David Freezer: Positive test at City proves restart is unlikely to be smooth sailing

Norwich City's players have trained at Carrow Road to prepare for matches behind closed doors Pictur

Norwich City's players have trained at Carrow Road to prepare for matches behind closed doors Picture Norwich City FC - Credit: Norwich City FC

Ah, 2020, the year that keeps on giving. Just as Norwich City fans were starting to get revved up for a Premier League survival push, a positive coronavirus test keeps us all rooted in the frustrating reality of these strange times.

It’s understood the Canaries player in question is asymptomatic and has been left surprised by his positive test - as well as disappointed as he begins seven days of isolation, which will keep him out of training this week.

That will mean missing Friday’s restart opener against Southampton at Carrow Road and potentially makes him a doubt for the home clash with Everton the following Wednesday.

However, Daniel Farke’s squad travelled to Tottenham on Friday across a few coaches to give players space as they travelled to north London, with regular temperature checks, so it’s not expected to change City’s training schedule - with the next round of tests to go ahead on Monday as planned and results to be announced on Wednesday by the Premier League as usual.

The situation demonstrates to us all that everyone involved in the football world is having to tread extremely carefully in trying to complete seasons to avoid financial chaos.

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Monday marks 100 days since Norwich last played, losing 1-0 thanks to a Billy Sharp header at Bramall Lane, before Covid-19 began to take a full grip on life in the UK. You may recall that was the weekend when players had been told not to shake hands during the pre-match formalities, when all of us were being told about the importance of washing our hands.

I remember two chaps in the press room that day who greeted each other before hesitating as they instinctively went to shake hands, only to decide following the rules wasn’t for them and go in for a hug as they laughed about what seemed an absurd situation.

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It appeared harmless enough at the time but on reflection, it shows how it took many people a long time to appreciate the seriousness of the situation, when social media was full of fake news claiming Covid-19 was no worse than the seasonal flu.

Three months on and with the world’s major economies under serious strain after societal lockdowns, who knows when it will next be safe to shake hands on a match day again.

The few of us at Carrow Road on Friday to cover City’s clash with Southampton certainly won’t be allowed to, in fact we will remain as far apart as possible as a maximum of 300 people are allowed to attend, amid strict health and safety guidelines such as masks being worn and temperatures being taken on arrival.

As that day looms I’m filled with a mixture of anticipation and relief, but also of some degree of guilt at being able to watch the game live and a huge amount of sadness that it will be without fans. No one within the game wants to restart in these circumstances, absolutely no one, but it seems for now we will have to make the best of a bad situation in the interests of the long-term future of the game.

On Saturday afternoon I sat in a mate’s garden having a socially distanced catch up within our allowed group of six people and we couldn’t get over how strange it felt to actually be able to see each other again and how video calls just cannot compare to the real thing.

Yet before the day was out I was busily updating our websites with news that a Canaries player had tested positive for coronavirus, as one of two positives among the 1,200 tests carried out on Premier League players and staff on Thursday and Friday.

It came at the end of a week which had seen a fit-again Timm Klose scoring a wonderful volley in an in-house friendly as the City players familiarised themselves with playing at Carrow Road without spectators, before winning a training game 2-1 at Tottenham on Friday thanks to a superb late free-kick from Mario Vrancic.

Excitement about football returning and optimism about the potential for a great escape were just starting to grow among Canaries fans, when news broke that one of the squad was having to step back from the preparations to isolate for seven days following his positive test.

It’s a danger that clubs have accepted when venturing into a restart amid the country’s recovery from a pandemic, yet the authorities believe the regime of all players and staff being tested twice a week and the low levels of close contact that occur even during the hustle and bustle of top-flight games mean that they can prevent outbreaks within squads.

We cannot get too far ahead of ourselves though, as this positive test has proved in spite of the sterile environment and stringent guidelines that the Norwich players have had to live by since returning to training over a month ago.

The game has changed, literally, to allow this restart. Essentially a player isolating is treated the same as a player with a slight hamstring strain. This unnamed player can’t train and so misses the Southampton game before returning to contention.

That can only go so far though before we’re going to be looking at postponements though. Squads cannot be missing four or five players and it still be considered a fair competition.

Football has entered choppy waters but unfortunately that’s the world we are currently living in.

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