Chelsea winger Willian insists the vast bulk of Premier League players “don’t feel comfortable” about its Project Restart plan even though they are “really keen to return” after what could be over three months away. Germany’s Bundesliga returned this weekend to spur hopes of the Premier League returning to action next month.
But the United Kingdom’s management of COVID-19 has been far inferior to that of Germany’s, with nearly 35,000 lives lost in the UK.
In Germany, the death toll – which stands at 8,000 – has steadily and consistently declined to allow a return to elite sports.
The UK government has still given the green light for the Premier League to return in June with the 12th or 19th both earmarked as potential return dates, with the league having 92 fixtures to complete – which is likely to take up a six-week chunk of the calendar.
Yet Brazilian Willian is the latest player from England’s top flight – following the likes of Sergio Aguero, Glenn Murray and Troy Deeney – to question whether the league is ready to resume its 2019-20 campaign.
Plans to the season are set to be ramped up next week with clubs to return to training in small groups as squads look to get back to 100 per cent fitness.
Official protocols state that a maximum of five players can train in a group while tackling will be banned and balls, cones, corner flags, goalposts and pitches will be disinfected after each session.
The Premier League insists all 20 clubs are keen to resume the season though no official vote has yet been taken, with some publicly opposed to the idea of playing their remaining home matches at neutral venues.
Yet the desperation to avoid a financial blackhole in excess of £1billion has put pressure on clubs, and players, to prepare themselves for a return – potentially within the next three to four weeks.
And Willian insists most of the league’s players are not on board.
He said: “Honestly, from what I can see, a lot of players – the majority, I’d say – are uncomfortable with the idea of returning right now.
“We’re really keen to return, we really miss playing and doing what we love.
“But it needs to be safe for us to do so. That’s how we’re looking at it. Our health has to come first.
“So right now, players don’t feel comfortable with the idea of returning until it’s totally safe to do so.”
Willian has spent two weeks in quarantine after returning from his homeland of Brazil and will be free to go back outside on Sunday, although Chelsea’s Cobham training base is still closed.
Willian added: “Our squad has spoken a lot over the internet, via different apps, and we’ve had some meetings too.
“[Frank] Lampard has sent us information about what the Premier League wants to do.
“I came back to London two weeks ago – on Sunday I will have been back two weeks.
“My family stayed in Brazil because I felt it was better for my wife and daughters to stay there.
“We still don’t know how things are going to play out, moving forward.
“Hopefully, we’ll know in the next few days. The Premier League is going to have a meeting and then they’ll inform us about the next steps.
“When we started the quarantine, that’s when we started training at home.
“The club sent us exercise bikes and everything the players needed to train from home.
“And you use whatever’s around too: sofas, chairs…
“Then the club gave me permission to return to Brazil. I spent over a month in Brazil and over there I had more space to train.
“I managed to do a bit of ball work and some more dynamic training, again with the ball.
“Then I came back here and since then we’ve been training over the internet, with the coaching team at Chelsea.
“Every day at two o’clock in the afternoon, we head online to train!”
Blues boss Lampard, meanwhile, wants players to be better communicated with over the league’s plans to return.
The league are currently canvassing the thoughts of their stars on returning via the captains of each club, with several thought to have raised concerns over health and safety.
“Everyone will handle those situations differently,” he told Sky Sports. “People like Troy Deeney, you have to give the freedom to speak out, because people will be speaking from the heart.
“I think we have to upgrade that communication so players know what they’re going through, and then they can make those decisions.”
“My lads, I know – and I’m sure all managers will speak in the same way – they’re good lads.
“Their intentions and their feelings for their families are good. They want to get here and work. They can’t wait to get back and play football.
“I think the important part of my job at the moment is a lot of empathy with the players.
“You can’t just say, ‘lads, we’re going this way’, because this is a situation none of us have known. This is not a players’ strike, it’s not a player not wanting to train, or a player having an argument with another player, this is something that has affected everyone and their families.”
Lampard added: “We’re starting to plan because I think we’re still waiting on a few things but we know there’s a vote on Monday and there’s some testing that’s going to be done around that and then we’re looking at being back at training early-to-mid next week.
“I’ve just been talking with the staff planning how phase one will look, because it’s going to look quite different for us because of the restrictions.”
Published at Sat, 16 May 2020 21:32:00 +0000