The next week could provide some answers as to how and when Barnsley will be playing football again, with the players in this country and overseas ready to return ‘tomorrow’. 

This week brought the news that head coach Gerhard Struber had agreed a 25 per cent pay deferral across the next three months to help ease the club’s financial strain during the coronavirus crisis and subsequent lockdown.  The Reds may get more clarity on how lockdown measures will be eased on Sunday with Prime Minister Boris Johnson expected to issue an update.

Barnsley have been planning towards returning to training on May 16 – a week tomorrow – with the players’ personal schedules being ramped up this week.  Struber expressed sceptism to the Chronicle last week over whether the Reds could return on that date, but Oakwell sources have since told the Chronicle they are expecting some form of training to take place the week after next.It is likely to be in small groups with no contact and without the overseas players and staff at first, while there could also be regular testing. 

Austrian midfielder Marcel Ritzmaier told the Chronicle: “If I have to fly tomorrow, I will fly tomorrow. It could happen very quickly so everyone is ready to come back to the club and train and see the guys and play football. That is what we want. I have been at home for six weeks and I am ready to come back.  “I am missing football, it is what I want to do and it is my job that I love. 

“I am looking forward to being back on the pitch. I am feeling fit. Running is not the same as training but it is all we can do at this moment.  I read the news about England and we are in touch with a lot of players and staff. I think on Sunday there is a big meeting then there will be news.  “I am looking forward to hopefully hearing some good news.”

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Under current UK government rules, Ritzmaier will have to undergo a two-week quarantine process once he returns to this country as will his compatriot Struber and approximately half the first team squad who have been back in their own nations.  The Reds are hoping that timeframe will be shortened.  Ritzmaier added: “If it is two weeks, then we have to do it.  But we will see what the rules are when the final decision is made.”

After agreeing Struber’s deferral, the Reds are hoping to reach a deal with their first team players who have been asked to take a paycut or defer wages in order to help the club balance the books during a period with no matchday income.  Ritzmaier said: “We are in touch with the club about this and that’s all I can say. It is difficult for all the players in the club but we have to find the right solution that is good for everyone.” 

Many leagues around the world have cancelled this season, either awarding titles, promotions and relegations on a points-per-game basis – like in France – or expunging the results, such as in the Netherlands.  The authorities in England want to continue the campaign, with the most likely scenario being a series of games behind-closed-doors in June and July.  The Premier League clubs are set to vote next week on a proposal to complete the season, with tensions reportedly surrounding the suggestion of playing games at neutral venues.  That decision is likely to impact the EFL whose chairman Rick Parry has said the season must finish by July 31 – due to players’ contracts expiring – and that clubs could face a ‘£200million hole’ by September.

On playing behind closed doors, Ritzmaier said: “I came to England because I wanted to play in front of big crowds. It would be different and strange but the health of the people is the most important. If we can play without fans because that is the only option, then we will do that of course.  “It might be like that for a few months or maybe a year but, after that, the fans are more than welcome in the stadium.”

The Reds have now not played a game for more than two months since their 2-0 home loss to Cardiff City on March 7 while the players and staff have not been at Oakwell for eight weeks.  They would have been due to complete their season earlier this week with a trip to Brentford but that is one of nine fixtures which is yet to be played.  Struber’s side are seven points adrift of safety at the bottom of the Championship.