursday’s meeting of the Premier League shareholders threatens to be more contentious as it is then that Project Restart will be discussed in more general terms, including what to do if the season cannot finish. The Premier League will need to agree on a plan of allocating league positions on points per game or some other weighted formula.

It has been made clear that the FA would use their golden share in the Premier League to enforce relegation, so there seems little prospect of the idea of voiding the drop gaining much traction. Watford and Brighton, two clubs threatened with relegation, have indicated that they now want the season to resume, if the safety of players can be guaranteed.

Despite the fact that Watford have six members of staff absent from training at present, either because they are not comfortable to return or because they have to self isolate, Cleverley says that Watford want to play the remaining nine Premier League games. ‘We have to back ourselves as a squad,’ he said. ‘The odds, from where I’m standing, is that the season is going to go ahead. Even if it means playing without some of our best players, we have to back ourselves [to avoid relegation]. We have no problems about continuing and proving that we do deserve to be in this league.’

There is an ongoing and potentially fractious debate over whether teams would need to isolate in a hotel before the opening fixtures. The Bundesliga teams did this for a week before last weekend’s opening round, the idea being that only players who have tested negative for coronavirus are allowed in, so it protects the players from being exposed to the virus.

But Premier League medical advisor Dr Mark Gillett last week told clubs that, in order truly to be effective, the quarantine would have to be for two weeks.

Players have reacted to that by voicing reluctance to fall in with such a plan, though the Premier League insist it is only in discussion and no decision has been taken.

Gillett, it is said, was only stating what is current Government advice regarding quarantine, not suggesting that it was necessary before the first fixtures.


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