When the men’s team walked out to take on Manchester United on 9 March, there was no sense that this would be our last Premier League game for three months.
Two days later, our game against Arsenal was postponed as a ‘precautionary measure’, and two days after that, on 13 March, the Premier League and the FA collectively agreed to postpone the professional football season until 3 April at the earliest, the first time the football season had been postponed since the Second World War. The break continued for 100 days for men’s football, while the Women’s Super League (WSL) and most Academy competitions were concluded early (two competitions – the Women's FA Cup and the FA Youth Cup – resumed).
In these challenging conditions back in March, two distinguishing features of our Club – firstly, our global networks linked to our sister clubs around the world, and secondly, our single-site operation for all of our teams in Manchester – were particularly helpful in our return and recovery process. We were able to use our global networks to seek out best practice and to share learnings, while the fact that we are all based on the Etihad Campus was a considerable benefit in enabling us to take common approaches within an already closely-connected structure.
An exhaustive approach was taken to every element of our ‘return to play’ plan, and we worked with a multi-disciplinary legal firm on the drafting and verification of a comprehensive Risk Assessment and an Operational Policy and Procedures document created in line with Premier League requirements. These two documents provided the blueprint for the safe return of our men’s players and staff, with separate adapted versions developed for the women’s and Academy teams. In addition, players went to the Manchester Institute of Health and Performance for additional screening for pre-existing conditions that could have put them at higher risk if they were to be infected with COVID-19.
Players were issued home-based training plans, including team training sessions by video and individualised fitness and nutrition plans. Five weeks before the first ‘restart’ game, all players and staff were back in Manchester and signed up to strict guidelines before they began the testing and screening process that would be the first step back to training at the City Football Academy (CFA).
In-person training began with one-on-one sessions for each player, up until three weeks before the first rescheduled game, when players returned to the CFA for a pre-season training programme with a range of new control measures in place to help keep everyone safe.
When games began again, it was in a very different environment – there were no fans, and new restrictions designed to keep everyone involved safe were put in place. An enormous amount of work went in to bringing games back safely and effectively on the part of our staff, governing bodies, suppliers and partners.
All eyes were on us, when our postponed game against Arsenal, was one of two matches played on 17 June, heralding the much-anticipated resumption of the Premier League in ‘Project Restart’ as it came to be known, and the remaining games were played in a narrow six-week period, culminating in a 5-0 win against Norwich on 27 July. Although the men’s team finished the season as runners up, they ended the season strongly after the break, with the joint-highest points tally and highest goal difference in that period – evidence of the effectiveness of the Club’s restart plan.
The women's team performed well after the break too, winning every game in the last three rounds of the FA Cup, lifting the trophy on 1 November. The following day, City’s youth players shone when they won the FA Youth Cup for the first time in 12 years, marking a hopeful end to the 2019-20 season.
Sam Erith, Head of Sports Science