Gareth Southgate says that England’s precautions on Mason Mount and Ben Chilwell are likely down to “chatting after the game” with Billy Gilmour rather than any issue on the pitch, and there is at least some hope that the duo will yet be available for the play-off for top spot against Czech Republic on Tuesday.
Much had been made of a picture of the three Chelsea players together on the pitch after Friday’s 0-0 draw with Scotland in the wake of Gilmour's positive Covid test, but the protocols mean that was not an issue. The Football Association and Public Health England were instead investigating any potential interactions after the game, including the possibility the players chatted for up to 20 minutes in tunnel. Officials will attempt to determine whether they were in the open air and at a sufficient distance, which could save the English players’ next two games. If not, they face up to 10 days out of the tournament in self isolation.
Southgate admitted that the whole situation had left managers “on edge” for the last year, and that there was a certain inevitability they would face such a problem at some point. While there has been much focus on the fact that two English players who tested negative have had to self-isolate and no one from Scotland has, sources have said that is due to FA precaution rather than any guidance from Public Health England.
“The protocols – it would be something to do with chatting after the game but I have no idea of all the detail,” Southgate admitted. “That’s why we’ve taken the decision at this point to isolate them. That’s why we’re having to have the discussions with Public Health England, as I understand it, and I’m sure the guys will update you as soon as they know more.
“I really don’t know how all that works. All I know is that we are in the situation we’re in and we’re complying with Public Health England and there’s nothing else we can do
“I was on the training pitch when I found out [Gilmour had tested positive], so we'd just literally finished training. In terms of the team, we'll need to go through details with the players in the morning really, so we'll have to know by late tonight or first thing in the morning of their availability and if not we'll just have to play on without them.
“In terms of the training pitch, that's no issue because when football restarted a lot of work was done to show that playing and training actually wasn't a risk, the period of times that players were in contact together, the fact you're outside, so that was all dealt with last year for the restart of the Premier League, that was a big part of the restart, and for the boys we're still getting to grips with what exactly it is that's happened, it's some interaction after the game, but until we get that all confirmed by Public Health England and whether that's going to rule them out, I really can't give you a more definitive answer on that.”
Southgate similarly denied that the FA had been “overzealous”, as he pointed to how the issue has hung over the whole tournament and so much of the last year. He argued that England have maybe even been fortunate so far.
“We’re not being overzealous in that we’ve got to follow the guidelines and got to make sure that if there is any risk with these two players then we’ve got to make sure we don’t put any other players at risk. But the ins and outs of what would classify as being contact – they are the discussions that are ongoing.
“To be honest we’ve been living on edge with that the whole season. As yet, we haven’t had a positive test in one of camps. We’ve been one of the few countries in Europe but we’ve never been patting ourselves on the back about that, we know there’s an element of good fortune within that. But every round of testing you’re waiting wondering if you’re going to have to make a change to your team and this is the first time it’s happened to us.
“As we sit here at that moment in time that’s looking a high possibility. You can have that with a player getting an injury in training the day before a game, or I remember going to European Championships under-21s and John Stones got concussion the night before the game and Saido Berahino did his knee the day before. We lost two players in two days. These things can happen. We’ve just got to adapt and adjust.”
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