James Lawrence: Wales defender loving Bundesliga's planned coronavirus return

By Chris WathanBBC Sport Wales
Wales defender James Lawrence joined Bundesliga 2 club St Pauli on loan in August 2019
Wales defender James Lawrence joined Bundesliga 2 club St Pauli on loan in August 2019

Wales defender James Lawrence is looking forward to "falling in love again" as football in Germany takes its first steps to return from coronavirus.

The Bundesliga reintroduced training this week, albeit with precautions, the first major league in Europe to do so.

Lawrence, 27, on loan at Bundesliga 2 club St Pauli, could possibly return to match action as early as next month.

"Hopefully everyone is looking and thinking, OK that's how they've done it," he told BBC Radio Wales Sport.

"Everyone has the luxury of seeing whether it could be the template for the future."

Lawrence, who has six Wales caps, was a member of Ryan Giggs' squad that qualified for the Euros.

The centre-back - on loan at St Pauli from Dutch side Anderlecht - had only managed one appearance after a recovery from a knee operation when football was put on hold in Germany.

Games were suspended on 13 March with no return until at least 30 April.

But this week the slow comeback has begun, with St Pauli among those in areas permitted to train in small, separated groups.

"The first week we were told to keep distances between players and there's no contact exercises, no physical contact," Lawrence said.

"It's a lot of passing technique, running, ball work, shooting and a bit of fun games."

The squad was split into groups containing a maximum of six players, each with their own coach and physiotherapist.

"We're completely separate," Lawrence added. "The staff don't interact and even in those groups we're isolated, all with our own changing rooms.

"Three groups are at the training ground, all staggered times so we don't run into each other. The other two groups are at the stadium with different times and changing rooms, so we never mix spaces.

"That's how they're managing it under the guidelines from the league and I think other teams are doing the same, but it's only on a city-by-city basis. The local government have to decide if it's acceptable for the teams there do that. It's slowly progressing."

Debates and discussions still rumble on in British football about how and when it will handle football's return, with Lawrence admitting that the Bundesliga could prove to be a blueprint with a hope of matches returning "some time in May" but behind closed doors.

"I think they were also thinking of isolating teams in hotels before the games and things like that," he said. "They're doing everything they can and hopefully, by mid-April, we can start full training with contact again."

The return to action cannot come too soon for Lawrence.

He has already seen his dreams of featuring in the Euros this summer with Wales postponed until next year, a decision that he said was as understandable as it was frustrating and disappointing.

Lawrence also has his future to sort. He has another year left on his contract at Anderlecht; St Pauli had been keen on a deal before the crisis hit and he accepts uncertainty remains over his future.

But just getting back training is a first step after a period of 'working from home'.

In common with many clubs, St Pauli issued players with GPS and heart-rate monitors to track their isolation training, while core and strength sessions were conducted via internet video services.

Sucking it up during isolation

The well-travelled native of Henley - who spent time at Ajax's academy before spells in Slovakia and Belgium - did, though, miss the interaction with team-mates, and so found an automated replacement in the form of his vacuum cleaner.

Social media posts display him teaching the computerised cleaner how to dribble.

"He's my passing partner… he tried to beat me but I two-footed him," he laughs.

Now the real thing is back, or at least getting there.

"I think it's going to be the way forward," he says of German football's response.

"They've considered it very well, the way they've gone about it has been quite professional and if everyone sticks to the rules I think it will take a lot less time to get back into that full training we all want.

"When we got back training on that pitch with a ball honestly it was pure joy, everyone was so happy to be back.

"So when we're finally back on a pitch or walking out for a game it will be like falling in love all over again."