As football rises from its enforced slumber, easing towards a return across Europe, clubs have had to face up to the unusual circumstances, adapting their approach accordingly. To find out more about the challenges they are facing we spoke with Dr. Nelson Puga, Head of the Health Department at FC Porto.

Prior to lockdown, FC Porto were ahead of Benfica by one point at the top of the Primeira Liga table, after 24 games played. It has now been announced that the remaining 10 rounds of fixtures will all be played behind closed doors, starting on 30 May. With the number of cases in Portugal bordering on 30,000, with 223 new cases reported on 19 May, there are still huge challenges facing the return of football, but FC Porto will be eager to seal the title, for the fans as much as anything. With more reliance than ever on the medical staff, we spoke with Dr. Nelson Puga, Head of the Health Department at FC Porto, to find out how the club have had to adapt to the challenges facing them, and the new protocols introduced to daily life.

Firstly, how are you getting the players ready for the return of football?

We are getting the players ready by giving them as much information as possible about Covid-19. It is important that our players and staff understand everything they can about the measures taken to protect them. We have also set new rules which everyone at the Club is committed to working within to ensure we are operating in a “clean bubble” and of course testing is vital to our preparations for the return of competitive fixtures.

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We feel an even greater responsibility to transmit confidence and the proper conditions to the coaches and players to keep up the same level they had prior to stopping"

What is the overriding feeling within the club? 

The dominant feeling within the club is positive. We have had to change the way we do things, but we are adhering to guidance from the government and listening to any new developments so that we are able to create a safe environment that is ready for the return of football. 

Is that mirrored in the wider view throughout Portugal?

This is an uncertain time for people all over the world, not just in Portugal, but we’re positive that when it’s safe for the game to return it will be received positively by fans across the country 

What are the key considerations from your perspective surrounding the return to football?

My key considerations surrounding the return to football is to test all of the players and staff to be sure they are not infected, as well as to create conditions to decrease the risk of getting infected.

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Can you tell us more about the protocols that you have had to implement in training?

At first, training and the afterwards shower was performed individually at home. Then, after being tested, we distributed the players to more dressing rooms, lessened the number of staff, created a one way circulation lane, opened up spaces and disconnected the air conditioning system. We've increased cleaning protocols, always measured everyone’s temperature at the entrance and asked for any new symptoms, and posted up new warning signs everywhere. That's a brief overview of all we've done; the full list s extensive, as you would imagine.

How do you approach the players’ conditioning, specifically the lack of match fitness?

The players never stopped because they continued to practice and exercise at home, while being monitored through videoconference. The return wasn’t like in pre-season because they kept themselves in shape physically. So far, the return is going without any complaints and the training volume is close to the same as it was before the season came to a halt.  

How much has the management and the club as a whole consulted with you regarding the situation?

Both, the management and the club, gave us all of the responsibility to define the new rules and we are in permanent contact.

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How much has normal routine had to change? 

Everyone’s daily routine has had to change a lot to keep safe. This is a completely new way of working and has in many ways increased the amount of work we need to do to prepare the team.

How have the players reacted to the potential return and the change in routine?

Players are the same as all of us, with friends and family they want to protect. We had many discussions with them about the work we would do to keep them safe on their return to training and this continues every day, to give the players more confidence.

How much does the virus itself, and precautions surrounding it, affect your approach and how the players go about their daily routines?

It has affected daily routines, it has become a less informal atmosphere, less talks, less time within our facilities, mandatory use of masks within indoor spaces, and a different kind of communication…

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FC Porto were obviously top of the league by a point before the break. Do you feel your contribution is now even more important than ever in terms of getting over the line to secure the title?

Yes, we feel an even greater responsibility to transmit confidence and the proper conditions to the coaches and players to keep up the same level they had prior to stopping.

Are you excited about getting back to business? Have you missed it?

Absolutely. Very excited to return but also motivated to keep on helping and working towards providing solutions to overcome this situation.

What’s the main thing you’ve missed over the enforced break?

The main thing I’ve missed is having the freedom and pleasure to work in the field we have knowledge in.

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