French clubs torn between staying in shape and avoiding virus risk

Paris (AFP) – With the league shut down “until further notice” by coronavirus, football in France is agonising over whether keeping players in training will preserve their fitness or endanger their health.

“For us footballers, it’s a new situation,” said Dijon defender Fouad Chafik. “We’re going to training, not knowing when we’re going to play again. That’s what’s a bit destabilising.”

Still free to organise training, some clubs have opted for continuity, with a few modifications, while others are scrapping their usual training routine.

Nice have chosen to continue training, though reduced to three sessions a week and with some adjustments.

The idea will be “to try to avoid contact on the pitch” and do “maybe a little more running”, said coach Patrick Vieira.

Christian Gourcuff has no plans to change his system at Nantes, saying the coming weeks will serve as a “mini pre-season”.

Gourcuff added that training might be less risky than the alternatives.

He said there was no question of “leaving the players in the wilderness for eight days” with the risk “that they go out and get contaminated”.

Several clubs, such as Reims and Dijon, have suspended training until Wednesday, the day after a UEFA meeting on the pandemic. 

Monaco have also cancelled training but are wavering between concern for fitness and worry over health risks.

While he would have preferred to “train hard in order to be physically ready as soon as the championship resumes”, Monaco vice-president Oleg Petrov says there is also “the club’s responsibility towards the players. I have to find the right balance”.

Other French clubs have opted to give players a week’s rest.

“Training once or twice doesn’t do much good, you might as well cut back a little,” said Strasbourg coach Thierry Laurey. “The players haven’t had much time off since last summer.”

Players will be able to use the club facilities but “we don’t want 20 people at once in the weight room. There will be set times,” Laurey said.

In Angers, all training sessions for next week have been cancelled. But there will be no holidays for the players, who work at home. 

“(Each player) will have a personalised individual training programme,” said coach Stephane Moulin.

“They will come and get their GPS here. So that we can see what they have done and whether, in terms of quality, they are doing it well.”

Clubs are struggling to find a balance between two options they do not like.

“We know that when training stops, as is the case during the off-season, it takes players between four and six weeks to get the machine up and running again,” said Metz president Bernard Serin on Saturday.

“On the other hand, we shouldn’t overlook the fact that each training session involves around 40 people. So we’re going to think about it over the weekend.”

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