MARTIN SAMUEL: Quarantine exemption for footballers does not fly

MARTIN SAMUEL: Quarantine exemption for footballers just does not fly… the sport has to address this growing wave of Covid ignorance before it can expect favours from on high

  • Liverpool blocked four players from travelling to red-listed countries next week
  • It comes after football asked for players to be exempt from quarantine on return
  • If the British and Irish Lions couldn’t get it, why would football be any different?
  • Bosses have been pleading with players to get vaccinated to prevent outbreaks
  • Football has to address the growing wave of ignorance before expecting favours

It does not sound much, 16 positives from 3,060 tests last week. Just over half of one per cent, 0.52.

Yet the Premier League used to do better than that. Just two positives, just a single positive, sometimes no positives at all.

The contagiousness of the Delta variant, increased testing, there are many reasons why football may be turning up more Covid positives these days. 

Liverpool blocked four stars, including Mohamed Salah, from travelling to red-listed countries

And the number of people testing positive throughout the UK is 1.28 per cent.

Football as an industry is doing better than most. Even so, special Government dispensation for footballers to be quarantine exempt? That didn’t sound as if it was going to fly. Maybe that’s why Liverpool went early.

The club announced on Monday that four players — Mohamed Salah, Alisson, Roberto Firmino and Fabinho — would not be allowed on international duty.

The three Brazilians would not be permitted to go at all. Salah would only be allowed to play Egypt’s away game in Gabon, but not the match against Angola in Cairo.

Brazil and Egypt are on the UK red list, meaning the players would have to quarantine for 11 days on their return. Brazil’s last game of this international break is on September 9 against Peru in Rio De Janeiro, 1.30am on Friday, September 10, BST. 

Liverpool’s Brazilians would be out of the Leeds game, the first Champions League group game, and almost certainly the match against Crystal Palace on September 18.

Liverpool announced on Monday that Roberto Firmino (left), Alisson (centre) and Fabinho (right) would not be allowed to go on international duty next week

Clubs have asked for quarantine exemptions, but this looks unlikely. If the British and Irish Lions could not swing that on their return from South Africa, why would football be any different?

Equally, when recent months have seen outbreaks at Arsenal, Norwich and Newcastle, when managers are pleading with players to get vaccinated and some admitting powerlessness in the face of refusal, how can football be made a special case?

Neil Warnock at Middlesbrough said the ‘majority’ of his players are unvaccinated. Newcastle have organised two vaccination sessions at the training ground after Steve Bruce said ‘a lot’ of his players wouldn’t have the jab.

Footballers cannot then be given free passes that are unavailable to the wider population. Not only would it cause a public outcry, it flies in the face of all medical advice. It could be that, from October, fans will require vaccine passports to attend matches. How selfish will these attitudes appear then?

Mikel Arteta says he was shocked that Arsenal’s game with Brentford was not called off after four players tested positive. Instead, the Premier League set a precedent, meaning this title race could come down to the survival of the fittest, most focused and most Covid-compliant. 

Neil Warnock (left) at Middlesbrough said the ‘majority’ of his players are unvaccinated 

There will be no sympathy if swathes of unvaccinated players at a single club end up in isolation, or worse, around the time of an important game. There will be no preferential treatment once the first international break passes with nothing in place, either.

It is a great pity for those players whose countries are bounced on to the red list. Yet, equally, how can Liverpool go without close to half a team for three matches, because FIFA have shoe-horned an additional game in South American qualifying into the next two international breaks.

Being double-jabbed would not make any difference to red list quarantine, but it might at least have given the Premier League some hand in their conversations with the Government.

Instead, when even managers are despairing about take-up — ‘we can’t force anyone,’ said Ole Gunnar Solskjaer; ‘Nobody can obligate them to do it,’ added Pep Guardiola — a case cannot be made.

Football has to address this growing wave of ignorance and resistance before it can expect favours from on high. In the club versus country versus Covid dispute, there will only be one winner. 

Now managers are making a fuss over these nothing fouls 

Oh, the wailing now that the new light touch refereeing means players from the biggest clubs can again be tackled. There was absolutely nothing wrong with Jack Stephens’ challenge on Bruno Fernandes, to set up the goal that gave Southampton the lead against Manchester United on Sunday.

Equally, there didn’t seem much that was outrageous in the way Burnley played at Liverpool. Burnley have now gone 95 straight league games without having a man sent off, meaning they stayed within the old interpretation of the rules, too. 

Jurgen Klopp said the latest directives had turned football into wrestling, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer compared it to rugby; it is nothing of the sort. 

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer (left) and Jurgen Klopp (right) have made a fuss over nothing fouls

In retrospect, the one genuine oversight — which Klopp did mention — was Brentford’s second goal against Arsenal on the opening day when Bernd Leno, the goalkeeper, was clearly being held and had his arms pinned as the long throw came in. 

On the night, perhaps observers were too in thrall to football’s return, to the fairytale of a Brentford win and to the days when fouls and offsides had to be clear and obvious. 

We want the benefit of the doubt to go to the attacking team, but that went too far. It was a foul and should have been penalised.  

Zouma the latest overpaid player an elite club are struggling to shift

A feature of this transfer window is major clubs being unable to offload their players. Kurt Zouma wants £125,000 a week if he is to sign for West Ham. Can’t work out what’s holding that deal up, can you?

A fee has been agreed with Chelsea, £26million, which sounds reasonable.

He will be 27 in October, is a fringe player for France, and has played 307 club games, mostly in the Premier League or Ligue 1. 

Zouma has started one game for Chelsea this season, the UEFA Super Cup against Villarreal, and others appeared to have moved in front of him, not least Antonio Rudiger, Andreas Christensen and Trevoh Chalobah. 

As Thiago Silva is yet to get involved, and Thomas Tuchel sometimes plays Cesar Azpilicueta in a central role, Zouma might be Chelsea’s sixth choice.

So he is competitively priced to get first-team football. It’s a fair deal but his wages threaten to make it expensively risky. 

Chelsea defender Kurt Zouma wants £125,000 a week if he is to sign for West Ham

This is no doubt what is preventing progress at a number of clubs; the financial entitlement of their second string, unwanted, players.

Zouma wishes to be West Ham’s highest-paid performer. Above Declan Rice, above Michail Antonio, above Tomas Soucek or Angelo Ogbonna. Yet these are the players who propelled West Ham into the Europa League’s group stage.

No wonder the club regards wage structure as a delicate matter. No wonder personal terms could be a deal-breaker.

Time was, West Ham and other ambitious clubs were happy to take elite cast-offs. Freddie Ljungberg, Jack Wilshere, Pablo Zabaleta, Javier Hernandez. Yet why would West Ham or Leicester want Arsenal’s discards, for instance, having finished above them? 

Having seen how Arsenal have started the season, why would a club with designs on Europe be drawn to Cedric Soares or Rob Holding? And, even if a deal can be struck, who is going to offer a pay rise from the elite’s going rate?

Zouma would be a good buy for West Ham, but he has to be realistic about the transfer and his career path. If the numbers are right, it suggests delusion.

Unlucky exile Abraham will thrive in Italy

Tammy Abraham did not score, but he made two goals and earned a standing ovation on his debut for Roma as Jose Mourinho’s team beat Fiorentina 3-1. Abraham is a good bet to thrive in Serie A. 

It is a weaker competition than the Premier League and he was unfortunate that the required standards at Chelsea rocketed.

At a great number of clubs over here, Abraham would have done a good job, so Italy will suit him well. 

Tammy Abraham is a good bet to thrive in Serie A after a solid start on his Roma debut

EFL finally take action by tackling Rochdale 

Rochdale will celebrate 100 years of Football League membership on Friday, marking their centenary with a home match against Colchester in League Two. The future, sadly, is less certain.

A hostile takeover by Morton House MGT and First Form Construction Ltd has been abandoned, after the prospective new owners refused to co-operate with an EFL investigation.

Morton House MGT have formally withdrawn from the approval process and will now divest their shares. The EFL believed the company had taken control of the club without key individuals passing the fit and proper persons test. 

Morton House MGT last published accounts from July 2020, showing their worth as £171,000 — which is below what would be needed to buy a majority shareholding and invest worthwhile funds. Equally, that the new owners would rather quit than co-operate with the investigation suggests Rochdale dodged a bullet.

Amazing what can be achieved, or indeed uncovered, if the EFL take their governance duties seriously. If any good can be said to have come from Bury’s demise, it is this.

Four league games and four defeats for Chris Hughton at Nottingham Forest this season, and patience is running thin. The fans are against him and the owners are not known for their indulgence. 

An equally bad run of defeats did for the previous manager Sabri Lamouchi at the start of last season. Yet Hughton lost 11 players in the summer and has mostly recruited youngsters on loan and in no great number. 

Blaming Hughton is easy. Finding someone to turn the club around given Forest’s complicated circumstances is not. 

Chris Hughton has lost all four league games at Nottingham Forest this season

On Sunday at Arsenal, every time the ball went out of play, if it was Chelsea’s throw, Mikel Arteta seemed very keen to get involved in the return. He would delay by keeping hold of it or by throwing it in the opposite direction to the taker. And, one might argue, let him do that. As his team were losing for 75 minutes of the game, time-wasting was just another tactical masterstroke.

Yet, David Hornick, a reader of this column, posed an interesting question by email. 

What happened to the multi-ball system that was used during the pandemic? Moved the game on, got it restarted, thwarted attempts by managers and players to slow down play.

Toss the ball along the touchline supposedly by accident, and a player could simply pick up one of several spares dotted around the perimeter. The system is still being used in Spain and, undoubtedly, it works. Why not here? 

Hundred finals were dampest of squibs

The Hundred finished on Saturday and, as everyone associated with it appears to be supping the same Kool-Aid, the finals were declared a roaring success. No doubt they were for the marketing department. As sporting spectacles they were underwhelming.

In the men’s match, Birmingham Phoenix never got going chasing 168 and were 32 runs short with five wickets down at the end. The women’s final was worse. Chasing a mediocre 121, Southern Brave slumped to 14 for six. Game over. 

Watching them creep to 73 all out had all the fascination of the second leg of the 2019 Carabao Cup semi-final between Burton Albion and Manchester City (first leg score, Manchester City 9 Burton Albion 0). 

‘The Hundred couldn’t have been the success it has been this year without the incredible support of Sky and the BBC,’ said ECB chief executive Tom Harrison, and it most certainly helps when Sky pitches finals day against Brighton versus Watford, rather than any of the more attractive games overlooked for their Saturday evening slot. But it’s not just about the broadcasters.

The Hundred finished on Saturday, and as sporting spectacles go, it was underwhelming

‘Fortune favours the Brave and the Invincibles in thrilling finales,’ read one breathless newspaper headline, which overstated the excitement somewhat. While it is understandable to want the new format to succeed, that wish should not cloud reality. 

The women’s final was a lousy watch and the men’s wasn’t much better. The positives the Hundred has brought, mostly found in the exposure for women’s cricket, were not reflected in the finale.

Declan Rice may be upset by West Ham’s £100million valuation, but that is not the reason he isn’t playing in the red of Manchester United, or the blue of Chelsea or Manchester City. 

West Ham and Manchester United have had several discussions about Jesse Lingard this summer, and Rice’s name was not part of any conversation. It would appear United’s priorities are elsewhere for now. 

The same with City, whose pursuit of Jack Grealish and Harry Kane leaves no room for Rice on the balance sheet. As for Chelsea, the time when Rice would have been the perfect fit has passed. They have got the best from Jorginho with N’Golo Kante by his side and, to a lesser extent, Mateo Kovacic. Rice may be top of a number of lists next summer but, for now, the timing isn’t right. 

Mark Wood is a fine bowler and terribly unlucky with injuries. That he is missing from the third Test at Headingley is a miserable blow for England. 

That he could spearhead England’s attack in Australia this winter, however, is increasingly fanciful. 

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