Liverpool captain Jordan Henderson said player welfare is not being taken seriously enough following the Premier League’s decision to continue playing despite a surge in Covid-19 cases.
Ten league games have been postponed this month due to outbreaks and 90 new Covid-19 cases were detected among players and staff in the past week, but clubs agreed on Monday to fulfil the busy festive fixture schedule.
Liverpool assistant manager Pep Lijnders said it was “absurd” to play twice in four days while missing a number of key players due to Covid-19 and injuries, while Chelsea boss Thomas Tuchel said players’ health and safety was at risk.
“I don’t think people can appreciate how intense it is until you actually see it first hand,” Henderson told BBC Sport on Wednesday.
“Football to us is everything and we want to be able to perform at the highest level every time we set foot on the pitch. And unfortunately, in this period it is difficult to do that.
“That has been like this for a few years now and it has been difficult but then, on top of that, you chuck in Covid and it becomes even harder and even worse.
“I am concerned that nobody really takes player welfare seriously.
“I think decisions get made — of course we want to play, as footballers we want to get out there and play — but I am worried about player welfare and I don’t think anybody does take that seriously enough, especially in this period, when Covid is here.
“We will try to have conversations in the background and try to have some sort of influence going forward, but at the minute I don’t feel the players get the respect they deserve in terms of having somebody being able to speak for them independently and having the power to say actually this isn’t right for player welfare.”
Aston Villa manager Steven Gerrard said dealing with player welfare is currently “a challenge”.
“I respect his (Henderson’s) opinion,” Gerrard, a former Liverpool and England captain, told a news conference.
“I think there are two sides to this; player welfare from a Covid situation, that I think everyone in general life is trying to deal with, protect themselves and their families, but also from a football point of view to deal with this situation when you are going into 26, 28 December.
“You’re also worried for a player’s welfare from a football point of view. Trying to manage and deal with those situations is a challenge right now.”
Aston Villa’s Premier League match against Burnley was postponed on Saturday, but Gerrard expects the team’s Boxing Day game against Chelsea to go ahead.
“Hopefully we won’t be in that situation, but we’re going to need a bit of luck, we’re going to need some testing results to go our way,” said Gerrard, referring to the disturbing rise in Covid cases in the Villa camp which led to the postponement of the Burnley game.
“Hopefully we won’t be in that situation, but if you are, that is a nightmare, simple as that.
“We had a situation at the weekend where one of the players was reluctant to get out of his car because he had some symptoms and he’s got a young family and you can totally understand his view in his situation.
“Thankfully he was tested after and he didn’t have a situation but that player would not have been available for me on the day and these are the little situations that people don’t see.”
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