How to help sick footballers and keep the rest fit
Medical and performance teams at football clubs will have their work cut out in the coming weeks, not only in monitoring the number of ill players but ensuring those not affected maintain fitness while football takes a break.
They will plan training programmes based on the projected restart date of April 4 although this situation is changing daily. We’ll know more this week but many will be sceptical as to whether the Premier League will resume then, making it much more difficult to schedule training.
Government guidelines on isolation changed last week from 14 days to seven days and could change again this week. However, a lot of clubs will give players seven days off in line with current guidelines and advise them on avoiding situations where they risk contamination, such as unnecessary social contact or exposure to crowded places. This will give the clubs the chance to deep-clean training grounds and facilities. If the players come back with no symptoms, government advice would suggest that they were not positive. Of course, they could still subsequently pick up the virus although I’m sure clubs will reiterate advice on reducing infection risk.
If players are off for seven days, they will be given a personal training schedule. If they’re back at the training ground by the second week, it would be like a mini pre-season, with conditioning work to re-establish fitness levels. The third week, before April 4, would be more standard, with harder physical work at the start and tactical meetings at the back end. However, it’s hard to plan with certainty. Although players might be ready to play, government guidelines on mass gatherings may change next week, making a restart impossible.
The good news is that the Premier League are advised by an excellent medical officer, Mark Gillett, and an experienced group of doctors who will work in the best interests of players, staff and the sport.
Some club medical staff will be required to care for those who have tested positive for Covid-19, as Mikel Arteta and Callum Hudson-Odoi did. You would naturally treat those affected as a patient first and an athlete second. Their wellbeing is paramount.
If, like Hudson-Odoi, they are reportedly feeling fine now, you might contemplate some fitness work but it would always be dependent on the symptoms and how they feel. Players who are well will still self-isolate because they have had contact with someone who is infected.
To keep them fit at home could be problematic. It will be easier for Premier League players as many have gyms or swimming pools. You could import treadmills, watt bikes or cross trainers and, water work could be done, although not in a public pool.
Even without leaving the house, a good level of aerobic fitness can be retained. This will be harder for a League Two player who might not have access to training equipment or similar facilities. The other logistical issue around resumption is players who then test positive. As it stands, the whole squad would self-isolate for a week, meaning more cancelled fixtures. Even when players return, they wouldn’t be able to play straightaway; you would want a week to build them up gradually. If they were back on a Monday, you would work up to a hard session on Wednesday – what we call a spike in training – before easing down towards the weekend. Without the recovery work, you would risk injuries.
Players who were rushed back would be less fit than opponents and at a competitive disadvantage. Another complication would be that the recommended gradual return from self-isolation would inevitably slow the rate at which fixtures could be played.Daily Mail