Explained: What the return to contact training means for Sheffield United

Sheffield United’s players must still comply with a number of restrictions designed to limit the spread of Covid-19, despite Premier League clubs voting for a return to full contact training.

Wednesday, 27th May 2020, 1:26 pm
Updated Wednesday, 27th May 2020, 4:54 pm

Representatives of the country’s leading 20 clubs signalled their approval for social distancing measures to be relaxed after a competition-wide screening programme, introduced to protect players and coaching staff from the virus, was rolled-out earlier this month.

After small-sided sessions began last week - more than two months after the fixture calendar was suspended because of the pandemic - Chris Wilder and his squad can now step-up their preparations at the Steelphalt Academy.

But a number of rules remain in place, with a maximum of 12 people allowed to take part in the work-outs at any one time.

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It is thought on-site changing and canteen facilities will remain closed, while players and coaching staff reporting for work must still follow designated routes when walking through team buildings.

Government ministers published their ‘Phase Two’ guidelines - aimed at helping elite level athletes improve their fitness levels - following a recent round of discussions with UK sports chiefs.

The document stated: "Stage Two training can be described as the resumption of close contact (interaction within the two-metre social distancing boundary) training where pairs, small groups and/or teams will be able to interact in much closer contact (e.g. close quarters coaching, combat sports sparring, teams sports tackling, technical equipment sharing, etc)."

All “unnecessary physical contact” must still be minimised but sports minister Nigel Huddlestone added: "Given the wide-ranging input we have received from medical experts, we believe these pragmatic measures should provide further reassurance that a safe, competitive training environment can be delivered, as we work towards a restart of professional sport behind closed doors when it is safe to do so."

Billy Sharp of Sheffield United returns to training as part of the Premier League's Project Restart at the Steelphalt Academy, Sheffield. Picture date: 22nd May 2020. Picture credit should read: Simon Bellis/Sportimage

United were seventh in the table - only five points outside the Champions League qualification positions with a game in hand on fourth-placed Chelsea - when the season was mothballed in March.

Wilder’s side have 10 league matches remaining, and are also in the quarter-finals of the FA Cup where they are scheduled to face Arsenal.

Richard Masters, the PL’s chief executive, has stated he believes it will be possible for fixtures to resume in mid-June although member clubs are expected to discuss the consequences of curtailing the campaign at their next teleconference.

Wilder told journalists last week that every United player is ready to make themselves available for selection, despite hearing some of their fellow professionals express concerns about the pace of ‘Project Restart’.

Billy Sharp, Phil Jagielka and George Baldock of Sheffield United at the Premier League club's training ground: Simon Bellis/Sportimage

However, Wilder warned it would be wrong to criticise those who are “uncomfortable” with the situation, stating: “I’d respect that (if a member of United’s squad revealed they didn’t want to play).

“As far as I’m concerned, speaking to the players and the captain, I don’t think that will happen.

“But if any player came to me and said ‘it’s not for me’, I’d respect that and we’d move on.”

An important message:

David McGoldrick works out at Sheffield United's training complex: Simon Bellis/Sportimage

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