Academy programme will not resume until September 12th at earliest

THE Premier League will not restart the Academy games programme until 12th September at the earliest following a vote of shareholders last week - and no date has yet been set for a return to training.

It has been almost four months since Manchester United won at Everton in the Under-18 Premier League in what proved to be the final fixture of the Academy games programme.

At the start of May, the Premier League announced that all U18 and U23 competitions in the 2019/20 campaign had been curtailed with immediate effect because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Apart from a handful of players who have returned to support first-team groups inside the testing bubbles, the vast majority of young professionals at Premier League and EFL clubs have not been to work at training grounds since early March.

Some clubs now fear there will not be a return to Academy training until August, in line with the season restart and a typical five-week pre-season programme.

Such a prospect would mean the brightest and the best teenaged footballers in the country going without professional, supervised team training for five months. The impact on their development, while difficult to quantify, could be significant.

Perhaps a greater concern is player welfare. There is the real possibility that a prolonged period without intensive training sessions and off-field work will leave many young bodies out of shape, while the prospect of another six or seven weeks away will be a psychological blow for them as well.

Those hopeful of a first loan move this summer could see opportunities lost, and others eager to push on and impress in older age groups have had their careers put on hold.

New scholars have not only had to contend with GCSE exams being cancelled this summer but an indefinite delay being placed on the start of their full-time football journeys.

It goes without saying that the experience for those being released by clubs next week is an even more daunting one.

First-team Premier League players returned to training in small groups on May 19th, with many having been back even longer as they pursued individual programmes with their clubs.

However, medical professionals are concerned that having more players and staff on site at training grounds risks would increase the spread of the virus.

Despite suggestions having been put forward that Academy players could train apart from the first team and at different times, there is an uneasiness about relaxing the training ground protocols before this season is finished.

That leaves English football in the strange position where grassroots sessions on fields and in parks have resumed, yet professional footballers sometimes being paid thousands of pounds a week are still being kept away from training grounds.

Furthermore, the Premier League have not made a final decision on how their 2019/20 Academy competitions will be brought to a sporting conclusion, or whether the campaign is to be null and voided.

There is uncertainty about crowning champions, promotion and relegation, as well as UEFA Youth League qualification for next season.

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