Premier League clubs could be back in training from Saturday 9 May, two days after the current UK coronavirus lockdown is due to end. But increasing concerns over whether it is actually feasible to finish the 2019/20 season point to the possibility that action may not resume.
English football has been halted since March, with Leicester’s 4-0 Premier League win over Aston Villa the last Premier League game to take place before the campaign was suspended, though Liverpool hosted Atletico Madrid in the Champions League two days later.
The country as a whole has been in lockdown, with exceptions only for essential work and travel. The initial three-week period has since been extended by at least another three weeks and the present restrictions would be due to expire on Thursday 7 May.
Restrictions will not be relaxed unless the governments is satisfied that five key tests have been met: making sure the NHS can cope, a sustained and consistent fall in daily death rate, rate of infection decreasing to manageable levels, ensuring supply of tests and PPE can meet future demand, and being confident any adjustments would not risk a second peak.
Whether it will be possible to achieve that in the remaining two weeks is unclear.
But The Sun reports that Premier League sides are provisionally aiming to start training again on 9 May. The tabloid names Bournemouth, Sheffield United, Burnley, West Ham and Crystal Palace as the clubs who are working to that potential timetable.
The idea of returning to training in May follows previous reporting on the possibility of daily coronavirus testing at every Premier League training ground, as well as May also being proposed for a return that would initially begin with a mini ‘pre-season’ regime.
But as the date of a potential return gets closer, the justifiable doubts are creeping in.
The Guardian writes that bringing the season to an early conclusion – as has already been the case in Belgium – is something that an ‘increasing number of Premier League clubs are actively discussing’. There is even concern over the feasibility of playing behind closed doors, which is a far more complicated operation than two sets of players and a referee.
West Ham boss David Moyes is quoted as saying, “The deeper and deeper you look the harder you feel it is to get it up running again.”
That makes the Scot the first Premier League manager to publicly question restarting, while the Guardian cites clubs raising concerns over finances and sporting integrity, and, above all, medical safety. The possible need for multiple tests per person per match has also been perceived as frivolously insensitive when everyday people cannot get the tests they need.
90min’s own Chris Deeley summarised it like this: “If someone tests positive, anyone they've come into contact with (and anyone they've had contact with) has to isolate for 14 days, which probably puts a team out of commission. Probably the whole league.
“If everything went perfectly, it could work. There's no human way it goes perfectly.”
The Daily Mail report that UEFA are expected to relax its stance over the implications of abandoning a season, with leagues previously threatened with the possibility of losing European places in 2020/21. That could allow Scotland and the Netherlands – the latter’s government has taken steps this week to ban all public events until 1 September – to follow the path taken by Belgium.