IAN LADYMAN: When will England stars follow Covid rules like the rest of us?
Announcing his squad for the forthcoming international triple-header last week, Gareth Southgate said that he would once again seek to underline to his players exactly what it means to play for England in the current climate.
After Covid-19 breaches involving Jack Grealish, Kyle Walker, Phil Foden and Mason Greenwood, it was necessary to again spell out to his squad exactly what they are and are not allowed to do away from the field these days.
Listening to him talk, it was easy to empathise. For the England manager, peripheral problems tend to flow like government policy changes these days. Equally, it was hard not to wonder just why such constant messaging was necessary. Surely players get it by now, don’t they? Surely it’s not that hard to understand and digest things like the rule of six?
Three days later Southgate’s caution was proved portentous. Three of his less experienced players — Tammy Abraham, Jadon Sancho and Ben Chilwell — were among 20 people who attended a surprise party for the Chelsea striker and at a stroke Southgate was deprived of them for Thursday night’s friendly against Wales.
On the face of it, the players’ lapse does not appear such a big deal. It is easy to feel a little sorry for Abraham. It would have been a big ask to turn the lights on at his own surprise birthday bash and tell everybody to go home.
Equally, it’s all just a bit stupid and unnecessary and that is what will frustrate Southgate the most.
On Wednesday he will speak to the media at his pre-match press conference knowing that a good portion will be about the ‘Covid Three’.
He would rather talk about the potential of newbies Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Harvey Barnes, but will once again be addressing a streak of indiscipline that appears to run through his squad.
England players must do better. It is too much to ask them all to be role models. Many have character flaws like the rest of us. But it should not be too much to expect them to follow Government guidelines. They grew up in a goldfish bowl and, rightly or wrongly, they know the public are watching.
Abraham, Sancho and Chilwell are graduates of the English academy system. There are exceptions, but it generally churns out talented players who are bright and educated enough to understand how the real world works and to take simple messages on board.
The Covid message is being hammered home to Premier League players constantly. How can players who currently spend their lives in a bio-secure bubble and who are tested regularly fail to understand how serious life in 2020 is?
This is what makes this latest breach so baffling. Without doubt, some of the government’s area by area guidelines are constantly moving and have led to confusion.
But what will it take for football to understand that it must follow the rules, just like the rest of us?