Senior Writer, ESPN FC
Chelsea have not put a timescale on N’Golo Kante’s return to group training after the midfielder expressed his reservations about attending sessions amid the coronavirus pandemic, sources have told ESPN.
The 29-year-old is not taking part in Thursday’s activity at the club’s Cobham base after skipping Wednesday’s session, having voiced concerns about the potential risk of contracting COVID-19. The France international lost a brother two years ago to a heart attack and is worried of the effect the virus could have on him and his family. He does not feel the environment is safe enough for him to return to training.
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Clubs began training in groups of no more than five people — all while maintaining social distancing — this week after agreeing a protocol devised and agreed by Public Health England and Premier League medical doctors.
Players and staff were tested for the first time on Sunday and Monday with six cases found from 748 tests but a number of players still opted not to train, perhaps most notably at Watford, where several members of the first-team squad declined to take part after the club confirmed three cases.
A number of BAME players have been reluctant to return to training with figures from the Office for National Statistics showing black men and women are nearly twice as likely to die from coronavirus as white people in England and Wales.
Kante, who did train with his teammates when training resumed on Tuesday, is understood to have the full support of head coach Frank Lampard and other senior figures at the club.
He will not be put under any pressure to return to small group sessions, known as “Phase One,” although a prolonged absence would raise the possibility of Kante not being match fit for the resumption of games. Kante himself does not have any length of time in mind until he feels safe enough to go back to training, according to ESPN sources.
The Premier League are aiming to return on June 12 but several clubs have indicated that date will come too soon to reach optimum fitness levels, given the lack of contact training and the long period without competitive football.
The league are devising protocol around a return to contact training, dubbed “Phase Two,” and then the matches themselves.