England coach Gareth Southgate appealed to the nation to “get back on track” in its fight against the coronavirus, using three of his misbehaving players as an example of the growing “disharmony” that has developed amid the pandemic.
England players Tammy Abraham, Ben Chilwell and Jadon Sancho attended a party this past weekend — in contravention of the British government’s coronavirus guidelines — and will now miss the friendly against Wales on Thursday as they await the results of COVID-19 tests.
Southgate was let down by two other players in the last international break, when youngsters Mason Greenwood and Phil Foden were dropped from the England squad for breaching coronavirus restrictions by meeting women from outside the team’s bio-secure bubble in Iceland.
England is currently battling a second wave of the virus that has seen areas of the country return to lockdown, and Southgate is urging footballers to do their bit to help the nation get through the pandemic.
“We are living in unique times with the COVID regulations and everyone from politicians to businessmen to footballers have erred in their field,” Southgate said Wednesday. "As a country fighting the virus, we need to get back on track in working together.
“I have felt really positive about this at the beginning of lockdown (in March). Everyone was out supporting the NHS (National Health Service), people were doing shopping for their neighbors, everyone was pulling together. There's a lot of disharmony now. We are all in this situation together and we have to work together to pull through it as a country.”
Abraham, Chilwell and Sancho — three players at the start of their England careers — had to delay their arrivals at the England training base this week while the Football Association assessed if there was any risk to the squad as a result of the party held at Abraham's house.
Southgate said they were in the process of being tested so “obviously miss the game with Wales.” If they are unable to start training by Friday, they will be ruled out of the Nations League qualifier against Belgium on Sunday, which also will be staged at Wembley Stadium.
“We can't give a definite answer when they’ll be in,” Southgate said, “because of all the things we’re having to track.
“At the moment, they are all in consideration for later in the week, we just have to track what happens and make sure we’re protecting the whole group. That’s key because we have a unique bubble where you’re bringing everybody from different environments, That's not going to be perfect because, as we have seen with other nations, you can get positive tests and the timelines for incubation periods are very complex.”
Southgate said players — especially those new to the group — who fell foul of coronavirus restrictions were threatening their places in future England squads.
“When these incidents happen, it takes a lot of focus, a lot of time, a lot of energy away from the team,” Southgate said. "We can't afford that. We need the focus to be on the games.
“The players that have been within the camp are 100% focused on the games. Their attitude has been excellent, their approach to training has been top. If you are going into major tournaments and you have those sorts of incidents, they can derail you. I have seen it in the past.”
Southgate was also concerned the recent off-field incidents would affect the squad's connection with the fans that improved amid England's run to the 2018 World Cup semifinals.
“We have worked very hard over the last three or four years to bring that back,” he said. "Key to that is the contribution of the players who have been with us — we have got 10 with us this time who were with us in Russia and they have done a lot of good work with us, their clubs, in the communities and they have played well and got results.
“Some of the young ones haven't done that with England. They don't have that credit in the bank. They need to prove themselves and they need to remember it is an honor to play for England, and all of these things as we are selecting squads moving forward do play a part in your thinking.”
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