Stephen Kenny’s sympathy lies with players who have tested positive for coronavirus rather than their clubs in the face of Jose Mourinho’s displeasure over a costly international break.
The Tottenham boss was less than impressed when his full-back Matt Doherty was forced to self-isolate after he and Republic of Ireland team-mate James McClean returned positive results as the squad prepared to fly back to Dublin in the wake of Sunday’s 1-0 Nations League defeat in Wales.
With Spurs striker Son Heung-min in quarantine in an Austrian hotel after six of his South Korea team-mates tested positive, Mourinho posted a sarcastic Instagram message on Monday in which he said: “Amazing week of football. Great emotions in the national team matches, superb friendlies and total safety.”
However, Ireland counterpart Kenny, who had already lost Callum Robinson and Alan Browne to the virus a month after no fewer than eight players had to withdraw from his squad under pandemic protocols, was more measured.
Asked about Mourinho’s comments, he said: “First and foremost, I’m sympathetic towards the players themselves because it’s quite traumatic for a player to get coronavirus in a situation like that and the effect on their families. I think that’s lost sometimes.
“First of all, we must have a degree of sympathy for the players themselves. They put themselves out there, they sacrifice themselves. My sympathy would be to the players first of all.
“Secondly, yes, it isn’t ideal for clubs, we must acknowledge that it’s not ideal at all, and it’s not ideal for international teams either.
“We all have to live with this situation at the moment.”
With Kenny’s goalkeeping coach Alan Kelly, who has asthma, having opted not to return to Dublin with the rest of the party from Cardiff as a result of the positive tests, Ireland have been hit hard by Covid-19, although those remaining were given a clean bill of health on Tuesday morning.
However Kenny, who chose to play England in a friendly last week rather than travel to Bosnia and Herzegovina in an attempt to minimise the risk to his players, insists he does not have concerns about the safety measures which have been put in place, although which appear to have failed to prevent the virus being brought into the camp.
He said: “Last month, we weren’t hit with a lot of infections, we were hit with close contacts because we adhered to the policies a lot stricter, maybe, than anyone else because we had that two-metre rule and were following the HSE guidelines.
“We didn’t have any more than anyone else, I would say, but we had eight ruled out, two with it and six with close contacts in the last camp. Obviously with this camp, we’ve had four ruled out with it.
“It’s difficult to manage it. A lot of the protocols have been followed to a high standard, but just sometimes the virus doesn’t discriminate.”
The coronavirus withdrawal and injuries have robbed Kenny of no fewer than 13 of the men who assembled on November 8, and he has had to turn to uncapped under-21s midfielder Jack Taylor and Shamrock Rovers duo Graham Burke and Aaron McEneff to bolster his resources ahead of Wednesday evening’s Nations League relegation showdown with Bulgaria, who are themselves missing nine players because of Covid-19.
That first call-up 💚
— FAIreland ⚽️🇮🇪 (@FAIreland) November 16, 2020
Ireland are yet to win in seven games under Kenny and have not scored in the last six, but he remains confident there are reasons to be optimistic for the future.
He said: “We’ve come in for a bit of criticism, and that’s fair enough. That’s part of the territory when you don’t win games, I accept that.
“But we’re building a squad of players that will be available for the World Cup qualifiers in March.”