Manchester United executive chairman Ed Woodward anticipates a return to Premier League action next month. Under "Project Restart", clubs in England's top flight are targeting a June 12 resumption following the hiatus brought about by the coronavirus pandemic, with some notable points of contention – including plans to stage the behind-closed-doors matches at neutral venues – still to be ironed out.
Premier League squads began training again in small groups this week, although six positive COVID-19 tests across three clubs came back. Burnley assistant manager Ian Woan and Watford defender Adrian Mariappa were later confirmed to have tested positive by their clubs, although both men are asymptomatic.
Despite those setbacks and Premier League chief executive Richard Masters saying the proposed June date could be pushed back, Woodward gave a positive outlook on United's latest investors' call, while similarly suggesting UEFA's plans to conclude the Champions League and Europa League during August are on track.
"While it is too soon to know with any certainty if, or when, these [social distancing] measures can fully be relaxed, we are optimistic that it will soon be possible to resume playing football," Woodward said.
"Our men's first team has begun a phased return to training this week, with rigorous medical protocols in place to manage risks. Subject to government and Premier League shareholder approval, including input from medical staff and players, we anticipate domestic games could restart again in June.
"All indications from UEFA are that the culmination of the Europa League could be during August. We remain in constant dialogue with the Premier League, the FA and UEFA about the next steps towards returning to play, while continuing to protect the health of our players, staff and the wider public."
The Bundesliga became the first of Europe's major divisions to return to action last weekend and Woodward also noted Spanish and Italian top-flight teams returning to action as positive developments.
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"While no one in the football industry enjoys seeing football without fans in the stadiums, the TV audiences attracted to the German matches demonstrates the strong pent-up demand for live football after a two-month absence," he added.
"Players have also returned to training in Spain, Italy, Portugal and several other European countries, all with the aim of completing the 2019-20 season, so there is clear momentum behind efforts to get football going again across Europe's major leagues. All in all, as many as 32 countries are expected to restart domestic leagues by the end of June.
"As in Germany and elsewhere, it is now inevitable that our matches will initially be played behind closed doors when the season resumes. This is as disappointing for us as it is for our fans, but we hope it will allow the men's first team to complete all of its competitions in the 2019-20 season by the end of August, and to start next season in time to target completion of next season still in May 2021."
United's net debt has risen to £429.1million after a 42 per cent year-on-year increase, while it recorded an operating loss of £3.3m in part due to the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.
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