Aston Villa manager Steven Gerrard says anxiety over Covid-19 is reaching such a level that one of his players was reluctant to get out of his car.
An outbreak at Villa forced their match against Burnley last Saturday to be postponed at short notice, and Gerrard says it will be a “nightmare” if the club have to tackle two matches in two days with just 14 players available.
Liverpool captain Jordan Henderson insists player welfare is not taken seriously in England, as clubs manage the usual congested festive programme alongside a resurgence in Covid cases, and Villa boss Gerrard said the situation is becoming almost impossible to manage.
“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,” Gerrard said.
“This is a guy who’s got a young family, it is Christmas time, and that’s the situation everyone is in.
“No-one wants to get this virus. Everyone wants to protect their own families. This is our job and your priority is always going to be your family, of course it is.
“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.
“We’ve got a major responsibility to listen to the players and deal with every situation as it comes your way.”
Premier League clubs collectively agreed to continue the season on Monday despite a season-high 90 positive Covid cases recorded last week which led to six out of 10 top-flight matches due to be played last weekend being called off.
Villa are due to host Chelsea on Boxing Day and travel to Leeds two days later. Asked how they would manage if they had only 14 players available, Gerrard said: “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.
“Hopefully we won’t be in that situation, but if you are, that is a nightmare, simple as that.”
The Premier League is hosting virtual managers’ and captains’ meetings on Thursday to listen to their respective concerns.
But Reds skipper Henderson does not believe players are really listened to, and told BBC Sport: “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.”
Liverpool were reportedly one of the clubs who spoke in favour of rearranging game-week 20 – due to be played between December 28 and 30.
Arsenal boss Mikel Arteta understood Henderson’s concerns, and said: “Without the players we can do nothing, so we have to really listen to the players because they are the ones that have to be there.
“It is easy for us to demand but they are the ones who have to perform and they have to do it. I think we have to listen much more to our players. It is the same with the fans, because this industry, it wouldn’t work without those two.”
Bolton boss Ian Evatt does not believe a two-week, ‘circuit-breaker’ suspension in the EFL would help, despite 18 players and staff – Evatt included – having tested positive for Covid-19.
“I don’t think it is the answer because there are no guarantees that clubs won’t have issues with Covid after that – it’s something I think we’re going to have to live with,” he said.
Wanderers’ Sky Bet League One match against Morecambe on Boxing Day has been postponed, and Evatt called for “common sense” to be exercised around the games that follow, with Bolton away to Burton on December 29.
“Following guidelines and protocol, we’d have the majority out of isolation for the 27th,” he said.
“The frustration on my part is that there has to be an element of common sense and fairness. You’re asking players to go straight into a game and it’s a real risk.”