Kevin Gage's Sheffield United Column: There's light at the end of the tunnel... here's how the Premier League season COULD be completed

Aaah, football... do you remember that?
Games could be played behind closed doors to complete the season (Photo by Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images)Games could be played behind closed doors to complete the season (Photo by Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images)
Games could be played behind closed doors to complete the season (Photo by Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images)

Do we recall those heady days long ago, when our wonderful Blades team were still riding high on the crest of that three-and-a-half year wave, dreaming of FA Cup glory and possible Champions League qualification?

It seems an age ago, and even though we get a close season every summer with no domestic league football to watch, somehow these past few weeks have dragged on and on and on and on and...

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Even as we watch re-runs of past glory matches on social media, we’d be forgiven for thinking that this season will also soon to be consigned to history and as our ‘lockdown’ begins to really take hold, there’s no footballing light coming out of any matchday tunnel as yet.

But, apparently, there is still hope! There seems to be a consensus of opinion among the football hierarchy and decision-makers that this current season will be allowed to finish and the outstanding fixtures will be fulfilled.

I touched on this in an article a few weeks back as I firmly believed that this was the only fair and morally correct conclusion that could be arrived at, irrespective of the financial implications that just cancelling the leagues would cause.

Now, fairness and morality are not words usually associated with the Premier League and so we can put that aside for a while as I’ve no wish to get into all the intricacies of that particular debate!

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However, I’d like to put the case forward for resumption of our Premier League from a purely footballing point of view, and why I believe that when it is safe to do so, the fixtures could easily be played out very quickly with very little disruption. I also genuinely believe that from a player’s perspective, it really won’t be a problem, and here’s why...

The current thinking is to play the remaining nine or 10 league fixtures over a period of about six weeks, with an extra week or two for the FA Cup ties and final if need be. There’s talk of games played behind closed doors and all games screened live on TV, and if that comes to pass, then so be it.

Us fans will miss out on attending a few home games and some great away trips but in these extraordinary times, it’s a small inconvenience in the overall scheme of things. Logistics wise, it may involve a fair amount of travelling for the squads, officials, administrators, etc - but it’s perfectly doable.

So for argument's sake, let's say that every Premier League player in their club’s squad, plus manager, coaches, physios, and key support staff were to resume work on Monday June 1. There are 25 players in each squad, and let’s assume that another 15 non-playing staff are there in the other roles. This is a group of 40 individuals who could, if need be, operate to a certain extent in very much their own little ‘football bubble’ for a number of weeks as they toured across the UK playing a couple of fixtures a week to get the season finished.

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It wouldn’t be ideal obviously and logistics would be an issue on occasions, but most top players have been cooped up in similar training camps for weeks at a time. The 25-man squad would come into play as injuries and suspensions would maybe take its toll, but that’s the whole reason for having a squad system, isn’t it? Again, it’s all perfectly doable.

Kevin Gage Column Kevin Gage Column
Kevin Gage Column

I’ve also seen people saying that players would need a few weeks to get back to match fitness/speed/sharpness/etc, to which I’d say with all due respect that is a complete load of rubbish!!!

The footballers of today are highly-tuned athletes, who are constantly monitored to within an inch of their life! Even in lockdown mode, the Blades squad have been given exercise equipment to use and daily fitness drills to complete, with data all fed back to the sports conditioning staff.

You can also be sure that the players will be out running around their home streets and parks if they need some extra work on top. In short, professional football players will not lose a noticeable amount of fitness because they haven’t been ‘training’ at Shirecliffe , and within a day or two of getting back onto a football pitch with their teammates, they will be 100 per cent ready and raring to go!

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Players will naturally get their ‘feel’ for the ball back, and instinctively move into the positions and do the things that have got them to this stage in their careers.

Chris Wilder, the Sheffield United manage: Simon Bellis/SportimageChris Wilder, the Sheffield United manage: Simon Bellis/Sportimage
Chris Wilder, the Sheffield United manage: Simon Bellis/Sportimage

I simply refuse to believe that any player will be unduly ‘rusty’ or take much time to get back into top gear and even if they did, then it must surely follow that this will apply to all footballers across the country as they are all in the same situation!

No team is going to have any fitness advantage or game time advantage over any other if the first couple of games are all scheduled to take place to ensure this happens (i.e. our extra game versus Villa will have to wait until all teams have played maybe three matches).

If the players are back training on Monday June 1, the first round of games can be played the weekend following. Simple.

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Of course, I can speak from the experience of 18 close seasons stretching back to my first one in 1981 at Wimbledon FC, when the only ‘monitoring’ of players in the summer was being stood on the weighing scales on your return to pre-season training!

Looking back to those early years in my career, I can’t recall being that dedicated to maintaining a semblance of a fitness regime over the six or seven-week lay-off we used to get.

During one memorable close season of 1984, the Wimbledon squad went to Magaluf for a week as a reward for promotion and I actually stayed out there for another three weeks after the rest of the players went home! After a week or two, Dave Bassett had apparently been ringing my parents asking if I was ever coming back!

Sheffield United were seventh in the table when football was suspended: Clive Mason/Getty ImagesSheffield United were seventh in the table when football was suspended: Clive Mason/Getty Images
Sheffield United were seventh in the table when football was suspended: Clive Mason/Getty Images

I did, eventually, but I certainly wasn’t thinking of doing any fitness work while I was out there! It was really only when I/we reached a higher football level that we began to give some more importance to maintaining a decent level of fitness over the close season, and I believe the vast majority of professional footballers in the game today will certainly do that as a matter of course. With the financial rewards on offer these days for a career in the game, it would be madness not to.

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So, let’s get back to some sort of normality in the country please, when it’s scientifically, socially and economically the correct course of action to take, and as the national game football can play its part in that, and maybe even take a leading role.

From a footballer's point of view, it can certainly be achieved, quickly and easily. From an administration point of view, it’s a challenge, but it can be arranged. From a fans point of view, we’re desperate! We’ll take whatever is offered at this stage!

The 2019-20 season needs to finish and the sooner the better. For football fans around the UK, it will already be remembered for all the wrong reasons, unfortunately. But from a Sheffield United point of view, I hope to always remember it for all the right ones.

Keep the faith guys. We can still do this!

Kevin Gage owns The Manor House bar/hotel/café. Follow him on Twitter: @gageykev

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