'Playing behind closed doors was terrible!' - Ex-Arsenal goalkeeper Mannone sends warning to the Premier League

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While football in England slowly edges towards a restart, in Denmark preparations for a return to action are already well under way.

It has been more than two months since the SuperLiga was suspended due to the coronavirus pandemic, but the green light has been given for it to resume on May 28, with all remaining fixtures to be played behind closed doors.

So for Vito Mannone, the former Arsenal and Sunderland keeper who is currently on loan with Esbjerg fB from Championship club Reading, that means a return to football is less than two weeks away.

But the 32-year-old is well aware that when he does start playing again, it is going to be a very different experience to what he has been used to during a professional career which stretches back 14 years.

And the one thing he is dreading more than most? Playing games in empty stadiums.

“Before we stopped, we played one game without fans and it was really weird,” Mannone tells Goal. “It’s something I don’t wish for.

“Hopefully they are going to find a vaccine soon and we can see people back in the stadiums because it was terrible to be honest.

“Fans are football. You go to the stadium and mainly you play for them. So it was very strange without them and I don’t want to see myself playing like that in 2021 or 2022 because I have to say that one game was terrible.”

The Italian keeper adds: “Without fans it is completely different. You have to prepare for the game in a different way, you have to push yourself even more. It makes it tougher to stay focused on the pitch and to motivate yourself.

“We played like it for one weekend here in Denmark and it was terrible - you will see when it happens in England. It’s worse than friendlies because at least in a friendly you still have somebody there. It doesn’t feel like football.

Vito Mannone Arsenal 2009

“In those games when teams are fighting for something, for the championship, or relegation or for a Champions League place, it’s going to be so strange.

“But it’s another adaptation we have to get used to. We have to adapt to training, to the new protocols, to playing without fans. There is no normality anymore so we have to try and get used to it.

"And despite it being weird playing without fans, I still can't wait to get started again and to try and get through this period in a positive way by finishing the season and giving people who have been stuck in their homes something to cheer about."

Mannone joined Esbjerg in January for the remainder of the season and made four appearances before the SuperLiga ground to a halt.

He and his wife have remained in Denmark during the lockdown, with the Scandinavian country coping relatively well with the pandemic when compared to other countries in Europe.

With lockdown measures now starting to ease, Mannone and his team-mates are back in training as preparations for the resumption of the league season start to step up.

Initially, training was done in small groups, but now everyone trains together and contact is allowed once again.

But there are still no buildings open on site, meaning players arrive in their training gear, complete the session and then go straight home to wash their kit before doing it all over again the following day.

“We don’t have a dressing room or a physiotherapy room," says Mannone. "We have one physio there with a small bed.

“Everything is outside. You park your car just outside the pitch, walk to the field, train and then go home with your stuff, wash it and then start all over again the next day.

"It has taken me back to being a kid when I had to do all that stuff. But I’m really happy to be out there again because it’s been a very strange time for everyone."

Mannone adds: "It’s going to be even more weird when the games start from what I’ve been hearing.

HD Vito Mannone Sunderland

“We’re probably going to get changed at home and go the stadium to warm up in our own clothes. There won’t be dressing rooms to use.

“So we’ll go there and warm up. Then after the warm up we’ll get changed on the pitch and start the game. Then the team-talk at half-time will be on the pitch by the bench - again like when we were 10 years old.

“It’s going to be very strange. But after not playing for so long it will just feel good to be out there again. I'm looking forward to it."

Esbjerg have just two games of the Superliga remaining. They are due to play Aalborg on May 31 before ending their campaign with a trip to Odense on June 7.

Mannone is hopeful of playing in both, providing they go ahead as planned, but any delay could see him faced with a difficult decision given he - like so many players across Europe - will become a free agent this summer when his contract with Reading ends on June 30.

Without a club lined up, the Italian is facing up to an uncertain few months and admits he has no idea how the transfer market will adjust to the financial impact that the pandemic has had on clubs across the world.

“I think there are two views on it,” he says. “You can see that there won’t be much money, people won’t be going around spending £20 million all over the place, so it may work in my favour.

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“But it could be the opposite as well. So it’s not the best scenario to be facing.

“I’ve never been a free agent in my career, this is the first time in 14 years of professional football - I never imagined it would be in the middle of a pandemic!

“But I’m quite relaxed. You have to live day by day and see what happens.”