Pep Guardiola says increase in coronavirus cases ‘not due to football players’


Footballers should not be held responsible for fuelling coronavirus infections because of how they celebrate, Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola has said.

City's players, among others, faced criticism this week after they came together to celebrate Phil Foden's goal against Brighton, despite renewed warnings from the Premier League to avoid hugging and kissing.

Julian Knight, the Conservative MP who chairs the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport committee, called their antics "brainless", while another committee member, Labour MP Clive Efford, described them as an "insult to the NHS".

Guardiola, whose mother died in April after contracting coronavirus, said everyone at the club is doing all they can to follow the protocols at a time when many areas of life are hugely restricted due to the latest national lockdown. But he insisted the behaviour of footballers would not have any influence on the progression of the pandemic.

"A lot of people are dying, unfortunately, every day and a lot of people are being infected," he said.

"We are going to do our best to follow the new rules from the Government. The scientists, (they) inform us what we have to do – but please, the situation that is happening in the UK is not due to football players."

While the protocols exist to prevent the spread of the virus among Premier League players and staff, which ensures their safety and in turn keeps the season on track, much of the criticism has centred around the optics of the celebrations, and the example they set to society at large.

However, Guardiola's Liverpool counterpart Jurgen Klopp believes people are intelligent enough to understand that just because footballers, who are tested two or three times a week, hug each other after a goal is scored, it does not give them the licence to do the same.

"I think people are smart enough to make the difference between people who are constantly tested and not tested, it makes a massive difference," the German said.

"If we thought we threatened one or two of our team-mates we would not do it, it would just not happen. This is the only safe place we have out there on the pitch, outside it is not as infectious. Inside, nothing like this happens."

Tottenham manager Jose Mourinho said perhaps it was possible for a goalscorer to "express the emotion of the team by himself, alone" but his fellow Portuguese, Wolves boss Nuno Espirito Santo, was less confident.

"We speak with the players saying (about the protocols) – but I don't see it coming. It's too emotional not to touch your team-mate when he scores a goal. I don't see it happening."

Premier League and FA Cup matches postponed due to the pandemic which do not involve sides playing in Europe could be played on Champions League nights.

Article 3.8 of the 2017 memorandum of understanding between the European Leagues umbrella group and European football's governing body UEFA calls on domestic leagues to abstain from scheduling games on UEFA club competition dates.

However, Article 3.9 of the same agreement sets out some of the circumstances where play may be possible – including "postponement due to force majeure or to other reasons beyond the reasonable control of the concerned league".

UEFA told PA last year the level of co-operation between it and Europe's domestic leagues would be "even closer in the difficult situation we are experiencing" and that "all examples of calendar hardship are analysed on a case-by-case basis".

The Aston Villa v Everton game is one which could be played on a European week if no other suitable date is available, as could the Leeds v Southampton match.

Villa requested a postponement earlier this week due to a coronavirus outbreak at the club which forced them to call off Wednesday's match against Tottenham and field a youth team in the FA Cup third round against Liverpool.

Leeds v Southampton has been postponed to allow Saints to play Shrewsbury in the FA Cup third round. The League One team were unable to play the date on the original date of January 9 due to positive Covid-19 test results among players and staff.

Shrewsbury have confirmed manager Steve Cotterill will not be at the re-arranged tie as he continues to recover.

Earlier on Friday, Wycombe's Championship match against QPR became the latest EFL match to be called off after the Chairboys reported positive tests.

Wycombe are due to face Tottenham – a club who already have a fixture against Villa to make up – in the FA Cup fourth round on January 25.