Gareth Southgate rejects talk ‘most’ England players have not had Covid jab

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 (PA)
(PA)

Gareth Southgate has denied a suggestion that “most” of his England squad are unvaccinated and says he has not spoken to his players about getting jabbed.

Vaccination rates at English clubs are said to vary wildly, with some struggling to persuade their players to get the jab.

Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp launched a stinging criticism of the refuseniks, comparing them to drink drivers and claiming they are to blame for passing on the virus.

Southgate, who has appeared in a pro-vaccine campaign but was left surprised by the subsequent abuse he received from anti-vaxxers, was careful not to condemn his un-jabbed players but says he believes it is the only route out of the pandemic.

“I’m not sure that’s totally accurate in terms of ‘most’ but I think everyone knows where I stand on the subject,” he said in Andorra ahead of Saturday’s World Cup qualifier.

“To move out of the pandemic, the only way was a vaccination programme, so I think that was essential.

 (Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

“There is then the complication that there are a lot of individual circumstances around that and I understand that some people would be anxious perhaps.

“When you’re in my camp, over 50, there’s less to consider. It’s a much more straightforward decision. I’m a believer that that’s the right thing to do.”

Southgate’s squad have been vocal on issues such as racism and child poverty but Covid vaccination remains a sensitive subject in the camp, with Tammy Abraham this week the first England player to reveal he had been jabbed but many of his team-mates reluctant to speak publicly on the issue.

“I understand that there were other topics we’ve talked about where everybody be aligned and we would all have a very clear view as a team,” Southgate continued.

“With this, it’s a little bit more nuanced. Lots of people have had the virus, so maybe they’re feeling anti-bodies are high in their own bodies.

“Lots of people might have individual medical conditions, some people in the country might have religious reasons, so it’s a complicated area. My belief is that the route out of the pandemic is a vaccination programme, I’m yet to hear anybody offer an alternative, and there’s not a lot more we can say than that really.”

 (The FA via Getty Images)
(The FA via Getty Images)

Asked if he had spoken to his players about vaccinations, Southgate replied: “No.

“Our doctor is always explaining the benefits of vaccination. But no, we of course have had to deal with many different topics, but also we have to prepare a team to play football.

“And sometimes there wouldn’t be enough hours to discuss all the things that everybody seems to want us to discuss, and prepare a team to play a football match. And we’ve always got to get that balance, because every meeting you have is bringing the players together again, and a different topic. We’re here to play football.

“We certainly can’t jab everybody over the next two or three days. I’ll always speak to the players about anything in their lives. But we are here to win football matches first and foremost.”

 (Action Images via Reuters)
(Action Images via Reuters)

England beat Andorra 4-0 at Wembley last month but it took a 72nd-minute penalty to double their lead as Southgate’s side made hard work of the well-organised minnows.

The manager is wary of a similarly bitty performance on Saturday on a plastic pitch which will be unfamiliar for his players.

“In the game at Wembley the ball was only in play for 38 minutes, so lots of stoppages, lots of injury breaks, so we would like the ball in play for as long as we can,” he said.

“And then we have to make sure that the ability of our players to break down that well-organised defence, the sharpness, the brightness of our minds, in our play. Added to the quality and the tactical discipline to make sure that we make the pitch as big as we possibly can, is very important for a game like this.”

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