Speaking at the club’s ninth weekly media briefing since the COVID-19 outbreak began, Chief executive Paul Barber has reflected on a positive few days as Albion and other Premier League clubs work towards a potential return to action next month.
In common with other Premier League clubs, Albion’s squad began stage one of that complex process earlier this week when they reported back to training in small groups with twice-weekly testing for Covid-19 and stringent hygiene and social-distancing measures in place.
Premier League clubs are due to discuss stage two, which would involve the resumption of contact training, next week once clubs have had time to digest and review details of the new protocols which would be involved.
But with the Bundesliga successfully resuming last weekend, Barber believes it’s been a ‘pretty good week’.
He said, “Even though the atmosphere was strange, it was good to see football with good quality players and good teams albeit in empty stadiums.
“Then to get the first stage protocols agreed unanimously [to return to training] was very important. Every club had their own concerns and everyone worked hard behind the scenes to get as many of those issues across to the Premier League who did their best to accommodate as many of them as they could.
“Then of course we got the players to support it, which was vitally important, but this first stage of training has started off very well.”
Barber believes discussions over stage two will take place in a more optimistic environment as numbers of Covid-19 cases in the UK continue to fall.
He added, “The first stage was difficult and took a long time because it was new, it was very detailed and, when it was first conceived, we were very much in the height of this pandemic for our country.
“The second stage is in a slightly different environment where the virus numbers are coming down and there is a little bit more optimism because the government is slowly easing the lockdown and encouraging people to return to work.
“However, we must remember that the risks of the next stage of the training protocol are far higher because we are asking larger groups to come together and for there to be contact. It is going to take time to work through, it will be even more detailed, and it is going to need a lot more support from the players. No doubt there will be more questions from the players too.
“The Premier League convened a meeting with the players and coaches and brought in the government’s scientific and medical advisers to answer the key questions which was a good thing before stage one, and I suspect they will certainly need do that again, and the players will want to ask as many questions as they can.
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“Above all else, the safety of the players and staff concerned is our absolute priority so it makes complete sense that we take as much time as we have got to bring them with us.”
Barber praised the work of training ground and medical staff to get stringent protocols in place for training to resume this week.
“I think we have laid a really good foundation,” he added. “The players have seen the level of detail that staff have gone into to make sure the protocol is followed - disinfecting balls, disinfecting corner flags, grass, goal posts - all things that have been debated over the last few weeks.
“When you see the environment that has been created hopefully the players are feeling it’s as safe as it can be, whilst recognising it’s a global pandemic and there are some risks. I think perhaps there is a little bit of confidence today that they didn’t have a week ago but getting the next stage absolutely right is going to be critical.”