The Secret Coach: Who has benefitted most from the COVID-19 suspensions?

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Last week, we spoke to The Secret Coach about how kids who are missing playing football can turn their hobby into more of a career choice during lockdown.

This week, we’re looking at the top end of the best league in the world and asking them which EPL teams have come out of COVID stronger.

The Secret Coach is a professional football coach in English football… who will remain anonymous. The Secret Coach has worked with some of the biggest names in the game, been through the coaching badge courses and is currently part of the coaching team at an English league side… and that’s all we’re telling you. As ever, this week, The Secret Coach pulls no punches! 

We start by tackling two of the favourites for the Premier League title. Liverpool and Manchester United have emerged largely unscathed in terms of Coronavirus and sit comfortably in the top four and are chasing that title. Is that a coincidence or evidence that staying as virus-free as possible has a positive effect on each team’s title chances? 

“I agree with United being largely unscathed,” says The Secret Coach. “They’re slowly building some momentum and not dropping points when others have been. As [manager] Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has said, they’re playing OK but not setting the world alight. Liverpool have had a few COVID cases and will be relieved that everyone has recovered safely and they haven’t had any games called off.” 

“It’s not the best team who will win the English Premier League this year, but the most consistent.” 

TSC doesn’t think simply staying COVID free is the only factor and looks at Jose Mourinho’s Tottenham Hotspur as an example of a club who have had fixture changes with little notice.

“This has had a huge impact on planning and preparation for certain teams. Yes, you might have more time but if you have prepared for four days for one team then it’s called off, that’s frustrating. Safety comes above anything else, but frustration can manifest itself in other ways if it builds up.” 

It’s a year where consistency is key in the best league in Britain and possibly Europe.

“It sounds silly, but I think the team who takes each game as it comes and opportunities when they arrive on a consistent basis will be victorious. It’s not the best team who will win the English Premier League this year, but the most consistent. The team that can deal with adversity and come out the other side still believing will prevail.” 

Aston Villa’s recent COVID-19 issues at their training ground have seen them miss multiple games while the rest of the teams in the Premier League have played, but is that a good thing, a bad thing for the Midlands outfit? 

“Points in the bag rather than games in hand is what any manager will say!” says TSC. “You can look at the table and say, ‘We are here but if we win the 3 games in hand we are there’. The pressure is on, because if you lose them, you’re still where you are. Manchester City have gone second with a game in hand to go top and were dropping points left, right and centre earlier on; I’d rather have points on the board than games in hand.” 

“If three first team and two under 23 players could be used, think of the youth benefits.” 

Fulham have had recent matches rearranged at short notice and have a thin squad in terms of Premier League quality already. Could they be a good example an EPL club who are facing a relegation battle largely due to COVID? 

“It’s tough for everyone,” agrees TSC. “I like to look at things in a positive light and I hear the arguments against five subs being that the bigger teams can have five better subs, but if three first team and two under 23 players could be used, think of the youth benefits. Managers would love to blood young players, but in the Premier League, unless they are exceptional managers, they don’t have luxury to do this due to the financial pressures of staying in the Premier League.” 

Some have argued that one benefit of the COVID-19 pandemic is that teams have been forced to blood some young players. Aston Villa had to do exactly that in the F.A. where 17-year-old Louie Barry scored against a strong Liverpool team. 

“I think some teams hide behind their ‘small’ squads, but they make decisions to offer players professional contracts so why not use them?” says TSC. “I can see a lot of debuts coming and I’m looking forward to that – just look back at United if a player doesn’t get injured in warm up is Marcus Rashford the player and person he is now?”

Rashford famously burst onto the scene aged just 18 and is now reputedly the player with the biggest net worth in world football. United have thrived through continuing to play during the pandemic. On the flip side, however, Manchester City’s poor run of form was ended in part by a week off due to positive COVID tests for Kyle Walker and Gabriel Jesus.

Many of The Citizens’ players were fit and stars such as Riyad Mahrez and Kevin De Bruyne looked revitalised to face – and convincingly beat – Chelsea. Looking back, should The Citizens have played Everton with a scratch team as Aston Villa had to against Liverpool in the F.A. Cup? 

“A rest is good but with City having several players out, they wouldn’t have trained fully. They have been on a slow boil from there being no pre-season and City are now starting to click. I think them having had a rest is a small part of that, but now their momentum and form for players like John Stones will mean they don’t want any more interruptions.” 

“The restrictions are difficult and it’s a scary place currently with risk of infection so high.” 

Premier League games can be called off due to COVID and each game is decided on a case-by-case basis but in the F.A. Cup, any team need 14 fit players to play. It’s difficult to police, but hard to penalize teams for having COVID complications to deal with. How many games does The Sectret Coach think would have to be called off for the Premier League to look at a ‘circuit breaker’ pause to action and would it help? 

“Being in football… it’s tough.” Says TSC. “The restrictions are difficult and it’s a scary place currently with risk of infection so high. That said, during lockdown football is a big part of people’s lives and helps with mental health, so if things can continue safely and this is a benefit to so many people through these tough times. I think football is worth it, but only if it can be kept safe. The next step would be to continue like cricket with players staying in a secure bubble.” 

“Maybe the money from club fines could go to the NHS.” 

There were 40 positive COVID tests in seven days last week when Premier League players have been asked to follow tight protocols. For those who haven’t, should bans or fines have been handed out? 

“Yes. I am following the rules, so are many others are for the sake of everyone’s loved ones but there are so many that break the rules in the general public and more are being punished – rightly so. Footballers are in public eye; they are role models as we have discussed before, so in my opinion they need to be punished [if they break protocols].” The Secret Coach says.“Maybe the money from club fines could go to the NHS.” 

The Secret Coach doesn’t think bans would either work or be enforced properly because it would muddy the waters for other workers to be given the same treatment in different jobs.But they also believe that if there persistent infringement from some players then their club should refer them to the police to deal with or suspend those players in question.

In an uncertain season, it looks highly likely that the show must go on, at least for the Premier League, purely due to Euro 2020 having to be started in June. What does The Secret Coach think of England’s chances to winning that tournament if English players have had less of a break than other countries and suffered worse restrictions to their preparations? 

“The Euros – if they go ahead – will be an open race. There are so many leagues players affected this European Championships could be the one when England succeed through adversity. Could Gareth Southgate’s team end the COVID cycle with a massive positive? There are so many unknowns currently with so much football still to play it’s anyone’s tournament.”

We’ll be back in the company of The Secret Coach next week, exclusively at Calvin Ayre.