IAN LADYMAN: Football has paid price for taking its eye off the ball

IAN LADYMAN: Football has paid the price for taking its eye off the ball with coronavirus – the mindset needs to go back to the first days of lockdown

  • Football is guilty of taking its eye off the ball with regards to coronavirus 
  • Positive virus results are running through the top flight at an alarming rate 
  • Football’s mindset must go back to where it was in the first days of lockdown 

During the difficult, strange games of Project Restart last month, a trip to the football served as a reminder that something about the world remained very different.

The shops, bars and cafes were operating almost normally but at the football — a place of temperature checks, empty seats and sterilised corner flags — the reality of life with Covid-19 came crashing back in.

It still seems a miracle that we got last season done at all. It took a rare combined effort by the clubs of our top two divisions, the Government, the football authorities and scientists to drag it over the finish line.

Tottenham midfielder Tanguy Ndombele is among the players to test positive for coronavirus

We owed a debt to the players, too. A minority did not do so well during the endless weeks of lockdown. Some could not manage to play by life’s new and onerous rules. But most did. Most saw the bigger picture, read the instructions from their clubs and were able to return fit, well and available.

Sadly, that impressive capacity for discipline has not endured. Positive virus results are now running through the Premier League at an alarming rate. Just like swathes of the rest of the country, it seems football is about to pay for the mistaken belief that the virus has disappeared.

It would be wrong to castigate our players as a group. The percentage of players testing positive remains small.

Nevertheless, there is an increasing threat to the start of the new season while Gareth Southgate looks as if he will have a depleted England squad available when his players convene next week for the first time in 10 months. Largely, this is because the sport has taken its eye off the ball. There can be no other explanation.

Positive tests, including from Manchester United star Paul Pogba, are running through the Premier League at an alarming rate

Some players will have been unlucky, others less so. Players sharing sun loungers and bar stools in Mediterranean resorts need to read the Covid rule book more closely. 

Meanwhile, those heading to destinations that remain on the UK quarantine list cannot complain if supporters who pay their wages presume that they simply do not care enough to stay at home.

Football’s mindset must go back to where it was in the first days of lockdown. Back then some players declared themselves sufficiently unnerved by the threat of infection to consider not coming back to training. 

It looks as if England manager Gareth Southgate will have a depleted squad available

Football’s mindset regarding the virus has to go back to where it was in first days of lockdown

Football was aware of Covid in April, May and June and quickly needs to realise that not much has significantly changed.

The game may get away with this latest outbreak. The Premier League season is not due to start until two weeks on Saturday, by which time this week’s surge may well have levelled off.

But if Boris Johnson’s Government was in need of a new message with which to remind the public of this ongoing crisis, football may just have written one in very large letters.

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