The Premier League’s Project Restart moved a step closer this week as it was confirmed that clubs could return to training ahead of a proposed June return.
And the results of a mass testing protocol were, for want of a better word, positive – of the 748 players and staff that were tested, only six returned positives.
Unfortunately, three of those came from one club – Watford – where the captain, Troy Deeney, has already defiantly stated he will not be returning to training for the foreseeable future.
Two unnamed members of staff at the Hornets have tested positive, as well as defender Adrian Mariappa, who said he felt ‘as fit as ever’ and was gobsmacked at his test result.
“It was a big surprise because I haven’t really left the house,” the 33-year-old said from quarantine. “Apart from some exercise and the odd walk with the kids, I’ve mainly just been home-schooling and keeping fit.
“My lifestyle is very quiet, certainly no parties or going out or anything, so I really don’t know how I got it.”
Mariappa, his Watford colleagues and the other parties who have tested positive – which includes Burnley assistant manager Ian Woan – will now self-isolate for seven days, at which point they will be tested again to see if they can safely return or not.
It’s the latest episode in what has been a particularly turbulent time for Watford, whose club captain Troy Deeney has confirmed he won’t return to training because he fears for the health of his family – a stance supported by his manager, Nigel Pearson.
“We’re due back in this week. I’ve said I’m not going in,” the 31-year-old reiterated.
“My son is only five months old. He had breathing difficulties, so I don’t want to come home to put him in more danger. It only takes one person to get infected within the group, and I don’t want to be bringing that home.”
Some of his Watford teammates have supported Deeney and are also training from home individually, and it does beg the question if the Premier League is to return in June, just how well prepared will the Hornets be?
Project Restart: Where We’re At Right Now
While the situation is fluid, it seems that most Premier League teams are planning for a return within the next month.
Clubs have requested that players who locked down in their home countries now return to England, and training in small groups has been permitted – some returned on Monday. The possibility of ‘full contact’ training has been mooted as early as May 25
Under the current proposals, which could change very quickly, the plan is for the Premier League to return on June 12 – at which point, the rest of the 92 outstanding fixtures would be played across a seven-week period, with the campaign scheduled to finish with a final round of games on July 27.
These will all be played behind closed doors, and it seems increasingly likely that the original plan to play at neutral venues has been rejected. Traditional home and away fixtures are now probable.
As far as broadcasting rights go, Sky Sports and BT Sport have deals in place to show 47 of the 92 remaining games.
The rest could be shown free-to-air on YouTube, while Amazon has also expressed an interest – viewers could take out a trial of their Prime service and enjoy the action for free.