Clubs should practise celebrating goals safely in training to “get the hang of it”, Premier League chief executive Richard Masters has said.
Top-flight players have faced criticism this week for hugging and kissing as they celebrate goals, in breach of Premier League protocols designed to make the league Covid-secure.
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”.
Chelsea boss Frank Lampard said he would consider encouraging his players to avoid celebrating in training, and Masters told Sky Sports News: “I think if every club does that, then they will get the hang of it.
“All sport is played in the moment, with emotion, if we set ourselves the target of perfection, we will fall short.
“All we’re asking is that players adjust to the situation. I think they understand that we’re in a fortunate position, where we’re able to play, we’re able to carry on, to ply our trade while millions of others aren’t.
“You’ve got to follow the rules and also set a good example.”
Masters said the Football Association would have ultimate jurisdiction over on-field breaches of protocol, and the league, FA and EFL will work together to monitor how well the protocols are observed.
Thursday’s joint statement from the three organisations is understood to effectively be a ‘line in the sand’ on the matter.
Manchester City’s players were among those who were criticised after they gathered together to celebrate Phil Foden’s goal against Brighton on Wednesday.
City manager Pep 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.
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“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. 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.”
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.”
On the subject of postponements due to positive Covid-19 tests, Masters believes there is still wriggle room in the schedule.
“We have three free slots towards the end of the season,” he said.
“We’re trying not to use any of those at the moment because as you know, when cup competitions start to mature, the FA Cup rounds, we’re able to play fixtures between Premier League clubs on future FA Cup rounds, and the same with European (competitions), as those competitions move forward.”
The Premier League could, if necessary, also request to play matches on Champions League or Europa 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”.
The Aston Villa v Everton game is one which could, if needed, be played on a European week if no other suitable date is available, as could Leeds v Southampton – postponed to allow Saints to play coronavirus-hit Shrewsbury in the FA Cup third round.
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 Spurs – who already have a fixture against Villa to make up – in the FA Cup fourth round on January 25.