Daily Express

Many more infected players and game is as good as over again

- By Matthew Dunn

FOR ALL the science and speculatio­n, it looks as though it is coronaviru­s that will have the final word.

When will Covid-19 leave football alone for long enough to get the season finished?

It was not the strategic lockdown that stopped the ball rolling initially. It was the arrival of the pernicious infection in the heart of the Arsenal camp that caused football in this country to stop.

Gunners manager Mikel Arteta tested positive.

Then, across London, it was Chelsea forward Callum Hudson-Odoi.

A virus which seemed so far away suddenly became very close indeed.

Again the news ahead of today’s Project Restart meeting is that, despite all the precaution­s, a third Brighton player has just tested positive. It was a timely reminder of what football is trying to battle against.

If the virus rears its head in any meaningful way during an attempt to get the 2019-20 season over the line, it has all been for nothing. Because coronaviru­s does not care if matches are played in neutral venues or on a home-and-away basis. Or if a team is in the top six or bottom six. It can strike anywhere.

Five players in La Liga tested positive this weekend as the Spanish game looked to get itself back on its feet. Two positive tests in the Dynamo Dresden camp alone mean that the team bottom of the second tier of German football will not be restarting the season as planned this weekend.

Today the 20 Premier League clubs will meet to thrash out an agreement about the best way just to get players back training safely, something they hope to start on May 18.

The complexity of those discussion­s, together with the parallel arguments over who is responsibl­e if players do become ill, shows the grip the virus will continue to have on normality.

As in Germany, players will train in small groups initially, wearing protective masks in all likelihood, with social distancing maintained as much as possible.

It is striking the balance between preventing contagion and holding meaningful training drills.

At best, risk assessment has to be a subjective exercise, with home circumstan­ces and medical histories as much a factor as the danger of being infected.

That is why this week the voice of the players themselves will finally be heard.

Sergio Aguero openly spoke about his understand­able fears over playing and others – up to 50 throughout the division, according to some reports – have expressed reluctance to resume.

As Crystal Palace chief executive Steve Parish said yesterday: “The first thing we need to do is talk them through the risks and make sure they understand it. Equally, the players who currently do want to play need to fully understand the risks that there are.

“We believe, the doctors believe, that we can make this one of the safest of work places – if not the safest.

“But if a player really does not want to play, I cannot imagine any circumstan­ces where we would make him.” Ultimately, though, footballer­s will be expected to put their own health on the line for the sake of their sport. Parish added: “The concern is that if they prove insurmount­able now, we may be in for a very, very extended period of not being able to play. “That has huge ramificati­ons for the game. Essentiall­y we are an events-based business with mass gatherings.

“We know we will be damaged coming out of this because, obviously, we will not have crowds.

“It is really about damage limitation and seeing what we can salvage. “Hopefully we can get to the point where certainly no Premier League club is in the situation of going bust.

“But I think, down the leagues, it will get very critical very quickly.”

Football is learning, though, that coronaviru­s moves very much at a pace of its own.

 ?? ?? MEN BEHIND THE MASKS: Cologne players arrive for training yesterday
MEN BEHIND THE MASKS: Cologne players arrive for training yesterday
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 ?? ?? STRUCK DOWN Arteta, left, and HudsonOdoi, right, were both infected by the virus
STRUCK DOWN Arteta, left, and HudsonOdoi, right, were both infected by the virus

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