Premier League players have continued to flout the plea to avoid all unnecessary contact during goal celebrations ahead of Covid-19 test results on Monday which will indicate whether football's protocols are working.
All three of Tottenham’s goals against Sheffield United on Sunday were celebrated with hugs or high fives among players, including England captain Harry Kane, even though the Premier League had spent much of last week stressing the importance of enhanced Covid-19 protocols.
There were also similar scenes following weekend goals at the Etihad Stadium, Molineux, Elland Road, the London Stadium and Craven Cottage.
It had followed a final plea on Friday by Premier League chief executive Richard Masters, who had urged players to “follow the rules and also set a good example” by not hugging, high-fiving or shaking hands following a goal.
Serge Aurier’s opener against Sheffield United, however, saw most of the outfield players come together in a group arm-in-arm celebration. After his goal, Kane was then hugged by Aurier and Steven Bergwijn, who also jumped on Tanguy Ndombele’s back following his spectacular strike.
Premier League players are tested biweekly and there were respectively 40 and 36 new positive tests over the past fortnight, the highest since football resumed last June. The results of the two sets of tests over this past week will be revealed on Monday and, although the most recent interactions weekend could have no impact on these results, any wider sign of further increases will prompt uncomfortable questions for football’s leaders.
The Football Association is also monitoring the situation and, according to Masters, they would have ultimate jurisdiction over any on-field breaches.
Setting any sort of disciplinary precedent, however, could be problematic given the number of breaches across the football pyramid and also the question of whether what is only guidance falls within football’s jurisdiction.
The government is not minded to withdraw elite sport’s right to carry on during the lockdown but football was left in no doubt last week that it is not a privilege it can take for granted. The recent breaches, especially during the FA Cup third round, also prompted concern that football did not understand the gravity of the situation.
Sheffield United’s players were restrained after David McGoldrick’s goal on Sunday and their manager, Chris Wilder, said that he had instructed his team to follow the directives.
The Professional Footballers’ Association and the League Managers’ Association had also reinforced the massage following the FA Cup, when raucous breaches even spilled into the enclosed space of changing rooms. Wilder said that his players had simply curbed their instincts.
“It wouldn’t have been a natural reaction because the natural reaction would be to jump all over him,” Wilder said. “We had the directive. Things are happening in our country which obviously need to be dealt with. The players understand the situation. They are responsible human beings.”
Leicester City’s James Maddison had also marked his goal against Southampton by only simulating hand-shakes with his team-mates. “It’s nice to run a serious message into a lighter note,” said Maddison.
Master had admitted before the weekend that “perfection” would be impossible. The message will now be further reinforced over the coming week, including at a meeting of Premier League shareholders, which is scheduled for Wednesday. “All we’re asking is that players adjust to the situation - I think they understand that we’re in a fortunate position, where we’re able to play, we’re able to carry on while millions of others aren’t,” said Masters.
West Brom manager Sam Allardyce says that he had been told that it was “more a symbolic” gesture to celebrate without the usual hugs rather than scientifically based.