Sheffield United manager Chris Wilder said Thursday that he will not pressure any of his players to return to action if they are wary of health risks when the Premier League gets the green light to resume.
Clubs from England’s top flight are due to meet on Monday, a day after British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is expected to ease a nationwide lockdown, to discuss their latest plans for ‘Project Restart’.
But there are concerns over player welfare if they return to contact sport when social distancing guidelines are still in place.
Manchester City striker Sergio Aguero admitted last week footballers are “scared”, while players and coaches from La Liga side Eibar released a statement on Tuesday expressing their concern at contributing to a second wave of the virus.
“If any individual player took that decision and came to me and said, ‘It’s not for me,’ I’d respect that,” Wilder told BeIN Sports.
The Premier League is hoping for a return next month at the earliest, with clubs standing to lose an estimated £1 billion ($1.2 billion) in revenue if the campaign cannot be completed, mostly from huge television contracts.
– ‘Enormous enthusiasm’ –
Sheffield United were enjoying a brilliant first season back in the top-flight when the campaign was halted in March due to the spread of coronavirus.
Wilder’s men were just five points off the top four with a game in hand and had progressed to the quarter-finals of the FA Cup.
And the 52-year-old, who has worked in the lower leagues for most of his managerial career, said he is aware of the importance of the top-flight finishing for funds to trickle down the pyramid.
“I think we finish the season, however long it takes. The Premier League has shown enormous enthusiasm,” he added.
“My chief exec is and not just because we’re in the position that we are. I think everybody that is in the know understands the implications if this season was scrapped.
“I’ve obviously had experience of working in all levels of football and I do understand the implications if the Premier League didn’t restart –- the effect that that would have down the pyramid as well. We’ve got to look after all aspects of football.”
One of the complexities of a delayed finish to the season could see Wilder deprived of his first-choice goalkeeper for the final games of the campaign.
Dean Henderson’s loan from Manchester United expires at the end of June, by which point Sheffield United and the Red Devils could be competing for a place in next season’s Champions League.
“Personally I think it would be morally correct to leave him playing at Sheffield United for the last 10 games of the season,” Wilder said.
“But we all know that because of the legalities and the situation regarding expiry of loans that (Manchester United) might take that decision.
“We’re not a threat to Man U. I’m sure that they’ll be quite happy with the players that they’ve got to see them through the season. The Ford Fiesta ain’t going to get past the Ferrari!”