Ministers have refused to bend Covid rules on quarantine exemptions for Premier League stars called up to play for their national teams in this month’s World Cup qualifiers in ‘red list’ countries.
And if footballers decide to heed the call of their countries, they will face 10 days in quarantine in a Government-approved hotel on their return to the UK, just like everyone else.
The isolation period would rule players out of at least two club matches and potentially impact on their fitness, depending how and where they were billeted, and it has sparked club versus country dilemmas throughout the league.
Liverpool players Roberto Firmino (left) and Alisson Becker (right) playing for Brazil – if they heed their country’s call in March they will have to quarantine in a hotel for 10 days on return
More than 40 Premier League players have been called up in the past two years to one of the ‘red list’ nations in World Cup action this month.
As reported by Sportsmail today, Premier League bosses have held crunch talks to resolve the chaos set to be caused by this month’s controversial international break.
Top-flight directors of football convened on a conference call at the end of last week to discuss how to confront the problem, which leaves dozens of players at risk of having to quarantine in a hotel for 10 days when they return from representing their countries.
Everton’s James Rodriguez could also be impacted, with Colombia on the UK’s ‘red list’
Previously, clubs had approached the government to consider extending general exemptions from quarantine to the red list nations for elite sportsmen and women – but those appeals have not been successful, Sportsmail can now report.
Increased fears over the prevalence of coronavirus variants – particularly in south America – which may be more contagious and virulent than those currently circulating in the UK has led ministers to stand firm on an important aspect of Britain’s Covid defence.
Public health expert, Professor Keith Neal, of the University of Nottinghams, previously told Sportsmail that ‘thousands’ of people could lose their lives if players returned with vaccine-resistant Covid infections and the new strain of the disease spread.
Professor Keith Neal, an expert in public health at the University of Nottingham, said thousands of people could lose their lives if a vaccine-resistant Covid variant spread
Earlier this week, six cases of covid infection with the Brazil P1 variant were identified in Britain.
Liverpool fixtures after March internationals
Dates and times TBC; Premier League unless stated
April 3 Arsenal (A)
April 6/7 Possible Champions League quarter-final, first leg
April 10 Aston Villa (H)
April 13/14 Possible Champions League quarter-final, second leg
April 17 Leeds United (A)
The government’s decision to maintain quarantine rules for players lies behind the club versus country tensions that have emerged in the last few days.
In normal circumstances, FIFA forces clubs to release players for international duty, but the rules have been changed for this round of matches where travel restrictions are in place, which would require a period of isolation. That means the clubs must make the call.
Jurgen Klopp has said Liverpool will refuse to release players called up by red list countries.
Brazil wants to call up Alisson Becker, Roberto Firmino and Fabinho for their fixtures against Colombia and Argentina, which would rule them out of crucial Premier League fixtures against Arsenal and Aston Villa plus a potential Champions League quarter-final first leg.
Speaking ahead of the Premier League meeting with Chelsea, Klopp said: ‘I think all the [Premier League] clubs with the same problems agree we cannot just let the boys just go and then sort the situation when they return with a 10-day quarantine in a hotel or whatever. That is just not possible.
In a bid to get around the UK’s restrictions, Portugal – which is on the red list – has been granted permission to switch their World Cup qualifier against Azerbaijan to Italy to ensure their Premier League stars will be available.
Liverpool’s Brazilian goalkeeper Alisson Becker could miss two World Cup qualifiers
Manchester United’s Bruno Fernandes would have missed club matches if he had been forced to quarantine after representing Portugal – which is on the UK red list
Portugal moved quickly to shift their match on March 24, originally scheduled to take place in Lisbon, to the Juventus Stadium in Turin, Cristiano Ronaldo’s home ground.
What are the rules for entering Britain?
- You cannot enter the UK if you’ve been in or through a country on the banned travel list (known as the ‘red list’) in the last 10 days, unless you’re British, Irish or you have the right to live in the UK
- You must either quarantine where you’re staying or in a managed quarantine hotel for 10 days
- What you need to do depends on where you travel in the 10 days before you arrive – if you travel in or through a country on the banned travel list within 10 days, you must stay managed in a quarantine hotel; if not, you can quarantine at home
- You need to provide your journey and contact details in the 48 hours before you arrive in the UK. You must do this by completing the online passenger locator form
- You’ll need to show proof that you’ve completed the form when you arrive at the UK border as well as proof of a negative PCR or antigen test taken three days before departure
- You could be fined £500 when you arrive at the border if you cannot provide proof that you have had a negative coronavirus test
- You do not need a test if you’re travelling within the UK, the Isle of Man, Jersey and Guernsey; from Ireland; from Ascension, Falkland Islands or St Helena; and children under 11 do not need a test
- After arriving at a quarantine hotel you will be tested on days two and eight of your stay using a PCR test self-administered in your room
- In Scotland, arrivals from all international destinations have to quarantine, even if they are not on the red list.
As a result, Manchester United’s Bruno Fernandes, Manchester City’s Bernardo Silva, Liverpool’s Diogo Jota plus a host of Wolves’ stars could now play without facing a lengthy hotel quarantine period on their return.
Portugal will also prepare for their other matches, in Serbia and Luxembourg, in Italy, meaning all their players – including Wolves’ five-strong contingent – should be able to feature if fit.
Manchester United boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer hinted that he was prepared to stop star midfielder Fernandes from representing his country before the switch of location was made.
‘We’re the ones paying the players and from what I understand that’s the rule, FIFA have given the rules that they don’t have to be released so I would think that’s going to be a hard call to make to let them go and play in red list countries,’ he said on Wednesday.
‘I want Bruno ready against Brighton and hopefully that we’re through in Europe and against Tottenham after that break.’
However, moving matches and training facilities is unlikely to be a viable or palatable option for south American nations.
In 10 World Cup qualifiers in south America this month, all of them are scheduled to take place in a country subject to the strictest UK travel ban.
Top sports people in the UK benefit from a general exemption on quarantine when they travel abroad. On their return they must self-isolate for up to 10 days, but they can train and compete. This does not extend to the red list.
The red list, combined with Portugal’s fleet-footed move out of Lisbon for the Azerbaijan match and training camp, means different restrictions apply to different players, which has caused Wolves boss, Nuno Espirito Santo, concern.
‘I will never discourage players from travelling,’ said the manager.
‘But we have two more games to play before the break and what we expect is direction from the Premier League and the Government, telling managers which players we can use when they return and how the competition is going to be.
‘Some clubs will have nearly all their players going to national teams, others will not have as many. There are national teams who will hold their training camps outside their own countries.’
The likes of Gabriel Jesus (middle) will have a club versus country decision to make
Current UK Covid-19 red list
Democratic Republic of the Congo
Portugal (including Madeira and the Azores)
United Arab Emirates (UAE)
Anyone who has been in or travelled through any of these countries 10 days prior to arriving in the UK will be refused entry.
Any UK nationals or residents travelling into the country from these countries must quarantine for 10 days in a Government-approved hotel.