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INTERVIEW | Gerhard Struber

3 May 2020

It has been almost eight weeks since the suspension of football in England following the Coronavirus outbreak.

Some leagues across the world have already made the decision to end the current campaign and begin a new season once it is safe to do so.

When that will be, however, remains to be seen.

Back home in his native Austria, Gerhard Struber reveals there are signs of progression that his country is slowly starting to overcome the pandemic.

“I think Austrian football can see light at the end of the tunnel in this moment; they train in small groups and the leaders of the clubs work together with the Bundesliga with the concept for the restart,” said the Reds’ Head Coach.

“The big topic is health and safety first for everyone and they work in this case. The goal in Austria is that they have the restart in the middle of May, but the situation here is a bit different to the UK and I think Austria have the situation in hand.

“Many shops are open and on Saturday all the other shops are open – the only problem is the situation with the hotels and this is the biggest problem right now and for the next few months.

“It is a special situation and big problem for the economy; we need tourists and it’s not allowed to travel. But football is looking to restart in the next two or three weeks and it’s a big signal in Austria.”

Potential contingency plans are in place should football make a return in the not so distant future, with a proposal to play the remaining fixtures in a 56-day period.

That option would also result in clubs being able to make more substitutions during games in order to try and maintain the fitness of players in what could be a gruelling run-in.

“I think 56 days is enough to bring nine games in this time; I think this is OK,” continued Struber. “I think the biggest challenge is the preparation of the boys – if we come back in the middle of May, we need a minimum of three or four weeks to get ready. Only two weeks would be a big problem with injuries for this situation in the Championship.

“When we come back with a high intensity and the boys have no preparation time, I think this is not professional preparation. If we get more injured players, this would be a bad impact.

“I think this is a good chance to have many options for the nine games and we can handle this on the field when we have five substitutes. It’s a positive signal in this time and I think this is good for many players that we can change and manage and handle this in a good direction.”

Several leading players from the top leagues across Europe have voiced their concerns at returning to action so soon, so as not to risk putting their family in greater danger.

It is a discussion that has also been held amongst the Barnsley players, who rightly believe that the safety of everyone is paramount and a decision that must not be taken lightly.

“I am in conversation also with my boys and I read the media reports from England,” asserted Struber. “I think the opinion of the players is very important in this situation because I think many players wish we can make the restart in the near future. All the players say we need a guarantee of safety when we come back and I think this too.

“This is the biggest challenge for the EFL and Football Association in every country that the players, staff and everyone in football is safe. This is a big question mark. We are role models for a lot of people and this is a big responsibility in the next few weeks not to only think in football; it’s more right now.

“It’s a big topic in the whole world and I wish so much that we can start in the next few weeks, but I think, when we don’t have a healthy situation, it’s better that we ban football – this is my opinion.

“We need a good concept with good impacts from experts and we need time for this concept that is helpful for clubs, players and the whole staff before we start with football. Health and safety for everyone is the most important thing before we go thinking about the restart.”

Struber did, however, reserve special praise for the Reds’ coaching staff, who have carried on regardless to ensure the players are maintaining their fitness levels.

Exercise sessions on Zoom have been a regular occurrence, while the medical department is also on hand to offer advice and support to those on the road to recovery.

“There are employees at this moment who are not allowed to work, but Luke Dopson, my Head of Sports Science, and Craig Sedgwick, my Head Physio, are making a brilliant job right now,” insisted Struber.

“We are in a normal working model and I am very happy with the great job from Luke and Sedgy in this moment.”

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