Nobody can guarantee total safety from COVID-19 for elite football players when they return to full training and competitive matches in the near future. But then the same goes for people working on public transport, construction sites and other areas of industry which are continuing to operate amid the current crisis.
It seems that some players believe that the Premier League is responsible for guaranteeing their safety. I’m sorry, but in life (just like in football!) there are no guarantees.
There are inherent risks in any sport. You are at more risk of suffering life threatening injuries in a Formula One race or a boxing match then you are in a football match but it is almost unheard of for a football match to be completed without a player on one of the teams picking up some sort of injury.
We have even seen players like Marc-Vivien Foé and Cheick Tioté collapse and die during football matches or training. Fortunately these type of tragedies are very rare but they remind us that even a relatively safe sport like football there are serious risks.
As a player I was virtually fearless but as I get older I have taken a much more careful approach towards managing the risk of injury. At my age the recovery time is much slower than it is for a footballer in their prime, and I am conscious of the risk of suffering an injury that would stop me getting out on the pitch to coach, or even going to the gym or playing golf in my spare time.
I don’t think players today are less brave then they were in my day, the game is just played at a faster pace so they have to be much more careful about deciding when and where to challenge hard. But I do think their lives are very different to ours because they started earning big money at such a young age, as well as being the subject of intense media scrutiny.
Perhaps living in this sort of ‘bubble’ where you use your wealth to shield you from public scrutiny away from the pitch gives players a different idea of what constitutes an acceptable risk than say a builder of bus driver. But I don’t believe that professional footballers should be protected more than people in other professions.
The sheer amount of money involved in the Premier League means that players will inevitably get better protection from COVID-19, and better medical treatment if they do contract it, then people in other professions that aren’t generating millions in revenue every week.
The no expense spared approach towards the care of Premier League players under the ‘football restart’ initiative should be more than enough to assure them. Yes it’s easy for me to say because I won’t be playing for either of my former Premier League clubs, Brighton or Spurs.
I’ve not been privy to all the meetings and discussions which are ongoing. However if construction sites are operating, the trains, tubes and buses are running and people in many other fields of work are taking similar risks on a daily basis then I don’t see why football, or sport in general, should be treated any differently.
There will be some difficult decisions to make in the coming days and weeks. But we all want to see the Premier League back on our screens, even if fans won’t be able to attend games for a while.