Football in England could return from the coronavirus shutdown as early as June 6, with the EFL close to finalising the restart of the Championship before the anticipated resumption of the Premier League, sources have told ESPN.
Discussions between the Premier League, its 20 clubs and the government over "Project Restart" have yet to result in a clear outline of where and when the top flight will be able to resume, despite UEFA imposing a deadline of May 25 for European leagues to confirm plans to restart or cancel the 2019-20 season.
But while the Premier League continues to search for a route back to competitive action, sources have told ESPN that the EFL are confident that football will return in the Championship, the English game's second tier and feeder into the Premier League, on the first or second weekend of June.
One sticking point is what date teams can return to training, with the expected time to get players fit and ready to play being three weeks. An EFL statement said that the earliest players could begin training would be May 25, which would make the June 6 date unrealistic.
However, the EFL has stressed a need for 56 days to complete the Championship before a July 31 deadline -- rendering June 6 as the preferred return date if possible.
The statement read: "Until all outstanding matters are concluded, including finalising a comprehensive testing programme on matchdays and non-matchdays, the EFL Board has informed its Clubs that a return to training should not take place until 25 May at the earliest."
Talks involving the EFL and the league's 71 member clubs are ongoing and, while sources have said that League 1 and League 2 are likely to cancel the season and focus purely on completing the promotion play-offs, there is optimism that the Championship can and will be played to a conclusion on the pitch.
Sources have told ESPN that Championship clubs are now merely waiting to be advised of the safety protocols involving testing, training and the staging of fixtures before launching full-scale preparations to return to action next month.
All 24 Championship clubs have nine games still to play this season -- the campaign was suspended on March 13 -- leaving 108 fixtures yet to be played, plus the end-of-season playoffs between clubs finishing between third and sixth, respectively.
Leeds United, who last played in the Premier League in 2003-04, lead the Championship and have a seven-point cushion between themselves and third-placed Fulham.