O'Neill: We're Planning for Southend Game But It's Looking Highly Unlikely
Tuesday, 17th Mar 2020 16:17
General manager of football operations Lee O’Neill says the Blues are planning as if the first team will return to action when Southend United are due at Portman Road on April 4th but concedes that it appears it’s “highly unlikely” that the season will resume as soon as that.
As things stand, EFL matches are postponed until April 3rd at the earliest as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.
The Blues squad were given 10 days off after the decision was made to suspend the season last Friday, although injured players are continuing to report to Playford Road.
O’Neill says those who are at home have been given a regime to follow in order to keep up their fitness.
“A bit like an off-season conditioning programme where they have certain things to hit to make sure they can maintain aerobic fitness while they’re away and then they’re due to report back on that Tuesday [March 24th] in the build-up to our next game, which is due to be Southend,” he said.
O’Neill admits is looking less than likely that football will resume for the visit by the Shrimpers.
“I’m trying to stay away from speculation,” he added. “The facts are that at the moment we’re planning for that Southend game.
“Is there realistically the opportunity to play that game? If you look at what’s happening across the country it’s going to be highly unlikely, but we still have to plan as if we’re going ahead with that game against Southend.”
He says no Town players have tested positive for Covid-19 and none of the squad are currently self-isolating. Unlike some other clubs, with the players back at home, the Blues are not carrying out regular tests.
“No, there’s been nothing to my knowledge up to this moment in time, nothing reported from players or staff or anything like that that they have contracted the virus or are showing the signs and the symptoms of the virus,” he said.
“I think when the manager spoke to the press last week he was a little bit concerned about Teddy Bishop and Teddy went away but that’s proved not to be that, it was something else and he’s fine.
“No one’s self-isolating at the moment and, like I say, we’re expecting everybody to report back for training on that day all fit and healthy.”
O’Neill, who is also the club’s academy manager, says the full-time scholars are still at the club.
“It’s slightly different with that programme,” he added. “Because they’re actually on an education programme they have to be guided by the education system, and most people across the country are waiting to see what happens with schools.
“They undertake a BTEC and some of them are doing A-levels and [we’re waiting to see] what that might look like going forward.
“They’re on a very slim, reduced training programme where they come in for about an hour a day for training but they’re not in hanging around with each other in and around the training ground at Playford Road and they are still attending their educational aspects at St Joseph’s College.”
However, the foreign scholars have returned home: “Because of the travel disruption with airports and parents were quite anxious about their sons getting home, we communicated with them and asked them if they’d like their sons home said we would make arrangements so that that was a priority for them and decisions were made on that aspect.
“We consulted the parents and allowed them to make the choice as to whether they wanted their child home or they were happy for him to stay in our training programme until we made any further decisions.”
O’Neill said earlier in the week that ideally he’d like to see 2019/20 completed rather then declared void, as has been suggested.
“There’s a lot of speculation and I think the only sensible thing is that there is a break with the number one priority health and safety, to make sure that the virus is contained.
“But when it’s safe to do so the season is resumed and it’s completed so it allows teams to carry on with their plans for the season and finish the campaign and look at where people finish based on that.
“And then consideration needs to take place as to how long that goes on for and what that looks like for the following season.
“It’s just my personal preference, to try and look at some way of trying to make sure we finish this season.”
But he admits that that might not be feasible if the current situation continues for a prolonged period of time with some speculation suggesting football could be suspended for as long as six months.
“It could be way out of our hands and I know there are conversations happening with governing bodies as we speak probably, on what that might look like and it might be taken out of clubs’ hands as to what the future holds for this season in particular,” he added.
Regarding the club’s office staff, O’Neill says it is business as usual as things stand but while paying heed to Government advice.
“At the moment we’re operating as normal and if they feel they need to, if they have the symptoms that have been advised by the Government, then the next point of call is self-isolation and staying at home for seven to 14 days,” he said.
“At this moment in time, we’ve not had anybody [self-isolate] but with the spread of the virus that may happen and we’ve put measures in place to allow people to work from home if that is necessary.”
While National League Barnet have announced they have laid off all their off-field staff, there has been no talk of redundancies at Town.
The club shop also remains open: “At this moment in time, the club shop is open and that is reviewed daily at the moment, depending on Government advice that came out last night about not going out unless it’s necessary to do so. We’ll just review that as and when as the days go by.”
O’Neill says manager Paul Lambert has been in and out of the club during the hiatus and that the two have held meetings.
“Paul’s in and around the football club, working on various different aspects,” O’Neill continued.
“Sometimes not having the games programme allows us to concentrate and reflect on where we’ve come up to this point and what we want to do going forward. We’re using this time effectively for other areas whilst we’re not playing games.”
He added: “The only way I can describe it is as a bit like the off-season when very limited things are going on.
“But even then you know and you plan for the start and the end of it so you know what’s going on but now not even knowing what that might look like so it’s very hard to start planning on the future is very hard. It’s very weird at the moment.”
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