Messi, Barcelona Return to Training Field as La Liga Inches Closer to Resuming

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MADRID (AP) — It was a beautiful sight for soccer fans: Lionel Messi juggling a soccer ball again.

The Barcelona star hadn’t been on a training field for nearly two months, since Spain went into a lockdown because of the coronavirus pandemic.

But he and other Spanish league players returned to action on Friday with individual training sessions as their teams began preparing for soccer’s return.

The players hadn’t practiced since the confinement began on March 14. The league was suspended two days before that.

Barcelona, Sevilla and Villarreal were among the first clubs back after the Spanish government this week loosened some of the restrictions that had been in place in the hard-hit southern European nation.

Atlético Madrid is set to resume its activities on Saturday and Real Madrid’s players will be back at the team’s training camp on Monday.

The league is expected to restart in June with matches without fans.

Players and teams are having to follow strict guidelines to guarantee everyone’s safety during the practice sessions.

All players, coaches and club employees involved in the training were tested for COVID-19 before practice resumed. The league has not yet released results but some local media reports said three yet-to-be-named players tested positive. The information was not independently confirmed.

The teams’ facilities are being constantly disinfected, and players are having to avoid interactions with teammates.

Messi was by himself when the club’s TV channel filmed him juggling the ball. There were photos of him and other players doing conditioning drills.

The media is not allowed to cover the teams’ training sessions, with the league and the clubs themselves being responsible for distributing training footage and photos.

Barcelona’s players practiced at different parts of the team’s training camp to avoid contact with each other.

Coach Quique Setién was wearing gloves and a mask as he watched from afar. Players had their regular training uniforms but no masks or gloves while on the field.

They are supposed to have them on at all other times while inside the training center.

The league sent clubs a detailed four-stage protocol for the return to practice. The individual training will be followed by smaller group sessions and then full squad sessions.

In this initial stage, players have to travel by themselves to the facilities and must arrive already wearing their training uniforms. No more than six players are allowed on the field at the same time, and they must stay “the greatest distance possible” from each other.

The use of training equipment should be limited and coaches must supervise players from a distance. Only one or two players can share the gym at a time.

The league protocol, which was prepared by the medical staff of some first-division clubs, recommends that players — and those living with them — should not leave their homes other than to go to practice. It says each club must establish a food-delivery system for first-team players.