When City stepped out to face Arsenal last night, it was 101 days since our last game, after our domestic and European campaigns were suspended due to the outbreak of COVID-19.
It has been a period of uncertainty, but at the forefront of football fans, players and decision-makers' thoughts, was how and when the game would be able to return safely.
CityTV’s latest documentary City Restart reveals exactly how the Club prepared for the resumption of the 2019/20 season.
The three-part series shows what happened at the City Football Academy (CFA) as Pep Guardiola and his first team squad returned to training in circumstances they have never experienced before.
Here we take a look at some of the key talking points from the first two episodes…
City returned later than we could have
The Premier League announced on Monday 18 May that shareholders had voted unanimously to return to small-group training from Tuesday 19 May.
However, the City squad actually restarted a few days later, as the Club made the decision to implement further safety measures.
In episode one, Facilities Director Clive Wilton reveals that following the initial COVID-19 testing required by the Premier League, City’s players and staff went through a second phase of screening before they were cleared to train.
The changing rooms are out of bounds
These days, there is no shortage of space in the majority of Premier League changing rooms.
At the Etihad Stadium, the players have an allocated space, with several storage options in the locker behind them and below their seat.
The CFA is no different, but at the moment, it’s a space the City squad can’t enter in accordance with COVID-19 protocol.
The players must arrive and leave in their training gear, but to allow them to change their boots, 25 seats have been set-up two metres apart on the indoor pitch, which is also doubling up as a recovery zone.
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The CFA has been transformed
Our training facility may be back in use, but not as we know it.
In addition to the inclusion of the required COVID-19 testing tent, several changes have been made to the way in which the CFA operates.
In phase one of the return, groups of five players arrived at 15-minute intervals and had to park their cars three spaces apart.
A one-way walking system has been introduced to ensure players and staff can get to where they need to be whilst following social distancing guidelines and tents have also been erected next to the training pitch.
With toilets, the medical area, gym and indoor pitch the only areas accessible inside the CFA, these tents house medical equipment, GPS trackers, a water station and a training equipment store, so players and staff can avoid being indoors where possible.
New training kit was needed
With the CFA having undergone a deep clean, it wouldn’t have been practical for the players to wear old training kit.
Brand new kit was therefore provided and before the sessions could restart, the players had to come in to collect the new gear, which, in the interest of safety, was placed in the boot of their cars by a member of staff.
Technology made the documentary possible
In what may be the biggest surprise of all, we discovered that the cameramen were often not present whilst filming the players.
With a large restrictive zone in place across the CFA to prevent the players coming into contact with people not receiving regular COVID-19 tests, the CityTV crew had to get creative with how they captured content.
Remote controlled cameras, set up well in advance of the players arrival, allowed the cameraman to film whilst maintaining a safe distance from the squad.
Back in contact
The players admitted that the approval from the Premier League to resume contact training came as a huge collective boost
Rodrigo says: “Football is about the team. It is difficult to arrange a game in small groups with just five or six players as it's not the real situation in a match. It’s so, so different.
“You can start practicing the tactical stuff, and it’s so important to all play together on the same pitch.”
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New territory for the players and coaching staff
Having been on what, for the majority of the squad, was the longest break in their professional careers, the City players returned in superb physical shape and instantly adapted to the new routines.
Donough Holohan, City’s Sport Science Strength and Conditioning Coach, revealed: “This is the longest time the players have spent without being in a competitive football environment.
“So, this new territory for them and us and ideally you would want a longer preparation time, but the players have been great, and they returned in great shape.
“They like to train and as well as group sessions, we have taken care of their individual needs.”
City’s ground staff reveal how in the wake of the shutdown, it was still business as usual for them.
Despite operating on restricted hours and with reduced manpower due to social distancing, the ground staff embarked on what amounted to an early pre-season preparation in terms of renovating the playing surface.
“We’re probably in a better position now we were at the start of the season,” reveals head groundsman Lee Jackson.
Internal 11 v 11 Etihad practice match
Rather than a friendly against outside opposition, the decision was made to instead organise an internal 11v11 practice game at the Etihad in the week before the resumption of football.
As well as being a vital exercise in getting up to match speed and to work on tactics, it at also helped in terms of preparing the players for the experience of playing behind closed doors.
From the new player arrival protocols, observing social distancing and adapting to different dressing rooms, it gave the City squad and staff the opportunity to adapt to the new way of working on match days.
As opposed to serving up meals in the first team dining room, City’s catering staff have instead been preparing individual packed lunches for the players.
Just two members of catering staff as opposed to the normal number of six have been working to prepare food.
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They are tested twice a week and are also health screened by the Club. By way of extra precautions, cleaners then come into kitchen afterwards before the area is then disinfected as well.
The players have been served proper nutritional meals in takeaway form with different flavours and combinations along with supplements.
Omega 3 and pro-biotics have also figured in the players’ prepared meals with Omega 3 important for recovery and pro-biotics a key building block for the immune system.
Episode one of City Restart is available and free to watch across Manchester City’s digital platforms, including the official website, app, YouTube and Instagram TV channel.
Episodes two and three will only be available to watch on CITY+, the Club’s content subscription service.
Supporters who sign up will receive a free 30-day trial, after which a rolling monthly contract of £1.99 per month begins. This can be cancelled at any time.