Pressure will grow on unvaccinated footballers at the Premier League’s emergency meeting on Monday after a raft of fixtures again fell by the wayside due to Covid infections.
Clubs are understood to be pushing for players who refuse vaccination to be segregated in training and travel because of an increased risk of spreading infection.
As the Premier League battle to save their traditional Boxing Day programme, a number of clubs will call for new, stricter protocols while fans want more coherent pre-match rules to avoid late cancellations.
Clubs are pushing for players who refuse vaccination to be segregated in training and travel
Aston Villa’s game with Burnley was called off just over two hours before kick-off on Saturday.
The Premier League will continue to resist calls for a firebreak to all fixtures and will attempt to play games when they can but should a ‘de facto’ pause be caused by postponements, it could be the first time since World War Two that there is no elite-level football on Boxing Day.
With the league desperate to boost their poor vaccination record, Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp has said it would now be difficult to sign an unvaccinated player, reflecting a growing feeling that they are undesirable as potential transfer targets.
‘If a player is not vaccinated at all, he is a constant threat for all of us,’ said Klopp. ‘He doesn’t want to be a threat, it’s not that he thinks ‘I don’t care about the others’ but he is.
Jurgen Klopp outlined the organisational difficulties it would cause if a club signed a player who wasn’t vaccinated
‘From an organisational point of view, it gets really messy. We’d have to find different scenarios. He has to change in a different dressing room, he has to eat in a different dining room, he has to sit in a different bus, he has to drive in a different car. If you really want to follow the protocols, it is incredibly difficult to do.’
Leeds chief executive Angus Kinnear said there would be ‘punitive consequences’ for club’s vaccine-sceptics.
Staff at another club have even suggested not allowing unvaccinated players into the stadium red zone, which is the dressing room area and in-field for players and staff.
That would bar them from playing and, as such, wouldn’t receive support from most clubs but reflects a growing frustration in football that players are jeopardising games by their refusal to be vaccinated.
The Bundesliga in Germany meanwhile have said 92 per cent of its players are vaccinated
Klopp’s example could become a reality as clubs fight to slow the advance of the Omicron variant.
The Premier League have by far the worst vaccination rate of the major leagues in Europe, with 68 per cent fully vaccinated by October, though the league are set to update those figures this week.
However, the league will still be way behind Serie A, which according to La Repubblica newspaper is 98 per cent vaccinated. The Bundesliga have said 92 per cent of players are vaccinated and The Mail on Sunday understands 92 per cent are also fully vaccinated in La Liga.
Double-vaccinated players in the UK can now receive a booster which offers higher protection against Omicron.
Fans were left outraged on Saturday after Villa’s game with Burnley was called off just over two hours before kick-off, a decision branded ‘unacceptable’ and ‘ridiculous’ and which upset Burnley, who have now had their last two fixtures called off at short notice because of Covid outbreaks within their opponents’ squads.
Supporters want more coherent rules in place to prevent games being called off at short notice
Fans’ groups accept that health remains the priority but are angered that clubs are allowed to report cases so late.
Villa reported fresh positive results for Covid on Saturday at 10am and the Premier League board had to then consider the medical evidence to see if it fitted their criterion of not having 14 players with relevant experience fit to play.
The board convened at noon and took the decision at 12.40pm after accepting that Villa met their criterion. All of Saturday’s Premier League programme was wiped out apart from Leeds’ home match against Arsenal, though five Championship games took place and three Premier League games are due to be played on Sunday.
Proposals which will be discussed on Monday to prevent further late postponements include making clubs do lateral flow tests the evening before games and ensuring any PCR tests are completed by the night before, so any problems are at least flagged before the day of the game.
Aston Villa’s game against Burnley was called off just two hours before kick off on Saturday
Players may have to return to bubbles and stay in hotels 24 hours before games to prevent infections, and stricter travel arrangements with increased social distancing may be necessary.
Writing in the Sunday Times, Leeds chief Kinnear said: ‘It seems inevitable that players who decline a vaccine and are unable to ply their trade effectively will begin to face broader and more punitive consequences — as are being felt across the rest of society.’
On the late cancellations, Malcolm Clarke, Football Supporters’ Association chair, said: ‘There have to be better protocols to avoid postponing games a couple of hours before kick-off. That’s ridiculous.
‘It’s just not on. To have that happen twice in a week, there has to be a better way. It’s seriously inconvenient for supporters to be told a couple of hours in advance.
‘It’s simply not fair. To have it called off with two hours’ notice is really unacceptable.’
Arsenal’s win at Leeds was the only game not to be called off in Saturday in the top flight
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Mikel Arteta revealed Arsenal had been forced to close their London Colney training ground after reporting a ‘few cases’ among players and staff following their 2-0 victory over West Ham United. Defender Pablo Mari and midfielder Albert Sambi Lokonga were among those to test positive and therefore missed the win at Leeds.
Forced to postpone Premier League clash with Burnley on December 18 just two hours before kick-off after an increased amount of positive Covid-19 test results within their playing squad.
The Bees have 13 cases among players and staff – the club are now calling for a circuit-breaker szhutdown to help clubs recover. Their training ground has been closed and as a result their trip to Southampton on Saturday has been postponed.
Would have been without several players for Tottenham’s visit on Thursday due to Covid before the game was postponed – despite initial calls being rejected – hours before kick-off. Their training ground was closed on Thursday morning to contain the outbreak but given they have an insufficient number of players available, their weekend trip to Everton is also off.
Case numbers are currently unknown but a large outbreak saw their game with Brentford postponed. Calls to have Saturday’s game with Brighton to be postponed were accepted on Thursday, and it has emerged that United would have had only seven available players for that game such is the impact of the outbreak. Their training complex is closed until Tuesday at least, in order to reduce the risk of transmission.
Had a request for Wednesday’s game with Wolves to be postponed rejected by the Premier League following an outbreak at the club. Graham Potter confirmed there were ‘three to four’ positive cases before the game, which they lost 1-0. Saturday’s game with Manchester United has now been postponed.
Manager Dean Smith was facing an anxious wait to discover the full extent of the outbreak at the club. Josh Sargent, Lukas Rupp and Pierre Lees-Melou were absent from the squad that faced Aston Villa in midweek for ‘Covid-related’ reasons, but while Christos Tzolis is the only confirmed player to test positive, more positive test results have been returned. The Canaries had discussions with the Premier League over Saturday’s clash with West Ham and it was agreed to postpone as they have an insufficient number of players available.
Saw their midweek game with Burnley postponed just hours before kick-off. With their training ground closed, their home match with Crystal Palace has now been confirmed as postponed too. Case numbers are currently unknown but they do not sufficient players to fulfil the Palace match.
Spurs were the first Premier League club to be hit by the Omicron variant last week and saw games against Brighton and Rennes postponed after cases reached double digits among players and staff. Those who tested positive for the virus are expected to return in the next couple of days after completing their 10-day self-isolation period. Spurs’ clash with Leicester on Thursday was postponed despite initial demands to have the game called off were rejected, but Sunday’s clash with Liverpool is due to go ahead.
After Brentford, the Blues became the latest club to be hit by a Covid outbreak, after it was confirmed ahead of their game with Everton that four more first-team players had tested positive. Mateo Kovacic was the first Chelsea player to get the virus in the outbreak this week, with Romelu Lukaku, Callum Hudson-Odoi, Timo Werner and Ben Chilwell following. Neverthless, their game with Everton went ahead and was drawn. They are due to play Wolves on Sunday.
It was confirmed just an hour before kick-off against Newcastle on Thursday night that Fabinho, Curtis Jones and Virgil van Dijk were all out having tested positive for Covid. They won the game 3-1 and are due to play Tottenham on Sunday.