Coronavirus: How managers, players and sporting directors are coping

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March 27, 2020
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    Guillem Balague, Stuart Webber, Lauren, Carlos Carvalhal and Pep Clotet in conversation

    Communicating in the coronavirus age

    Football is suspended in the UK and across Europe because of the coronavirus pandemic, so how is the lockdown affecting those at the heart of the sport?

    From a manager living 1,000 miles away from his wife and children because of the virus to a sporting director trying to run a Premier League club while self-isolating, BBC Sport columnist Guillem Balague talks via video conference to four people with different roles in football to find out how they are coping.

    ‘I’m improving guitar skills while separated from family’

    Birmingham manager Pep Clotet

    Birmingham are relatively safe in the Championship, eight points above the relegation zone

    Birmingham City boss Pep Clotet sent his wife, Vanessa, their three-year-old son, Max, and one-year-old daughter, Helena, back to his native Spain earlier this month.

    At the time, he thought it was a safe option and the plan was for him to join them at a later date during the international break, which was scheduled for the final week of this month.

    But within a day of arriving in their home town of Igualada in Catalonia – a town with a population of around 40,000 – strict controls to enter and leave the area came into force.

    Spain is Europe’s worst-affected country after Italy and while Clotet’s family are near Barcelona, the Blues boss remains in Birmingham.

    “There was a massive outbreak in my home town so the whole town was quarantined,” he said.

    “If you go in you are not allowed out. I was forced to cancel my plan of going there. As soon as Spain went into lockdown, I self-isolated myself.

    “It’s a tough situation but it’s what we need to do.”

    So how is Clotet keeping himself occupied in the West Midlands away from his family?

    “I have a really nice hobby. I play guitar and I’m trying to improve my skills,” he added.

    “Normally I don’t have time. I’m also doing a lot of reviews on where we – Birmingham City – should be and where we want to go. I’m doing an online course and learning how to develop myself. I always plan a few days ahead.”

    ‘Dog walks and phone calls to the elderly’

    Carrow Road

    Norwich City are cut adrift at the bottom of the Premier League

    Stuart Webber’s normal working day is dominated by face-to-face meetings in his role as sporting director at Norwich City, who are bottom of the Premier League table, six points from safety.

    “While you can speak on the phone and send emails, it’s not like seeing people every day,” he said.

    “Things like driving to the training ground and seeing your colleagues, having a chat with the groundsman about the pitch all the way through to asking the head coach about what he’s thinking about the weekend, you take these things for granted until you don’t have them.”

    Apart from taking his dog for a daily walk, Webber is confined to his home but is keeping himself busy by checking in on Norwich’s elderly season-ticket holders by phone.

    “We’ve got 6,000 season-ticket holders who are older than 60 so, as a club, we’ve set ourselves a task of trying to ring every single one of them. The players, staff and directors are all involved.

    “I’ve done 56 so far. It keeps people occupied and brings about a community spirit. Boredom is a killer and we have to try to protect their mental health and keep the players active.

    “I’m a little bit lucky because I live in the countryside and I can go for a walk and take my dog out and do things like that.

    “We have a four-year-old son who is running around and is a little bit crazy. It’s incredibly difficult but I can only imagine what it’s like living in a big city where it must be so much worse.”

    ‘Getting food and medicine is my role’

    Carlos Carvalhal

    Carlos Carvalhal managed Sheffield Wednesday and also had a spell in charge of Swansea in the Premier League

    Former Swansea and Sheffield Wednesday boss Carlos Carvalhal is managing Rio Ave, a top-flight club in his native Portugal.

    Though Portugal, which has declared a state of emergency, has far fewer cases than Italy and Spain, the country’s health system is under mounting pressure.

    Carvalhal, 54, is living away from his family as his son and daughter have diabetes and fall into the high-risk group.

    “We decided that my wife and kids stay at home and never put their noses outside the door,” said Carvalhal.

    “I am sleeping in another apartment. We need food and we need medicine – this is my role. I go to the supermarket and I buy food for my parents also.

    “If my children were not diabetic I’d probably be a little more relaxed. But I don’t want to risk anything. We wash our hands after putting the food away and we are trying our best not to be infected.”

    Rio Ave are based in northern Portugal and sit fifth in the table with 10 games of the season still remaining.

    Carvalhal believes his players would need a minimum of “two to three weeks” before playing competitively again if the season does resume.

    He added: “We know it will be very tough to start the season again. We don’t believe it will be in one month and it will probably be more than two months.”

    ‘No-one is talking about football’

    Former Arsenal defender Lauren

    Lauren played for Arsenal for seven years and was part of their Invincibles team

    Former Arsenal and Cameroon defender Lauren is based in Spain, where he played for Mallorca, Levante and Cordoba.

    The two-time Premier League winner has been taking his coaching badges and is in a Whatsapp group with other former players on the course, including ex-Liverpool and Atletico Madrid forward Fernando Torres.

    “No-one is talking about football in the group,” said Lauren. “We are all concerned about it [coronavirus].”

    Earlier this week, Spain’s death toll from coronavirus surpassed the official figure from China.

    Lauren, who also helped Portsmouth win the FA Cup in 2008, has family on the front line of Spain’s battle with the virus.

    “My thoughts are with the police, nurses, doctors, paramedics,” he added. “I’ve been in isolation since last week. At first we didn’t think it was going to be bad. Now we have a situation where nobody moves from the house.”

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