The Premier League has been told it is possible players will have to operate under a restrictive training regime for up to a year.
The warning comes from the league’s chief medical advisor, Mark Gillett, who sits on the government’s all sport medical group.
“They made it very clear that the public health situation is not going to change over the next six to 12 months so we’re going to be looking to make the same cultural changes at training grounds into footballers behaviours, whether we have this conversation now or any point this year," Mr Gillett said.
"So, it is important that people understand that.”
The prospect may come as a shock to players who have only just agreed to returning to non-contact, socially distanced training in small groups.
On Tuesday the league will receive results from its first batch of Covid-19 tests. If any come back positive, they will only reveal the number of players and number of clubs affected. Those players and their families will be told to isolate for seven days.
It seems increasingly unlikely that the league will be able to meet its preferred start date of June 12 as the first chance clubs will get to discuss the next more contentious stage in the process, contact training, is more than a week away.
The Premier League’s chief executive Richard Masters admitted on Monday they have to be prepared to delay if necessary.
“Once you know when you can start full contact training and we’ve had a proper discussion with clubs about how much is required to create the fitness levels before they can start playing then we’ll be in a position to confirm when the season’s start date is," Mr Masters said. "We have to be flexible.”
While phase one has been relatively easy to sell to clubs and players, the next stage might prove more delicate; already several high-profile players such as the Watford captain Troy Deeney have expressed their reservations. Masters hopes the players will feel more confident once detailed discussions get underway.
“We haven’t talked to the players yet or even the clubs about return to contact in terms of the finer details and protocols, we’re anticipating to do that in the next week to 10 days and before any decisions are made we will have very similar meetings with both players and managers to explain to them how contact training would work, so they can raise their concerns and questions.”
The league also announced it would be staging surprise, unannounced spot checks at training grounds to ensure clubs were complying with the strict training protocol and not trying to gain an unfair advantage over rivals’ teams.
The Premier League’s director of football, Richard Garlick, explained how and why they planned to spy on all top flight clubs.
Mr Garlick said:“We can request info from video sessions from GPS data but also we’re looking at bringing in our own audit and inspection team that we will scale up over next few days which will give us the ability to have inspections at training grounds to start with on a no notice basis but gradually ramping it up so we can get in the situation where we have one inspector and one monitor at every training Ground as we move through the phases.
"That gives everyone confidence that clubs are complying but it reassures the public we take this very seriously to create a safe environment and we’ll do all we can to ensure it is monitored correctly.”
Players also face the prospect of being moved into isolation as a squad for 14 days before the first matches begin.
In Germany, Bundesliga teams stayed in hotels for seven days before this weekend’s round of games but here the advice from Public Health England is that quarantine is only worthwhile if it’s for two weeks.
This will only be addressed if and when the Premier League‘s ‘Project Restart’ enters its final stage.