Liverpool manager Juergen Klopp said that he would not put his players at risk or force them back into action against their will as the Premier League leaders on Wednesday returned to training in small groups.
Klopp’s side were just two victories away from ending a 30-year wait to win the title when the English top flight was shut down more than two months ago due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Six positive cases of COVID-19 were detected in the Premier League’s first round of 748 tests of players and staff ahead of a return to socially distanced training this week.
Klopp reiterated his priority is the health of those involved, but said that he believes it is now safe for players to return to phase one of training.
“We would never put anybody in danger to do what we want to do. Yes, we love football, yes, it’s our job, but it’s not more important than our lives or the lives of other people,” Klopp told Sky Sports. “In this case, if you don’t feel safe, you don’t have to be here.”
Germany’s Bundesliga last weekend resumed its season behind closed doors, becoming the first major league to do so.
The Premier League’s target of restarting on June 12 has been called into question by players concerned over their welfare, both from the threat of the novel coronavirus and injuries, with little preparation time after such a long layoff.
Klopp would welcome a start date to work toward as soon as possible.
“None of us know when we will start. The earlier they can tell us, the better it is, of course,” Klopp said.
“We can’t start today and then start playing tomorrow. That doesn’t work. We need time to get match fit and that’s what we are doing at the moment,” he said.
Sheffield United manager Chris Wilder was also heartened that just 0.8 percent of the tests carried out by the Premier League resulted in positive cases and was confident that his players can make a quick return to action.
“They weren’t off to Dubai [in the United Arab Emirates] or [Las] Vegas eating and drinking whatever they want,” said Wilder, whose side are in contention to qualify for European competition for the first time in their history.
“They’ve got a professionalism about them and my players are in absolutely brilliant condition,” he said.
However, some players remain unconvinced.
Newcastle United and England defender Danny Rose argued that players are being treated like “guinea pigs or lab rats.”
Watford captain Troy Deeney has said that he would not return to training this week over fears that he could pass the virus on to his five-month-old son, with three of the six positive cases in the Premier League registered at the club.
Deeney’s teammate Adrian Mariappa confirmed that he had tested positive, with the bemused defender telling the Daily Telegraph: “It was a big surprise, because I haven’t really left the house, apart from some exercise and the odd walk with the kids.”
Nevertheless, the British Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Oliver Dowden was optimistic that players could move to the next stage of training.
“I hope, subject to the sign-off by Public Health England and others, we will then later this week, very shortly, get the guidance about how we can have training in a contact environment,” Downden said. “This is for elite sports so that they can start to build up.”
Burnley had previously announced that assistant manager Ian Woan, who is also asymptomatic, was another case, with two more from one other club yet to be revealed.
Meanwhile, Tottenham Hotspur have launched another investigation into one of their players after defender Serge Aurier appeared to flout social distancing rules for a third time.
The Ivory Coast international on Tuesday posted a photograph on Instagram showing off his new haircut and tagged the barber in his post.
Hairdressers are closed in Britain, in line with the government’s rules on social distancing.
Aurier appeared to round on the media in another Instagram post, saying: “My hairdresser is negative and me too so stop talking in a vacuum and put on masks and gloves when you come to take pictures at the training center its part of the rules too.”
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