A number of leading players declared themselves reassured by plans for a return to contact training and it is now hoped the clubs will vote in favour of this on Wednesday, before voting on Phase Three – a return to matches – on Thursday.
The latter is naturally seen as “D-Day” for Project Restart, but the mood is not adversarial, and it is felt there is now significant momentum behind a return. While Thursday is unlikely to see a fixed date actually settled upon, the target remains 12 June, although the second half of the month is still more likely.
The expectation is that crucial videoconference will take place at the same time as players are returning to contact training.
Even figures like Troy Deeney – who had been most vocal about not wanting to return out of health concerns – are said to have been impressed with the extent of detail and scientific research offered. After a period when those player concerns had been seen as the main obstacle to Project Restart, a number of factors have turned the mood.
Most prominently, there is the Bundesliga’s successful return, to go with the fact there have been just eight positive cases from the Premier League’s two rounds of tests so far. The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport on Sunday then gave the go-ahead to contact training.
From that, the Premier League has sought to build a picture of safety for the players, using all of the latest science and research.
The key has been to show that as many areas as possible are being looked at, to as safe a level as possible, and illustrate to players and managers that every possible precaution is being taken. Influential in this has been the Premier League’s incorporation of a “Player Proximity” white paper by STATSports – the company who make GPS vests for 15 of its clubs – that was able to track how many two-metre incursions there are par training session.
The relatively low numbers from that were already encouraging, given that the average incursion lasts no longer than 3.3 seconds, from an average of 350 per session.
Just as important has been how STATSports technology has allowed clubs to make sessions even more Covid-19 proof, while also allowing a football form of ‘track and trace’.
The latter is particularly crucial as regards positive tests. It means that, if a player contracts Coronavirus, the clubs can use the data from his vests to see who he has come into contact with in training.
The technology then allows clubs to tailor training and adapt so that there are fewer drills where there is extended contact. The key is again to eliminate risk where possible.
“It offers that bit more comfort,” Sean O’Connor, STATSports director, says. “Our data has found, for example, that one club had barely any incursions in their warm-ups, while another club had 40. So they will have to adapt their warm-ups.”
O’Connor points out that some of it is common sense, but the point is again to actually measure, and display the data to players to show what can be done.
“Small condensed possession drills have obviously seen a lot of incursions. So have 11 v 11 over a smaller area, like when you bring the goals to the edge of the 18-yard box. This is obvious, but just gives you the picture to adapt to, and gives the Premier League and clubs the detail.”
The Premier League want to keep the research ongoing, but it has so far proven so effective that the DCMS have approached STATSport for the technology, to tweak it for other areas. The vests are naturally much more accurate in terms of GPS than mobile phones.
Many players had been using STATSports technology in their own time, to track their figures, with something of a football vs rugby rivalry developing. England international Jonny May’s 23.13mph has just been trumped by Manchester United’s Dan James, at 23.3 mph
James’ club are meanwhile among those fully content with the plans, and the widespread expectation is that the two votes are “only going one way”.