Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola is concerned players could become infected with the coronavirus if they fly away to play for their countries in World Cup qualifying in March, potentially damaging his team’s bid for titles this season in the process.
“The moment you take planes and go to other places, everything can happen,” Guardiola said Tuesday.
City was one of three Premier League teams -- along with Fulham and Aston Villa -- to have games called off across December and January because of COVID-19 outbreaks at their training grounds.
Domestic soccer in England briefly looked in danger of having to be canceled as infection rates at clubs soared around the festive period, but they have returned to manageable levels in recent weeks with the country back under lockdown since last month.
Guardiola fears that could change once players head off for international duty, with 135 national teams set to play World Cup qualifying games in March and 48 more playing African Cup of Nations qualifiers. The scheduled games involve more than 3,000 players — many with clubs in Europe — set to fly around the world to join national teams.
“I think the Premier League should be concerned about this, all the leagues (should be) concerned,” Guardiola said. “I know the national federations need to play — for the (World Cup) qualification, for the friendly games for their preparation for the European Championship in the summer time, this is normal.
“But the reason why there were a lot of cases in the Premier League and now there are no cases is because people don’t move. Home and training center, game, home. No more than this. All the restaurants are closed, just go to buy essential food. Here we are in the bubble every two days we are tested.”
FIFA this month extended an easing of its rules that frees clubs during the pandemic from obligations to release all players to national teams. Players who face mandatory quarantine of at least five days on any part of their intended journey, or government-imposed border restrictions that do not exempt professional sports, can be excused call-ups by their national team.
Ideally, according to Guardiola, there would be no international matches until the summer.
“I’d say, from my humble opinion, we should be careful until summertime,” he said, “when the season has finished, so we can control this better.”
City leads the Premier League by seven points heading into a match at Everton on Wednesday, and resumes Champions League play next week with the first leg of a last-16 match with Borussia Monchenladbach.
That game is being held in Budapest because of German restrictions on arrivals from Britain amid the pandemic. City would be traveling to Hungary as a team under virus protocols, as opposed to individual players flying out for international duty.
“I am really impressed it’s getting much better,” Guardiola said, “but it’s there. When we relax a little bit, it will come back again. But that is why until summer or spring we have to be careful.”
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