Jamaal Lascelles has expressed his relief at returning to training and says Newcastle United are focused on taking care of business when the Premier League resumes.
The Magpies are now in full contact training as the many phases of the Premier League’s ‘Project Restart’ were rolled out across the country.
Speaking exclusively to Sky Sports, Lascelles outlined how a club fitness programme has ensured Newcastle’s squad returned from lockdown in optimal condition, ready to tackle the obstacles that remain between now and the end of the season.
“It’s a relief [getting back to training],” the 26-year-old said. “It has been different to normal pre-seasons, where you take your foot off the gas, go on holiday and chill out.
“Because we still have nine games to play, we’ve been given a team programme which every player has stuck to. That has been hard work really, so it has been nice getting back on the balls and seeing the team.
“You cannot beat match fitness, but the basic foundations – running and sharpness – is there. Normally when we turn up to pre-season, after the first couple of days your body is in bits because you are not used to it.
“But we’ve done three days now and we’re all fine, all well, and everyone is doing well, so there is definitely a big difference.”
Lascelles added: “Everyone has stayed motivated because we know we could have been called back to training at any time.
“It was vital for us all to stay fit, and knowing we still have nine games to play, knowing we still have business to take care of, motivated us to do that.”
The coronavirus pandemic may have halted the Premier League season in mid-March, but Newcastle have been away from their beloved St. James’ Park home even longer.
Lascelles last led his side out in front a home crowd on February 29 – a goalless draw with Burnley – and the thought of resuming at the iconic ground has provided a degree of solace throughout lockdown.
“[Playing at Newcastle] is one of the best feelings, especially if you win,” he said. “There is no better feeling.
“The build-up from Monday to Friday in training, the preparation on Saturday, you turn up and the atmosphere is unreal.
“It’s our jobs, it what we live for and what we have been doing for a long time. I’ve played a lot of games at St. James’ Park, but it is still special every time.”
As for aspirations when the season does return, Lascelles refused to allow his focus to stray from the first obstacle in Newcastle’s path – their first Premier League clash with Sheffield United.
“I’ve always said I like to step take things step by step,” he said. “We want to beat Sheffield United, that is our next game at home. Ideally, [after that], we want to finish as high as possible.”
Football may have been suspended for nearly 10 weeks but, as Lascelles testifies, footballers have been kept occupied by the various fitness programmes they have been assigned.
However, the opportunity to spend more time with his son is one of a number of positives the Newcastle captain has taken from lockdown.
“It’s been a tough time for people during lockdown, some people have had it tougher than others,” he said.
“I’m just trying to take the positives out of it, I’ve been able to spend some quality time with my son, actual quality time, not coming in the door from tired from training, half asleep trying to keep an eye on him.
“I’m actually full of energy, taking him out on bike rides and in the garden playing football. It’s been nice.”
Regarding his captaincy duties during the lockdown, Lascelles added: “I’ve not really kept an eye on anyone, some players are in Brazil, Switzerland, Africa.
“I have still been working, I’ve had to take calls with the other captains and the Premier League. We set up the donation, so I had to speak to the players.
“I’ve been speaking to the club a lot, obviously the deferral situation was going on, so I have been quite busy, but that has all settled down now and it’s all football-focused.”
After three months of uncertainty, a pathway out of this unprecedented period is taking shape. With the era of lockdown and isolation nearing an end, the operative word, as Lascelles highlights, is focus – it’s time to focus on football.