Joe Montemurro discusses the difficulties of forging team spirit with social distancing protocols

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Earlier this week, Arsenal midfielder Lia Wälti gave an interview in the Swiss press about the difficulties of forging team spirit in the face of Covid protocols, which limit contact between teammates. “I don’t have the motivation for what I actually like to do,” she told SRF. “It’s extremely difficult to motivate yourself. You need this balance, the contact with family and friends.”

Ahead of Arsenal’s WSL clash with West Ham tomorrow, I asked Joe Montemurro about Wälti’s comments and the difficulty for his players, and for him as a coach, of operating in a restricted environment, “It becomes difficult sometimes to lift the spirits at training because of what’s happened before training or the night before,” the Arsenal boss admitted. “Some players like to go to breakfast together at a cafe before they come to training and they can’t do that anymore. They can’t car share so they don’t have that connection before training.

“Normally we would be going for meals together as a team or on a Saturday, we tend to finish quite early, players would go and get a bite to eat together and little things like this have made it really, really difficult to find that extra bond and that little extra. This group is one of the best I have ever worked with in terms of their unity and their selflessness and wanting to be together. That’s all been taken away.

“Eating habits are now different because the players have to cook at home more and these little things make a big difference. We’re also playing in empty stadiums and that’s a false situation too. It’s put additional stress on the group and the love of the game. Even team presentations now with the analysts have to be cut because we’re only allowed to be in a room together for 15 minutes. Usually we would have a chat about it and we’d get feedback and have more of a discussion.

“We can’t do that now, we can’t stay behind after training because we have to be off the pitch at a certain time and out of our bubble and clear the area. Those things are so, so important. Even for me to discuss something with a player after training and sit on the field and show them what I mean, we can’t do that at the moment. Lia’s interview is really, really important in understanding the scenario for players at this stage.”

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Arlee

I think this piece sheds light on what is going behind the scenes and some of the challenges the players are facing in the current climate. Of course these challenges/protocols are not unique to Arsenal (I assume they are similar across the league), but that doesn’t make the resulting mental and emotional stress any less significant. I appreciated Lia talking openly about this in her interview as well as the continued discussion with Joe in this article.

Peter Story Teller

Man United and Chelsea seem to be managing ok with the same restrictions. The lockdown situation is p’ing everyone off but it is necessary so we all have to deal with it.

Tim Stillman

He didn’t say it was a unique situation to Arsenal, it is the same for everyone. These are just things a lot of us on the outside hadn’t really considered.

ron

We get this. There are challenges and difficulties for sportspeople. They are under pressure to provide entertainment and escapism, and they are human too. Big thanks to Joe et al for being so open about it all, and bigger thanks to Tim for reporting it so well. Maybe the “entertainment and escapism” thing is the clue as to why feathers get ruffled sometimes by stories such as this… you know, the people under the exact same lockdown rules who don’t get to do any of the things they love and don’t have superb support networks built around them, or the… Read more »