The Spanish football league body, La Liga has released a four-plan step that will lead to the resumption of the league next month. This is contained in a 24-page special report on training ground protocol.
A mass testing of clubs in the top two divisions has commenced. This week, Lionel Messi was spotted in a mask.
Also,disinfected footballs, three players per dressing room and the prospect of squads living in Big Brother-style houses are just some of the proposals in place in order for the La Liga season to restart.
The task of testing clubs in the country’s top two divisions began this week as part of LaLiga’s operation to restart the season in the middle of June.
The report also informs clubs of their obligation to test players for COVID-19 before they begin training.
The four-phased protocol runs thus:
Phase One: Testing
Every one of the players registered with the 20 top-flight clubs in Spain, plus all technical staff and essential workers have had to be tested for COVID-19 and that even includes Real Valladolid president Ronaldo Nazario.
The former Barcelona and Real Madrid forward wants to be close to his players as they come back in a bid to save themselves from relegation and that means he will have to pass through the three tests the players are to be subjected to before the season can restart.
One name missing from the Barcelona list of individuals to be tested was Ousmane Dembele. He is not registered with LaLiga – that’s how Barcelona were allowed special dispensation to sign Martin Braithwaite outside of the window – and so until his official period of recovery from injury is reached in July he will not be registered and tested and cannot go to the club’s training ground as a consequence.
Phase Two: Solitary training
LaLiga have already said they are anticipating at least 30 cases of players testing positive for coronavirus. But they are determined that this will not deter them from aiming to restart the season in June.
Players who test positive will be sent into quarantine and tested before they can return.
If players test positive when squads are training together then it will be more of a problem but at this stage before players have even started solitary training there will be no panic.
‘We should not dramatise [players testing positive]. We should act as in any other industry that has returned to work,’ said Spain’s secretary for Sport, Irene Lozano.
Despite tests being made available some players have expressed grave concerns.
‘I will not play again if there is a minimum risk of spreading the virus to my family, said Eibar’s Pape Diop and his team-mates and coaches put together a joint statement saying: ‘We are afraid to start an activity in which we will not be able to meet the first recommendation of all the experts which is physical distancing.’
LaLiga president Tebas has already told players: ‘There is more risk going to the chemist than there is going to training,’ and in the first phase players will be able to social distance because they will be training alone.
Phase Three: Small group training
To a certain extent social distancing will carry on into the third phase because squads will be split up into three groups of eight. There will be no contact between groups.
And clubs that have the facilities have been told to use three different dressing rooms for their groups of eight meaning that there are never more than three players in any one dressing room at the same time.
Dressing rooms will be disinfected after every session before the next group of eight players come in. Maintaining the training grounds are ventilated is emphasised and where possible doors should be left open to limit the number of times door handles have to be touched.
LaLiga has sent a 24-page protocol to the 20 clubs. It is extremely detailed right down to recommending hand washing every hour and instructing clubs to put soap dispensers throughout their facilities.
So-called non-essential staff, who don’t have daily contact with players, will still have to leave uniforms at the door as they leave training grounds so that they can be washed daily.
In club training ground kitchens all packaging of all new food brought in will have to be disinfected before the food is removed and used.
Phase Four: Full-squad training
The most crucial stage because a positive test for coronavirus coming after this point could be potentially ruinous for plans to kick-off the season again in June. At the start of this phase some experts have said they expect football to be very different.
‘In the beginning players are not going to have the same contact that they are used to. We are going to see another kind of football,’ Rafeal Ramos, the head of Spain’s association of team doctors, has said.
‘Players will not be holding on to each other at corners.’
Once the official fears are assuaged and when competition for places hots up ahead of the return of the last 11 games of the season that could change.
Phase four also begs the biggest most difficult question: Should players, coaches and essential staff now be living together at team hotels or at the training ground away from friends and family?
LaLiga are strongly recommending it although it is not clear at this stage if they will make it obligatory.
The director of Public Health and Preventative Medicine at the University of Madrid, Fernando Rodriguez told El Pais recently: ‘To really protect Messi he must be isolated. Footballers can become infected, say by, playing with their children at home.’
Players, who are still living at home, have been requested by LaLiga to stay indoors and clubs have been instructed to make sure they have all essential items sent to their homes so they don’t have to go out.
After all these, there will be more desire than ever not to be complacent.
The 11 remaining games could be played over seven weeks with four midweek rounds. And clubs should ensure all materials, and that includes the pitch and the balls, are sterilised before and after the game, and at half-time.
Right now this still seems some way off but LaLiga are working on a matchday protocol with clubs and they will be sent out shortly.