Sean Dyche is ready to get back to business. The Burnley manager has been through the box sets, soaked up the Michael Jordan experience by binge-watching “The Last Dance” documentary and jet-washed everything in sight, but with Premier League clubs given the green light to return to training this week, he insists that he and his players will be ready to restart the season on June 12 if required.
“I wouldn’t want to do those things forever, but I enjoyed that little window,” Dyche told ESPN. “Little, simple things become quite meaningful. Old pleasures like going out on the bike, having a beer in the garden late-afternoon, which I almost never do during the season.
“I switched off really easily, but it’s good to be back now and getting ready for football again.”
While June 12 is the Premier League’s target date for games to resume, Manchester City‘s Raheem Sterling claimed this week that players need “four or five weeks” of training before returning to competitive action and others have echoed that sentiment. Some, such as Watford‘s Troy Deeney, have gone on record to voice their concerns about playing while so much remains unknown about the COVID-19 virus, while Chelsea‘s N’Golo Kante is currently absent from training due to his own concerns about the potential health risks.
But while accepting the need for caution and an understanding of the risks, Dyche has told ESPN that, as professional sportsmen, if the Premier League gets government backing to resume the 2019-20 season on June 12, clubs and players simply have to accept the challenge and get on with it.
“If it’s three and a half weeks to get as fit, ready and motivated as you can, that’s the challenge,” Dyche told ESPN. “Do you think Jurgen Klopp and his Liverpool players aren’t motivated? I bet they are motivated to get on with the job and get this season done.
“If we have to play in three and a half weeks, that’s the way it goes. Is it perfect? No. Is it ideal? No.
“Is it a reality that, in the present circumstances, it may have to be the case? Yes, so there it goes.
“I think it’s a challenge of being a professional. We are professional people in a professional environment. There are extenuating circumstances, so there will be different measures, but it’s just the way it goes.”
Having been suspended since March 13 due to the coronavirus outbreak, the Premier League is expected to follow Germany‘s Bundesliga by resuming its season in the coming weeks. That said, there are still some substantial obstacles for the football authorities to overcome in England.
The police have yet to drop their insistence that games be played at neutral venues to avoid mass gatherings of supporters outside games played on a traditional home and away basis, while twice-a-week testing of players and club staff may see ‘Project Restart’ grind to a halt if positive tests begin to mount. This week, six players and coaches tested positive from 748 tests, including Burnley assistant Ian Woan.
“The shock was that he had no symptoms at all and still hasn’t got any,” Dyche said. “I spoke to him last night (May 22), wondering if it had started to come out — and it still might — and he was fine.
“He is still fit and well, but it’s one of those things. Nobody knows, because it’s new, and I don’t think the scientists know 100 percent why things happen as they are.”
Woan’s positive test offered proof, if needed, that COVID-19 remains a mysterious threat. The former Nottingham Forest midfielder was asymptomatic and had spent the whole of lockdown feeling healthy. It is stories such as Woan’s that have prompted Watford captain Deeney to insist that he will not return to training in the current climate. Deeney explained that his five-month-old child has some respiratory problems, and he was therefore not prepared to take the risk of contracting the virus and transmitting it to his family.
Dyche worked with Deeney during time as Watford manager and he accepts that the player has every right to take such a decision, but he also says that clubs have a responsibility to reassure their employees that everything is being done to minimise risk as much as possible.
“It’s a very individual thing,” Dyche said. “I can only give my personal view, and I work on the rational basis that if my mates outside of football are going back to work, football’s protocols and safety measures are far in advance of most industries.
“Troy is a good fella, a strong-minded guy, and if his view is that it is not for him, then it’s not for him.
“This (COVID-19) is an unknown risk. You get in your car every day, there is a risk. You go on a football pitch, there is a risk, but this is an unknown risk and that is the difference.
“The story here is the tragedy and we all understand that. It is a tragic situation. There are all these factors and it gets into the psyche of some people. Not just footballers, everyone.
“People just presuppose that it’s more risky to go on a football pitch than it is to get your shopping from the supermarket, but it’s actually not. It’s probably much safer.
“These are the things that every player has to weigh up. But every player, every person in the workplace, has to be respected. That’s life, we all accept that people in their workplace should be as safe as possible.
“But I must say that it’s only fair that the clubs take some responsibility with the players. If players still don’t want to do it (play), it’s up to the clubs to decide what they want to do with that.
“If they came to me and said, ‘Look gaffer, I’m not sure about this,’ we’d respect that, we’d talk through it, try to find a rational outcome. If we couldn’t, that’s up to them.”
At Burnley, Dyche has a squad of players who unanimously backed plans to return when canvassed in an internal club survey earlier this month. The biggest challenge facing the 48-year-old at this stage of training is readying his players without knowing exactly when they will have to be ready for competitive action again. But he believes that the Premier League’s health and safety protocols, which insist on zero physical contact and training pods of no more than five players, are simple and effective.
“The Premier League guidelines have been good,” he said. “They have been simple and easy to follow. There is a lot of detail, but simplicity is key.
“Things like turning up in your car on your own, going into a pod. It has been quite easy.
“We have been through it all, shown the players a map of the training ground, so they knew what they would be doing. It has been seamless, really.
“Hopefully next week, there might be some guidelines where we can open it further in terms of group work and greater interaction, but we have to wait on that one because a lot of it comes from central government.
“Science is a big part of it, and if the country’s numbers (infected cases/death toll) continue to fall at a solid level, I think they will start to release the idea of groups working together.
“But if we have to start again in three weeks, we’ll be ready. Players keep a very good level of fitness, generally, and this hasn’t been a usual summer break, so they haven’t been going away, eating the wrong food, having a drink and all those things.
“The players don’t come back now half a stone overweight, they just don’t do it. It’s a different scenario.”
Some clubs and players will continue to raise valid concerns about a return to training and competitive action, and June 12 remains an unlikely date for games to restart, but at Burnley at least, everyone will be ready.