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The Premier League moved a step closer to the return of competitive football on Monday as clubs gave the green light to small group training commencing within the next 24 hours. Despite their latest video conference, however, no date was set for league fixtures to restart.
Professional football has been suspended in England since March 13 because of the coronavirus pandemic. EFL League 2 called a halt to their season last week, with League 1 expected to follow in the coming days.
But there remains a commitment from the Premier League and EFL Championship — English football’s second tier — to play the season to a conclusion on the pitch.
While football returned in Germany over the weekend with a full round of Bundesliga fixtures, Premier League clubs remain unable to agree on a date to resume their season because of a range of disagreements including venues for games, safety issues and the prospect of relegation being decided by average points per game if a return date cannot be finalised by a 14-6 majority of the 20 clubs.
But with hopes of games being played again from mid-June, the Premier League has now confirmed training in small groups will be allowed from the afternoon of May 19.
A Premier League statement said: “Premier League Shareholders today voted unanimously to return to small group training from tomorrow afternoon — the first step towards restarting the Premier League, when safe to do so.
“Step One of the Return to Training Protocol enables squads to train while maintaining social distancing. Contact training is not yet permitted.
“This first stage has been agreed in consultation with players, managers, Premier League club doctors, independent experts and the Government. Strict medical protocols of the highest standard will ensure everyone returns to training in the safest environment possible.
“The health and well-being of all participants is the Premier League’s priority, and the safe return to training is a step-by-step process. Full consultation will now continue with players, managers, clubs, the PFA and LMA as protocols for full-contact training are developed.”
Efforts to finalise a date for competitive action to resume will continue when the clubs discuss plans again next Tuesday.
The league also confirmed players are facing a 14-day period of hotel isolation before they return to match action.
Mark Gillett, the Premier League Medical Advisor, said on a conference call with reporters that English clubs are likely to spend two weeks in quarantine before they play their first game.
“The advice we are getting from government is that if you are going to isolate you have to do it for 14 days,” Gillett said. “So you will need to be in a hotel environment for 14 days to make it truly effective.
“Now that is something we are going to need to think about and consult widely with players, managers, clubs, LMA, PFA – all the stakeholders as we move through into that phase.
“It’s certainly something that will be discussed. And ultimately when we get into phase three [of Project Restart] in particular we will make a decision on that and it will be one that everyone is happy.”
Bundesliga clubs were forced to isolate their squads for seven days prior to the resumption of league games at the weekend.
Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp, who coached for years in Germany, said he finds it hard to think about playing with people still dying as a result of the pandemic, but added he realizes the need to be ready.
“How can you think about football when there are people dying out there?” Klopp said in kicker. “But like any other branch we must prepare for the time after because it will come. And for football this means that we start training at one point. And unique measures are taken to ensure the safety of everyone.
“The measures taken in Germany will be taken in England now.”
Later on Monday, the Premier League’s director of football Richard Garlick told reporters that the league would introduce unannounced visits to training grounds to monitor adherence to social distancing guidelines.
“We can request information from videoing of the sessions and GPS data, too,” Garlick said. “We are also looking at bringing in our own independent audit inspection team that we’ll scale up over the next few days which will give us the ability to have inspections at training grounds to start with on a no-notice basis.”