When the Manchester United players were told that training was off in the wake of the coronavirus crisis, jokes – and other more serious suggestions – soon went around about completing the season on Fifa. It’s been like that at every club. Players are just young people and will fall back on what a lot of young people do, albeit with one significant difference.
“They’re probably now the only calm people in football,” one agent says. “Their lives are so controlled that they’re largely used to being told what to do and where to be, as well as making sacrifices and the highs and lows of the game. The players are possibly the only people in football not panicking.”
That is only the case now, though, since the decisions on postponements have been made. It wasn’t quite so calm amid the uncertainty before that, in the days before Friday’s announcement. The vast majority of players were understandably wondering why they were being forced to play, and worrying about what it could mean for their health and that of their families. They didn’t see playing behind closed doors as any kind of solution. It still meant a lot of physical contact and a lot of potential spread of the virus.
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While many were temporarily putting up with the idea, there were naturally some who felt that they should get onto the Professional Footballers’ Association. Players in Spain and Germany were already further down that road and had been discussing the prospect of strike action on WhatsApp conversations. They felt there was a lack of direction in the game.
On the other side, all players were almost completely against keeping fans out on that principle alone. These weren’t mere sentiments curated for social media likes. They were sincere opinions. Players find the experience strange, and also just feel it’s wrong that football can be played without supporters going.
The decisions on all this have mercifully been made for them, bringing a potentially long break to the game.
While some are naturally agitating to just get out and play – as illustrated by the naive kick-about staged by Mason Mount and Declan Rice – because that’s what they do and love, a majority are said to be somewhat glad for the break.
That in itself is a reflection of how relentless the modern fixture list is these days. The idea of any kind of break like this, especially mid-season, is almost totally alien to players. There have been a few jokes behind the scenes about this, too, not least from managers.
“You generally don’t get any rest at all,” one Premier League player privately told The Independent. “It’s a chance to kick back and chill. The feeling is we’ll all be super fresh by the time this nightmare ends.”
There are actually some clubs like Tottenham Hotspur who are still training, but it is expected all will soon be called off.
As a consequence, coaching staff have given their squads individual training programmes. They are general and generic enough because they have no idea when fixtures will resume. Most are purely fitness-based, which helps when you have your own home gym, as many top-level players are wealthy enough to afford. Sergio Ramos has been the biggest proponent of this, regularly releasing videos of him in training on his Instagram.
Those who live in apartments or have just moved to clubs, however, have been attempting to figure out how to stay fit. Some have taken to the most basic of childhood exercises to stay sharp in a football sense, too, like very simply kicking a ball off a wall to either foot at speed. That’s what we’ve come to.
Absolutely no one, however, thinks they’ll be back in three weeks. That prediction is not seen as optimistic, but entirely fanciful.
As regards to actually finishing the season, hopes are a bit more mixed, as is natural. It almost entirely depends on the duration of the coronavirus outbreak. The Liverpool players obviously want to finish it eventually, and would rather win the title on the pitch rather than as a result of a measure taken in a board room.
Those in mid-table are a bit more laissez-faire.
For the moment, though, most are in the same boat if not – of course – in the same room: that’s a lot of computer games, and a lot of kicking back.