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Unvaccinated players could be isolated by Premier League clubs as crisis builds

An emergency meeting of all 20 clubs will be staged virtually on Monday, as they attempt to navigate a path to continue the season.
Fans have their Covid Passes checked outside the stadium prior to the Premier League match between Manchester City and Leeds United at Etihad Stadium on December 14, 2021 in Manchester, England. (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)

Fans have their Covid Passes checked outside the stadium prior to the Premier League match between Manchester City and Leeds United at Etihad Stadium on December 14, 2021 in Manchester, England. (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)

Kevin Palmer

PREMIER League chiefs will decide on Monday whether to cancel the Christmas fixture list, with a vaccination crisis at the root of the crisis gripping English football.

An emergency meeting of all 20 clubs will be staged virtually, as they attempt to navigate a path to continue the season after a weekend that saw six out of ten matches cancelled due to Covid outbreaks across Premier League squads.

The decision to postpone Aston Villa's match against Burnley yesterday came two-and-a-half hours before kick-off, with many fans already on their way to Villa Park as the announcement was made.

It is understood the request from Villa was received after 10am, with Premier League chiefs staging an impromptu board meeting at midday and then making the announcement 40 minutes later.

A Premier League statement read: “Due to more positive cases in the Aston Villa squad today, the Premier League Board has regrettably had to postpone the club’s home fixture against Burnley, due to kick off at 3pm this afternoon.

“After reviewing all the new information provided by Aston Villa this morning and receiving separate medical advice, the board approved the request as a result of the club not having enough players to field a team.

“This decision was based on the number of Covid-19 cases, injuries and illness.

“The league understands the decision to postpone the match at such short notice will frustrate and disappoint supporters, and apologises for the inconvenience and disruption caused."

Now there is a call to ensure matches are not postponed at such short notice, while some clubs are pushing for a two-week break in fixtures in an attempt to overcome the latest Covid surge.

Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp and Chelsea boss Thomas Tuchel are among those who do not believe a break in fixtures will resolve the problem, while Premier League chiefs are reluctant to halt the programme as they fear it will not resume amid predictions that Covid case numbers in the UK could top 200,000-a-day next week.

Jurgen Klopp has urged all Premier League players to get vaccinated (Phil Noble/PA)

Jurgen Klopp has urged all Premier League players to get vaccinated (Phil Noble/PA)

The big issue impacting football is not illness caused by the Omicron variant, but the limited number of footballers who have refused to be vaccinated against Covid-19 in England.

According to last month’s data with Football League clubs, only 75 per-cent of players had been either fully vaccinated, had a single jab or intend to be vaccinated.

The total of double-vaccinated players was 59 per cent, with 16 per cent set to get the jab and 25 per cent of players not currently intending to get a vaccine.

The date for Premier League players who are fully vaccinated is believed to be at around 70 per-cent, but numerous clubs may be below 50 per-cent.

Now Premier League chief executive Richard Masters has urged clubs to to "strongly encourage" players to get vaccinated to try and save the season.

"We have collectively highlighted the importance of vaccination and it has never been more important," he wrote in a letter to all 20 clubs.

"Please strongly encourage those who are not fully vaccinated to become so, and the many who are, to get their booster, which appears to be the only significant layer of protection against the Omicron variant."

Any player who has not been vaccinated need to isolate if they come into close contact with a Covid case and with the Omicron variant ripping through Premier League clubs, the combination of confirmed cases and isolating players may soon bring down the curtain on the game in England.

Klopp has led the calls for more players to be vaccinated in recent days, but many are refusing to consider taking the jabs and that means the Premier League is facing a challenge not seen in other major leagues.

With 98 per-cent of players fully vaccinated in Italy's Serie A, their match schedule has not been affected by Covid-related incidents.

The vaccination rate among Germany's Bundesliga players is currently at around 94 per-cent, with authorities making it difficult for those who opt against taking the jab to lead normal lives.

Only those who have been vaccinated or recently recovered from Covid will be allowed in restaurants, cinemas, leisure facilities and many shops.

Bayern Munich’s Serge Gnabry. (John Walton/PA)

Bayern Munich’s Serge Gnabry. (John Walton/PA)

Meanwhile, Bild revealed last month that Bayern Munich had withheld the wages of the unvaccinated quintet of Serge Gnabry, Joshua Kimmich, Jamal Musiala, Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting and Michael Cuisance last month after they were ruled out of action due to Covid issues.

It was a shot across the bows of vaccine sceptics in football and it may be an option Premier League chiefs could consider as they start to apply pressure on players in England to take the vaccine.

Newcastle manager Eddie Howe has confirmed he will only consider singing players who are fully vaccinated against Covid.

As has already happened in tennis, where all players need to be vaccinated before they are allowed to play in next month's Australian Open, we may get to a point where Premier League players will only be able to continue if they agree to take the vaccine.


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