The ticking lockdown time bomb: Why injury misery awaits Premier League clubs

De Bruyne, Salah, Ighalo
Getty composite
Liverpool's pressing is a great example of what can't be imitated in players' back gardens, says a football fitness expert with a wealth of experience

A fitness expert who has worked closely with Premier League players, including Manchester United forward Odion Ighalo, has warned it could take months for players to get back to full fitness and that there will be a higher risk of injury when football resumes.

As it stands the league has been postponed until April 30 at the earliest due to the coronavirus pandemic and players from all teams are currently training from home.

United closed their Carrington training base last week due to the virus and a date of April 10 has been pencilled in for the players to head back to the training centre. However, that could well be pushed back further with the situation being constantly reviewed. 

Players from all age ranges and teams have been given personalised programmes to work on at home - in an attempt to keep fit during this unprecedented break to the season - and have been in constant contact with the club’s coaching staff over what they need to be working on.

But, Wayne Richardson, who spent 18 years working at Manchester City and has worked on a one-on-one basis with some of the United players after setting up his own fitness company Richardson Sport, believes it’s going to be a long journey back.

“When they finally return to full training you’re talking about a month really to build up to being anywhere near match fit,” Richardson explained to Goal. “They’re all at home working on programmes but they’ll have to be tested when they go back. Then they will start with agility work and then there’s going to have to be small games like a mini pre-season.

“We’ve never seen anything like this before, for me it’s sad. But there’s no other way around it. For the normal footballer who likes routine they don’t know what they’re going to do when they get back. That’s the difficulty for any professional athlete, not knowing what’s going to happen.”

Richardson has worked with players from the top to the bottom of the football pyramid and is concerned about the potential for injury once the leagues do restart.

Odion Ighalo Manchester United Wayne Richardson

“What we’re looking at now with the work the players are doing is gym-based and fitness but nothing replicates match sharpness, and players lose that quite quickly. Probably over a period of two to three weeks when it starts to drop off,” he explained.

“The concern will be when they get back that there’s potential for a lot of injuries. If you look at a team like Liverpool, who play with a high press, that requires a lot of change in direction, change of speed, linear and lateral type running. That’s something they’re not getting in their back garden and fitness levels can drop off very quickly.”

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Instagram has given fans an insight into how players are trying to maintain their fitness levels at home in their private pools and personal gyms, and Richardson has been contacted by a number of players across the leagues who have wanted personal training sessions. But, with restrictions how they are at the moment it’s a risk the 47-year-old cannot take.

“I’ve had a lot of requests to go to players’ homes but I need to be careful of that because I don’t know who they’ve been in contact with. It’s a tricky situation, you want to help but everyone needs to be careful.”

For now the players are doing what they can in their homes but, even if the league does resume, it will take a long while before things go back to normal.