Players opt out of Watford training as Mariappa tests positive for Covid-19
Manager says ‘no pressure’ to attend training amid plans for return of Premier League
Watford centre-back Adrian Mariappa is self-isolating for seven days and will be retested before he returns to training. Photograph: Richard Heathcote/Getty Images
Troy Deeney was one of several Watford players who chose not to take part in small-group training on Wednesday, the day after three members of the club’s playing and coaching staff, including the centre-back Adrian Mariappa, were found to have tested positive for Covid-19.
Four groups of players, each of no more than five, trained at the club’s Hertfordshire base. Excluding Mariappa, who is isolating for seven days and will be retested before returning to training, Gerard Deulofeu, who moved into his physiotherapist’s house in Spain before that country imposed its lockdown in an effort to accelerate his recovery from a serious knee injury, and those on loan when league football was paused, the club have 26 senior professionals, including three goalkeepers.
Those who chose not to attend were given details of the exercises their teammates were being put through and asked to do them alone. They are under no pressure to come to the training ground before they feel comfortable to do so.
“I think it’s important that they feel that they’re able to make a decision like that,” the Watford manager, Nigel Pearson, told Sky Sports. “I think one of the key factors in this is that there are still a few unanswered questions. Wherever there is an element of doubt, and if players feel that there are too many question marks, then we respect their decision.”
Watford have been one of the most outspoken clubs regarding plans to restart the Premier League in June. Deeney had said he would not participate in group training and over the weekend Pearson raised concerns about the possibility of a coronavirus-related death in the league.
“I’ve made my position very clear, in terms of what I think about the overall situation, but, having said that, my job still is to support the people I work alongside, and that’s what I will do,” Pearson said on Wednesday. “Once the decision had been made to restart it was very important that we try to create an environment in which the players feel safe.”
Watford, like other clubs, will decide whether to support the protocols designed to allow contact training once those are put forward. The British government hopes to approve guidelines this week.
Mariappa revealed he was the Watford player who tested positive for coronavirus but said he was asymptomatic and had not breached any guidelines.
“It was a big surprise because I haven’t really left the house, apart from some exercise and the odd walk with the kids,” he told the Telegraph. “I’ve mainly just been homeschooling and keeping fit. My lifestyle is very quiet, certainly no parties or going out or anything, so I really don’t know how I got it. Like most people, we’ve been having more deliveries of food and things, so maybe that’s one way, and my partner has been to the supermarket a few times.”
The stance taken by Deeney and other Watford players was backed by Jonas Baer-Hoffmann, head of the international players’ union Fifpro. “There’s a lot of uncharted territory when it comes to these protocols,” he said. “They all speak about risk management and no system can exclude the risk of infection. So it’s about the probability with which you minimise that risk. Players should have the right to air their concerns and should be central to the process of evolving the rules to put them into action.”
Baer-Hoffmann endorsed Deeney’s call for extra research into the effects of Covid-19 on black, Asian and minority ethnic people and added: “We have heard from multiple players [across Europe’s top leagues] that they are being pressured. We’ve also heard that players did not feel appropriately involved in developing these protocols. In Germany the players have not been part of the process, frankly at all. Let’s also be honest, a lot of players do want to return and are happy that football is finding a way back but, of course, not in any circumstance.”