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It’s been almost two and a half months since the coronavirus pandemic called an abrupt halt to proceedings in the Premier League.
But with lockdown measures now being slowly eased, teams are being asked to prepare themselves to conclude the season.
The operation, codenamed Project Restart, aims to see all 20 teams play out the remainder of the campaign under strict new health and safety guidelines to ensure the wellbeing of all staff and players involved.
Backed by the government, Premier League bosses have laid out a detailed blueprint that could see action resume by mid-June.
I must stress, 'phase one' looks as safe as it possibly could be
- Steve Bruce
On Monday afternoon, the Premier League confirmed all 20 clubs had agreed to kick off ‘phase one’ of Project Restart with players permitted to returning to training in small groups.
“With the technology we’ve got, we handed them all an individual programme a bit like what they have during preseason,” the 59-year-old said.
“We’re getting to eight or nine weeks out now so it’s getting a bit difficult [to keep players fit] but we’re back soon. We’re testing everyone so that hopefully we can aim for a Tuesday start back in training on phase one.
“What I must stress to everybody and I’ve had to stress it to all the players and the staff is that phase one looks remarkably safe, as safe as what it could be. We’ve got the privilege of being tested twice a week.
“However, all players are individuals. They all have different problems in their lives. Maybe they’ve got a sick sister or a sick brother or an elderly parents who they don’t want to catch the disease. I think you’ve got to be respectful of players who are wary and respect their decision [whether to play].”
Earlier this month, Newcastle defender Danny Rose criticised the timing of Project Restart, joining calls from some other Premier League stars, like Sergio Aguero and Troy Deeney, who have aired their concerns about a return to playing.
And while Bruce believes conditions are as safe as they could be for players to resume the season, the former Sunderland, Hull and Birmingham boss said he recognised players’ worries.
“It’s fully understandable and I’m sure there are lot who have their own individual experience which they have to deal with,” Bruce added.
“I think they can all understand now phase one looks as practical as it can be. We all hope we can build into phase two and complete the season, that’s what we want to do.
“But we must make sure everyone stays safe and that has to be key for players, staff, everybody. We’re not all going sing from the same hymn sheet here but we have to respect everyone.”
Premier League bosses will have watched with interest over the weekend as the Bundesliga resumed their season following a similarly lengthy break.
German sides voted to resume small-sided training on April 8 – almost six weeks before playing their first game back in competition this weekend.
A similar timeframe in the Premier League would see action delayed until the end of June although the exact start date is likely to be subject to a further vote put to all 20 teams.