Premier League hold crucial talks with captains and managers demanding they follow Covid rules

Manchester City's Phil Foden, centre, celebrates after scoring his side's opening goal during the English Premier League soccer match between Manchester City and Brighton - AP
Manchester City’s Phil Foden, centre, celebrates after scoring his side’s opening goal during the English Premier League soccer match between Manchester City and Brighton – AP

The Premier League are holding critical meetings with players and managers over the next 48 hours to demand they comply with the reintroduced tougher Covid protocols or risk football being called to a halt.

They will be told in no uncertain terms that if they fail to follow the measures – including cutting out goal celebrations – there is a genuine risk the sport may be stopped amid a political and medical backlash.

There is growing concern that the Government will intervene because the ‘optics’ of footballers hugging, swapping shirts and shaking hands at the height of the new wave of the pandemic is creating a great deal of anger among the public.

Meetings have now been hastily convened. There will be two on Thursday to reinforce the message and demand that managers and captains take the lead in making sure players comply. A further meeting is planned on Friday with other managers and senior players.

The meetings are similar to those held before ‘Project Restart’ last year when players were told that if they did not strictly follow the protocols then football would not resume and the seasons would be abandoned.

There is a general acceptance that there has been a more relaxed attitude to following the protocols which led to them being reinforced last week amid growing rates of infection around the country.

The Premier League were encouraged that the celebrations during Wednesday’s round of matches were more muted than those that took place the day before when there was widespread alarm at events in Burnley and Sheffield.

Tottenham's Harry Kane (R) celebrates with team mates after scoring the 1-0 lead during the English Premier League soccer match between Tottenham Hotspur and Fulham  - ShutterstockTottenham's Harry Kane (R) celebrates with team mates after scoring the 1-0 lead during the English Premier League soccer match between Tottenham Hotspur and Fulham  - Shutterstock
Tottenham’s Harry Kane (R) celebrates with team mates after scoring the 1-0 lead during the English Premier League soccer match between Tottenham Hotspur and Fulham – Shutterstock

Officials will also remind managers including Manchester United’s Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Manchester City’s Pep Guardiola that suggesting players will struggle to comply is not helpful and sends out the wrong message at a highly sensitive time.

Solskjaer said football was an “emotional game” after United’s win over Burnley while Guardiola went further by admitting he did not know whether the players would “be able to” follow the protocols. These statements will not go down well with the Government and the Premier League will make this point during their meetings.

Managers and captains will be encouraged to take the lead and if clubs do not get on top of the issue then they risk the Premier League taking action with a shareholders meeting scheduled for next week.

A series of letters have already been sent out by the Premier League who are hoping the issue will quickly blow over but realise the message has to be reinforced with the meetings.

It is felt that the relatively muted reactions of the players during Tottenham Hotspur’s draw with Fulham were encouraging. However eight of Manchester City’s players last night shared a group celebration with Phil Foden after he scored the winner in their match against Brighton.

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