Liverpool’s COVID-19 cases & the absurdity of international football in a global pandemic

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The global pandemic has not gone away, far from it, yet players continue to be put at risk for meaningless international fixtures in what continues to be a baffling decision by game-makers.

Why? An all-encompassing question which beggars belief that it even needs to be asked.

Why during a global pandemic is international football being played out across Europe and as far as Brazil and Peru while cases of COVID-19 continue to rise, especially within footballing circles?

Xherdan Shaqiri was the latest Liverpool player to test positive for COVID-19 after linking up with Switzerland for international duty, and Thiago and Sadio Mane are currently in self-isolation after testing positive over the last week.

Kostas Tsimikas was also reported to have returned a positive test while with Greece on international duty last month.

To make matters more farcical, further friendlies have been organised by countless FAs for the international break in addition to their pre-organised ‘competitive’ fixtures – again, why?

It will not disappear “one day, like a miracle,” as Donald Trump likes to staggeringly believe, and a player’s health and safety should not be put at risk for the sake of games which hold little to no significance within, did we forget to mention, a global pandemic.

 

Players come second

BIRMINGHAM, ENGLAND - Sunday, October 4, 2020: Liverpool’s manager Jürgen Klopp during the pre-match warm-up before the FA Premier League match between Aston Villa FC and Liverpool FC at Villa Park. The game was played behind closed doors due to the UK government’s social distancing laws during the Coronavirus COVID-19 Pandemic. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

The Reds are one of the countless clubs who have seen their players jet off around the world, with 21 representatives from Liverpool’s first team called upon by their respective nations.

Shaqiri has since been withdrawn due to the need to isolate and while usual concerns during this time of the season pertain to injury, it will now also include the threat of picking up a deadly virus.

“I am slightly concerned because it is difficult to be in contact with all FAs all over the world,” Klopp conceded earlier this month when considering international duty.

“You have to make sure you bring the players home in the quickest and safest way and then we have to see how they are before we try to get a result on the Saturday.”

The latter part of his concern stems from the late return of Brazil’s Roberto Firmino and Fabinho, with Alisson withdrawn due to injury.

Their World Cup qualifiers will take the pair to both Brazil and Peru, and they are not set to return to Merseyside until the Thursday prior to the trip to Everton, with a test to be conducted leaving Liverpool not knowing if they can face the Blues until hours before kickoff.

East Rutherford, NJ - Friday September 07, 2018: The men's national teams of the United States (USA) and Brazil (BRA) played an international friendly at MetLife Stadium. .

For the 10 Reds called up for England, Belgium, Wales, Netherlands and Portugal, they will each contest one friendly and two UEFA Nations League games, while Scotland (Andy Robertson) and Serbia (Marko Grujic) face a Euro 2021 qualifier in place of a friendly.

Three games in a seven to eight-day span in an already demanding and relentless season.

Then there are Japan (Takumi Minamino) and Guinea (Naby Keita) who both have two friendlies to contest, to be held in Europe, and at this stage, your question, again, is likely to be: why?

For friendlies, there is no argument, no justification and no logic to uproot players from their club bubble to an international bubble where protocols will slightly differ, which as Klopp noted was a genuine worry.

Then you have the Nations League, a tournament that was introduced in an attempt to make international breaks more competitive, with a relegation and promotion style format – but is it currently of any importance or does it have any long-term effects on UEFA countries? No.

England's Trent Alexander-Arnold during the FIFA World Cup Group G match at Kaliningrad Stadium - Owen Humphreys/PA Wire/PA Images

Qualifiers will see countries dig their heels in more as there is a greater importance placed on the outcome, but they too could be pushed later on in the footballing calendar when more is known on how the world navigates through a second wave, or even be decided on coefficient.

It is a self-inflicted problem by those at the top, safe in their ivory towers, which puts those who create the ‘product’ at unnecessary risk.

And two clubs have proved to the trailblazers in how best to respond to the situation.

 

Setting the example to follow

SALZBURG, AUSTRIA - Tuesday, December 10, 2019: FC Salzburg's head coach Jesse Marsch and manager Jürgen Klopp after the final UEFA Champions League Group E match between FC Salzburg and Liverpool FC at the Red Bull Arena. Liverpool won 2-0. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

The Reds are not the only side to have had to contend with a mini breakout of the virus in recent days and weeks, yet while the club have sanctioned the departure of their international players, both Red Bull Salzburg and Juventus have set a bar for how best to respond.

After three players tested positive, Salzburg enforced a “team quarantine” and barred members of their squad from jetting off to play for their country.

Those not in self-isolation can “only travel between their house, the training ground and match locations,” rules which Juventus enforced on themselves after two non-playing staff members tested positive.

They too barred any “contact with anyone outside the group” and it is still up in the air as to whether players will be released later in the week to represent their countries.

It could certainly be argued that as soon as Mane’s test result came back positive that Liverpool should have followed suit as the risks are simply too high, as Shaqiri later proved.

ST PETERSBURG, RUSSIA - JULY 3, 2018: Switzerland's Xherdan Shaqiri with a ball in hands in the Knockout Stage Round of 16 football match between Sweden and Switzerland at Saint Petersburg Stadium (Krestovsky Stadium) at FIFA World Cup Russia 2018; Sweden won 1-0. Alexander Demianchuk/TASS

While the location he got infected in is unknown, Shaqiri went on to meet up with Switzerland and then could have exposed others unknowingly – which is the crux of the argument as to why international duty in 2020 is baffling beyond belief.

It is a rat-race with a player’s welfare put in jeopardy, not to mention that of their family, just to appease those at the top and the thirst for a constant stream of football.

The latter, ironically, could come to a head should cases rise and club football feel the brunt.

At the end of the day, clubs shouldn’t even have to be in a position to hold back players, as it should be common sense to put international breaks on hold while the battle against a global pandemic continues.

So the question, which should not need to be asked, remains: why?

To mark the end of the 30-year wait for a league title, the ‘Liverpool Mishmash’ poster is available to order exclusively on This Is Anfield — the history of the Reds in one image!

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