Football’s return in the new normal would help lift nation’s spirits | Eni Aluko | Football

With a horrifying toll of more than 26,000 people losing their lives from Covid-19, the UK has a dark cloud over it with many, including myself, trying to find hope and waiting to get closer to the light at the end of the tunnel. It is a huge test of patience and resolve.

So many industries are on hold and trying to plan in a period full of uncertainty. Football is no different. Still we do not know when football will be back in this country, and in what form.

In Spain, Germany and Italy teams are back in training or know they soon will be but in the UK we continue to wait. It may be the Premier League is delaying its decision until we have seen what happens in the countries that have been bold enough to make their own. Nothing can happen without government approval and the lockdown will not be eased until 7 May at the earliest but I hope football can return in the foreseeable future – and perhaps, as far as fans are concerned, the doors don’t have to be closed.

Some of the ideas being batted around for the Premier League – to play in Dubai, or in camps, or in training grounds – sound unlikely but these are the conversations we should be having as we search for a way to finish the season. The government is keen for football to lift the spirits of the population. We will need to be ready.

Without a vaccine, nothing except isolation will be entirely risk-free but we can find solutions that minimise risk as much as possible. Perhaps if enough community testing is done to know the virus is not getting out of control, plus reduced capacities at stadiums, mandatory masks and plenty of gloves and hand sanitiser, there could be a way to go back to football while keeping the risk to our health at minimal levels.

Testing of players will also be important to ensure their health and safety. Daily health checks can be done before training and, of course, matches: everything from resting heart rates to the colour of urine can be measured on a normal day, so I envisage regular testing for Covid-19 is more than feasible.

Without wishing in any way to play down this virus, we need to look for ways to reopen as many sectors of our economy as possible and I believe in the absence of a vaccine there must be an acceptable level of risk. The stakes are incredibly high – playing entirely behind closed doors, and even more so not completing the season at all, would mean huge losses, and perhaps risking the future of some clubs entirely.

I am extremely lucky the last couple of months have been professionally rewarding. My appointment as Aston Villa’s sporting director for women’s football was announced in January but I only started in March. Within a week I was dealing with games being cancelled, training on hold, operational changes and contracts. I don’t think any master’s course could have prepared me for coronavirus hitting in my first month but in a way it’s been great to be thrown in the deep end immediately and make important decisions in an unprecedented period.

Though I’m staying with my mum and all my siblings and working from home, I have tried as much as possible to keep working as I did before the lockdown, to continue that forward momentum. I know we may have to adapt if something else happens but the women’s team are looking forward to returning, being in a strong position in the league and hopefully winning our last six games.

There is no guarantee we will be promoted this year but we have to be prepared if and when football returns. I think everyone will have found it difficult sometimes to motivate players during lockdown but we have such a strong team of coaches, sports scientists and conditioning coaches that the players have always known exactly what to focus their training on.

Away from work I have been feeling very grateful for what I have. Before this, people might not have appreciated simple things such as their gardens and fresh air, with roads quiet but nature speaking loudly. I’m in the countryside and it has been beautiful to go on a long run and appreciate my surroundings. I have people I love around me who have kept me entertained and I have slowed my life right down.

I think it is important to get to know yourself a bit better during this period of forced isolation. Technology has helped – Zoom and Microsoft Teams have become indispensable, and I’ve also downloaded an app called MasterClass, which offers lessons from the leading people in their fields. Every week I am trying to learn something new. This week it is the art of negotiation by a leading FBI agent and a fashion leadership class by Anna Wintour.

Technology has its downsides as well. A couple of weeks ago I turned off Twitter completely: I wanted to control how much I’m reading the depressing news, how often I’m seeing the death tolls – while recovery rates were always difficult to find. I want to stay informed without it dominating my life.

My days have a structure and a schedule and I am trying to go forward with a lot of positive energy but I think Twitter is a wholly negative platform. It seems full of hindsight geniuses, living in the past without trying to find solutions for today.

We absolutely have to question the government and hold them to account, for example, but we also have to live our lives and be in control of the energy we need to do that in such a difficult time.

Switching off Twitter has been a great decision, because it has given me the right head space and time to appreciate my health, my family and my surroundings. We are fortunate for even the smallest of things.

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Written by sortiwa


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