• IFAB have discussed the idea of taking away time-keeping from referees during a match.
• Arteta is credited with improving both Raheem Sterling and Leroy Sane at Manchester City and Nelson is a similar type of player at Arsenal.
Manchester United players Paul Pogba, Victor Lindelof and Andreas Pereira have intensified their training ahead of the restart to the season. The three observed social distancing when they trained at a park near Manchester this week. Odion Ighalo and Anthony Martial were also spotted going through their routines although they were alone. Luke Shaw and Daniel James decided to work out together on a nearby school playing field. The league has permitted small group training sessions from this week as we edge closer to watching football again.
United have erected a drive-through Covid-19 testing station in the car park of their Carrington Training Complex which was put into operation last week to test players arriving back for training.
United medical staff are organising everything and are working closely with the Premier League to make sure they comply with set guidelines.
Pogba has his own indoor training pitch at his home and has been going through routines, passing, shooting and running to improve his fitness. He is determined that the final few months before the shut-down will be a distant memory as he works to remind people that he is indeed a world-class player.
Meanwhile, a handful of Liverpool players went back to their Melwood training ground for a carefully prepared training session on Wednesday. Mo Salah was one of the first players to arrive. Manager Jurgen Klopp said it was like going to school for the first time. Klopp said: “I woke up even earlier than usual and then I realised it was my first day. I dressed in my uniform again and drove to Melwood. I was happy to see the boys and they all looked in good spirits. We trained, not with the highest intensity but all the boys looked in good shape. It felt very good to be back as we look forward to playing again. We are preparing for a short space of time between the end of this season and the beginning of the next one.”
Finally, I can shed some light on reports that Chelsea midfielder N’Golo Kante did not attend training this week with his fellow teammates. I can tell you exclusively why that happened. N’Golo is a very private person and his family mean everything to him. He lost his father when he was eight and his brother died of a heart attack in 2018. In order to protect his family from coronavirus, he talked with manager Frank Lampard about his fears of infecting his family if he returned early to training and Frank gave him permission to remain isolated at home for the time being.
Arteta intent on making Reiss Nelson a star
There is one player the Gunners are particularly keen to get back into training. Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta is showing faith in his youngsters and before the break, I listened to him at Bournemouth — the Premier League’s smallest ground thus easy to hear conversations in the dugout if you are near enough.
20-year-old Reiss Nelson had been given a start in preference to Arsenal’s most expensive signing Nicolas Pepe. Arteta is credited with improving both Raheem Sterling and Leroy Sane at Manchester City and Nelson is a similar type of player at Arsenal.
At Bournemouth, his position, playing down the wing in front of the Arsenal technical area, meant he was directly in front of Arteta who watched his every move. Arteta shouted constant instructions to Nelson, encouraging him, directing him where to stand and where to move. It was fascinating to watch. At the end of the match, Arteta ran over and put an arm around Nelson, already beginning his post-match analysis by commenting on what he had done in the game. It was all positive stuff and the manager believes he has another Sterling and Sane in the making.
Haaland back on track for United
There is little argument that Borussia Dortmund striker Erling Haaland is the real deal. His excellent goal at the weekend in the match against Schalke kicked off the restart to Bundesliga football in Germany. That goal made it 13 in 12 games since his January move from Salzberg. This season Haaland has scored a remarkable 41 goals in 34 games. And he is still only 19-years-old. He can also run at 30km/h which makes him one of the quickest players around and he stands 6ft 4ins. Manchester United manager Ole Gunner Solskjaer has history with Haaland having managed him at Norwegian club Molde and Haaland grew up admiring Solskjaer as one of his heroes. The United manager thought he had secured Haaland’s signature last January and was dismayed to see his agent Mino Raiola sell him to Dortmund. However, despite Raiola and United having a difficult working relationship, Dortmund was only ever meant to be a short stop for Haaland as he built his career. That is proven by a clause in his contract for £60million which could release him to another club. United intend to be that club and want to bring the young Norwegian to the Premier League. Both Jadon Sancho and Haaland will not stay at the second-best team in the Bundesliga. Any transfer will probably be United against Real Madrid for his signature and The Reds will have the upper hand with more money to spend and offering Premier League status.
Lawmakers look at time wasting
The International FA Board (IFAB) oversees the laws of football. They have discussed the idea of taking away time-keeping from referees during a match. It is recognised that there is too much time-wasting. I was sent startling statistics recently which surprised me. A match lasts 90 minutes plus extra time but the average time the ball is in play during a game is 56 minutes 11 seconds. This season so far averages 55mins and 9 seconds. That’s quite a chunk out of a 90-minute game. The problem is not confined to the Premier League and Italy and Germany are finding the same problem. Throw-ins, substitutions and most of all players faking injury help to stop the flow of the game. IFAB officials are considering putting a large clock inside each stadium, visible to all supporters and coaches, which is stopped whenever the ball goes out of play for whatever reason. At present it is the referee who stops and starts his own watch when he thinks it is appropriate. Extra time substitutions have become the norm as a coach looks to play out the extra minutes by stopping the game if he is perhaps one goal ahead and the opponents look like equalising. IFAB also introduced a new rule that players who are being substituted have to leave the pitch at the nearest point and not walk slowly back across the pitch to the technical area. Set-pieces, delayed throw-ins and fouls are all time-wasting tactics.
Messi accepts Spain is nearing restart to season
My Spanish contacts tell me that La Liga president Javier Tebas wants the season to restart on June 12 so that they can better compete with the Premier League clubs in the Champions League and Europa League. This week, Spanish clubs were permitted to start training in small groups and La Liga matches are planned to be played at around 11pm at night to avoid the hot sun and uncomfortable humidity. Teams will only be allowed 72 hours between matches to work out the backlog. Barcelona’s Lionel Messi said: “It sounds like all players around the world are gradually accepting that they have got to take risks like everyone else as they return to action.”
Ozil’s representatives eye American MLS league
It is possible that Mesut Ozil will play a vital role in Mikel Arteta’s efforts to rejuvenate the Arsenal team. However, in case Ozil does not work out with the new manager, Arsenal have given the 30-year-old permission to his representatives to talk to American MLS League team DC United who also employed Wayne Rooney. Ozil personally is not too keen and is waiting to see how the next few months work out.
My sources inside the club say the move is less than 50% certain to happen but all options are being explored. With some big signings possible, Arsenal are looking to save on current salaries and Ozil’s £350k-a-week is top of their list.
Just kidding around…to finish on a lighter note
Raheem Sterling was sharing a joke with us recently when he revealed that his 8-year-old daughter Melody doesn’t support his club Manchester City but instead is a Liverpool fan. And to make matters worse Melody makes fun of Raheem. He said: “She knows the rivalry between Liverpool and the team I play for so she’s always singing their songs and trying to wind me up! She sings Mo Salah songs to me!” Raheem isn’t the only one who has fun poked at him. Barcelona’s Lionel Messi revealed that Mateo, the second-born of his three sons, winds him up by reminding him that Barcelona went out of the Champions league by 4-0 to Liverpool after winning the first leg 3-0! He says to his dad: “I’m Liverpool, who beat you. You are Barca and I am Liverpool!”