What a delightful festive snap - Tottenham's Erik Lamela, Sergio Reguilon and Giovani Lo Celso with West Ham's Manuel Lanzini and a proliferation of friends and family smiling together for the camera, marking a wonderful, joyful celebration.
Except obviously under UK legislation to stop the spread of coronavirus it shouldn't have happened at all.
All three were out of the starting line-up for Spurs's home fixture against Leeds United on Saturday, although bizarrely Reguilon was given a place on the bench, and the trio join the club's hall of shame which extends back to the early weeks of the pandemic - when Jose Mourinho was pictured training with Tanguy Ndombele, and Ryan Sessegnon and Davinson Sanchez were caught jogging side by side, when the government ruling was that exercise could only be taken with others from the same household.
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Reguilon may, indeed, be feeling homesick. It is of course not nice to be away from one's loved ones at a time of festivities. But he is not the only one who is expected to obey the rules and undergo a little bit of solitude in the name of the greater good. Hundreds of thousands of people across the country - across the world - did the same thing this December in order to prevent the spread of a deadly virus. Reguilon is also going to work pretty much every day, seeing people, travelling, not shut in his home like plenty of people are while shielding or self-isolating. He deserves little sympathy.
Lo Celso and Lamela, if it is true that they have now tested positive for Covid, deserve a modicum of sympathy, as does everyone who is ill. But they are reaping the consequences of their own actions. Tottenham players have handled the pandemic horribly badly, and the club has some serious questions to answer.
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Their game against Leeds was, however, not postponed, unlike three other Premier League matches in recent days. With every postponement has come a statement with the sentiment: "With low numbers of positive tests across the overwhelming majority of clubs, the League continues to have confidence in its COVID-19 protocols, fully backed by the Government, to enable fixtures to be played as scheduled."
Further down the football pyramid are even more postponements. Though the government continues to applaud the continuation of football as an example of how life can carry on as normal, it must surely be evident to them as well as the governing bodies that trying to run an entire season as normal - complete with international fixtures and the travel that necessitates - over the course of ten months was somewhat optimistic.
The protocols within football may well be excellent, but players are not living within a bio-secure bubble. They are obviously going home, and mixing with their partners and children, who are in turn going out into the world - to work, or to school. This is part of the reason that a two-week circuit breaker shutdown of competition won't work - because the players will just be back at home with their families and carrying on as normal, heading off to training every day to be ready for the next game in a fortnight. And for all the reliance on testing at the training ground, one has to wonder if this procedure is simply giving people a false sense of security. Tests are only really useful for identifying those people who are definitely positive and need to isolate; a negative test means only that you're negative at the moment the test is taken - with incubation periods, you could test positive shortly afterwards.
The success of England's series against the West Indies, Pakistan and Australia in cricket over the summer showed that bio-secure bubbles can work to get matches played as normal - but it's a stressful way to live. Cricket has also managed to get leagues up and running under similarly strict conditions - in the Indian Premier League, players aren't allowed to see friends or have visitors from outside their bubble, and are expected to wear bluetooth bands that remind them to stick to social distancing.
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Image credit: Getty Images
The English domestic football leagues can clearly not operate under such conditions with their existing calendar. As such, it makes one wonder why the football authorities thought they could just run their schedule as normal. The only acknowledgement the fixture list has made to the pandemic is the reduction of replays and the single-leg Carabao Cup semi-finals. Finishing the 2019/20 season in the space of a month or so required everyone's buy-in and commitment, and it was to everyone's credit that it was such a success.
Spending ten months with the same protocols and hoping that everyone continues to stick to the rules is, clearly, not going to happen. That's not just in football - that's in the outside world too, which is why the reminders to wash one's hands and keep social distance and not to mix indoors with anyone not in your household are required. People get tired and get lax, and that's when infection rates rise.
And that's leaving aside flagrant abuse of the rules - which has been seen in football from the start of the pandemic right up until now. Perhaps it's footballers' exceptionalism - thinking rules don't apply to them, or that they can't get massively sick from having coronavirus. Perhaps they'd be well advised to look at some of the reports suggesting that myocarditis, a heart condition, can be one of the long-term side-effects of Covid-19.
The only obvious solution at this point, in lieu of a full vaccination programme being available to everyone across the UK immediately, is a lengthy hiatus, just as we had last season. But nobody seems to want that, so we'll end up with more and more postponements, more and more infections, a congested fixture list, and potentially a delayed or cancelled European Championship.
Happy New Year!
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