Pep Guardiola heaped praise on global healthcare workers as his Manchester City side braced for an avalanche of Premier League games over the coming weeks.
The reigning champions are in action on Wednesday against Arsenal – the day the English top flight returns after a three-month coronavirus-enforced break.
Guardiola said football was an “important part of society” but urged people not to forget the true heroes during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Premier League teams will wear a badge on their shirts thanking Britain’s National Health Service for their hard work.
“The NHS, they went to work every single day,” Guardiola told reporters by video call on Tuesday.
“They deserve a huge, incredible compliment, not just the nurses, the scientists, the doctors – the cleaners. The people are there every day to make our lives easier, to put their lives at risk to save ours.
“At the end it’s nice to come back. Hopefully it will go well. Hopefully we will not regret… but the real heroes of society must be these people.”
With Britain badly hit by the pandemic and Guardiola’s own mother dying of the virus in Spain, the City boss was asked if he had doubts about whether the Premier League should return now.
“Sometimes,” he said. “I understand we have to do it. Always you had the feeling the damage for the clubs was huge. You have to do it to reduce the impact as much as possible.”
The City boss said packing 92 games into less than six weeks to finish the season would present tough challenges.
“The problem is not to play one game, the first one and the second one,” said Guardiola, whose team are 25 points behind runaway leaders Liverpool.
“The lack of recovery, you have to play another game with lack of physical training, physical conditioning or being prepared. That is a problem, but we have to adapt.”
Guardiola said players would have to adapt as quickly as possible to games in empty stadiums.
But he said: “When they were little kids they played in the school, in the square, in the street without spectators. They played well in that period so that is what they have to do.”
Guardiola will go head-to-head with his former assistant Mikel Arteta at the Etihad.
The Premier League was suspended in mid-March after the Arsenal boss tested positive for the coronavirus.
Guardiola said he had been concerned for Arteta but that the Arsenal boss had recovered well.
The City manager also said veteran midfielder David Silva, due to leave at the end of the season, would get a proper send-off from the club in the future.
“It’s unfortunate that he’s going to finish his last games here without people but he’s coming back and hopefully himself, the club can organise a real farewell,” he said.