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Covid vs club vs country

Covid vs club vs country

It’s one of the oldest grudge matches in football: club versus country. And now the pandemic has made it worse.


Transcript

Hi, I’m Chloe and this is the Playmaker.

One story every day to make sense of the world of football.

Today, how Covid rules are intensifying the club versus country debate.

“Are we getting to a point where clubs are going to take them to court, or protest, or refuse to let their players go on international matches, because at the end of the day, they’re their property, aren’t they?”

ESPN FC

Club versus country. It’s an age-old debate in football. 

And club sides have always thought up different ways to keep their players from having to jet off around the world to represent their countries during the season.

And like with lots of things, Covid has just made an existing problem even worse. 

This month, the Premier League has said it will block its footballers from playing matches in countries on the UK’s Covid red list. It’s red listed countries that have the highest infection rates. 

You can understand where the Premier League is coming from because the British government has made it clear footballers won’t be exempt from the rules. Like anyone else who comes back to the UK from red listed countries, they’ll have to quarantine in a hotel for 10 days.

But it could set up a clash with Fifa – because their rules say that players must be released from clubs to represent their countries.

Premier League clubs could face sanctions if they block their players from travelling.

“The government now has 33 countries on their so-called red list and the red list means that effectively any person, including elite sports people, coming back from those countries have to self-isolate in a government facility for ten days. So of course that means no training, no playing, and it will have a massive impact on clubs. And among the countries on that list are the likes of Argentina, Brazil and Portugal.”

Sky Sports News

One of the players who could find himself caught up in this tug-of-war is the Everton forward Richarlison. 

He’s only 24, but he’s already got 32 full caps for the Brazil national team, and he’s scored ten goals. 

He was called up for this summer’s Copa America tournament, and Brazil finished runners-up. 

And then, he was allowed to play for their Olympic team, despite being over the age limit, that was because the games had been put back a year in 2020.

And Richarlison shone in Tokyo. He scored a hat-trick on his Olympic debut and finished the tournament as top-scorer. 

“They say everyone has a plan until you get punched in the face… Germany certainly with a bloody nose. And looking vulnerable again… Richarlison has registered a hat-trick in the first half hour.”

“This one he’s done on his own… he’s received it, he’s taken that step inside on his right foot, and he knows exactly where to put it. That is simply sensational.” 

BBC Sport commentary

You can see that playing for his country is really important to Richarlison, and Brazil coach Tite values him highly too. 

And when Brazil announced their call-ups for their World Cup Qualifiers during this current international break, Richarlison – along with eight other players from the Premier League – was on the list. 

Brazil are playing Chile and Argentina. And there’s a final match against Peru on 10 September. 

In Richarlison’s case, that would mean he would fly back to the UK the following day and – according to government rules for red listed countries – he’d be stuck in a hotel until something like 21 September.

Then he’d have to return to match fitness, so let’s allow another five days for that. That takes us to 26 September, by which time he’d have missed two Premier League matches for Everton, plus a third round EFL cup tie. 

And that’s exactly why it’s no surprise that none of Brazil’s Premier League players have been allowed to make the trip.

Inevitably, Richarlison was unhappy that he couldn’t make the trip to Brazil. He posted a picture of himself in his Brazil kit when the news broke and tagged Everton in the picture. It looked as if he wanted to send a message to his employers. 

There was also an angry outburst from Richarlison in last weekend’s win over Brighton. He wanted to take the penalty that was awarded in the second half, even though Domenic Calvert-Lewin is Everton’s designated penalty taker. 

“Now there’s a big discussion here going on about the penalty… Richarlison grabbed the ball, Calvert-Lewin has been demanding it. Richarlison just walked away with the ball over to where Coleman was… he’s still holding it… Calvert-Lewin is still asking for it! Calvert-Lewin has now got the ball, Richarlison is fuming! He’s lost his head here.”

Sky Sports cmmentary

It makes me wonder if what we were seeing there was the result of the striker’s pent-up frustration over being forced to stay put. 

Especially when Tottenham and Aston Villa have allowed players from their clubs to travel to South America. 

Spurs have found a way of avoiding the hotel quarantine, they’ve instead allowed Giovanni Lo Celso and Cristian Romero to train on an island in Croatia – a country on the UK’s green list – for ten days.

All of this is essentially a power struggle. 

And it’s complicated because the UK government, Fifa, the Premier League, international sides, plus players and their clubs all have their own interests to serve.

And so this debate is going to rumble on. 

But with wildly different infection rates and availability of vaccines across the globe, surely the highest priority here should be public health. The last 18 months have taught us all just that.

Today’s episode was written by Chloe Beresford, and produced by Klong.