'Don't punish us, punish unprofessional clubs,' Sheffield United star insists after praising Premier League decision

Sheffield United and other clubs who followed strict fitness programmes during lockdown should not be penalised because others have failed to demonstrate the same level of professionalism, Ben Osborn has insisted, after endorsing the Premier League’s decision to return to action later this month.

Tuesday, 2nd June 2020, 5:32 pm
Updated Tuesday, 2nd June 2020, 5:41 pm

The announcement that competition will resume on June 17 - three days before the first full round of fixtures is scheduled to take place - has provoked fury in many quarters of the game, with some of United manager Chris Wilder’s counterparts claiming it exposes players to an increased risk of injury.

Osborn and his colleagues were seventh in the table - five points outside the Champions League places - when the season was mothballed in March because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Insisting both the timing of ‘Project Restart’ and the scheduling of the remaining 92 matches, which will be squeezed into a seven week window, are “realistic”, the midfielder argued it would have been unfair on those teams who have worked “really hard” had a further delay been imposed.

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“I think there’s more than enough time to prepare,” Osborn, who could feature when United visit Aston Villa in 15 days time, said. “We were keeping fit and I don’t really see why more professional clubs, such as ourselves, should get punished by pushing it back even more.

“There’s nothing wrong with the times. The earlier the better for us to be honest. We’re fine with the start date.”

Osborn joined United in the close season from Nottingham Forest, making his 12th appearance for Wilder’s side when Norwich City were beaten at Bramall Lane three months ago. He could feature again when United contest the first of their remaining 10 PL games in the West Midlands. A win over Dean Smith’s men would see them climb to fifth; only two points behind fourth-placed Chelsea.

United can also qualify for Europe via the FA Cup, where they are due to face Arsenal in the quarter-finals later this month.

Ben Osborn in cup action for Sheffield United this season: Simon Bellis/Sportimage

“It might take a game or two to get back to the heights,” Osborn continued. “You’ve seen that in Germany, when the Bundesliga came back, that the first few games maybe lacked a little bit of intensity. But I’ve watched the last few there and it’s now back to normal, albeit without fans.

“There’s nothing like actually playing for getting that fitness but we’re all in the same boat. And I seriously doubt any professional footballer has gone out and ballooned two stone or whatever like what used to happen over the summer. So I think it’s all fine really.”

After initially holding small-scale training sessions at the Steelphalt Academy, United stepped-up their preparations for the trip to Villa Park last week, after receiving permission to stage full contact exercises.

“I feel ready to return,” Osborn added. “We had a rigorous programme when we were sent home. There were some really tough sessions.

Sheffield Unired return to action in the Premier League when they visit Aston Villa on June 17: Simon Bellis/Sportimage

“It’s been really tough, like pre-season if not harder, and we’re working really hard between ourselves.”

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