London (AFP) – Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp said he will not put his players at risk or force them back into action against their will as the Premier League leaders returned to training in small groups on Wednesday.
Klopp’s side were just two victories away from ending a 30-year wait to win the title when the English top-flight was shutdown more than two months ago due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Six positive cases of COVID-19 were detected in the Premier League’s first round of 748 tests of players and staff ahead of a return to socially distanced training this week.
Klopp reiterated his priority is the health of those involved, but believes it is now safe for players to return to phase one of training.
«We would never put anybody in danger to do what we want to do. Yes, we love football, yes, it’s our job, but it’s not more important than our lives or the lives of other people,» Klopp told Sky Sports.
«In this case if you don’t feel safe, you don’t have to be here.
«There are no restrictions, no punishment, nothing. It’s their own decision and we respect that 100 per cent.»
Germany’s Bundesliga resumed its season behind closed doors last weekend, becoming the first major league to do so.
The Premier League’s target of restarting on June 12 has been called into question by players’ concern for their welfare, both from the threat of the virus and injuries with little preparation time after such a long layoff.
And Klopp would welcome a start date to work towards as soon as possible.
«None of us know when we will start. The earlier they can tell us, the better it is, of course,» he added.
«We can’t start today and then start playing tomorrow. That doesn’t work. We need time to get match fit and that’s what we are doing at the moment.»
Sheffield United manager Chris Wilder is also heartened that just 0.8 percent of the tests carried out by the Premier League resulted in positive cases and is confident his players have kept themselves fit enough for a quick return to action.
«A lot of people have been tested and the signs are encouraging,» said Wilder, whose side are in contention to qualify for European competition for the first time in their history.
«They weren’t off to Dubai or Vegas eating and drinking whatever they want,» he added.
«They’ve got a professionalism about them and my players are in absolutely brilliant condition.»
– ‘Lab rats’ –
However, some players remain unconvinced they are not being put at undue risk.
Newcastle and England defender Danny Rose argued players are being treated like «guinea pigs or lab rats».
Watford captain Troy Deeney has said he will not return to training this week over fears he could pass the virus onto his five-month-old son, with three of the six positive cases in the Premier League registered at the club.
Deeney’s teammate Adrian Mariappa confirmed he had tested positive, with the bemused defender telling the Daily Telegraph: «I’ve been scratching my head to try to work out how I might have got coronavirus.
«It was a big surprise because I haven’t really left the house, apart from some exercise and the odd walk with the kids.»
Burnley had previously announced that assistant manager Ian Woan, who is also asymptomatic, was another case with two more from one other club yet to be revealed.
Meanwhile, Tottenham have launched another investigation into one of their players after defender Serge Aurier appeared to flout social-distancing rules for a third time.
The Ivorian posted an Instagram photo on Tuesday showing off his new haircut and tagged the barber in his post.
Hairdressers are closed in Britain in line with the government’s rules on social distancing.
Aurier appeared to round on the press in another Instagram post, saying: «My hairdresser is negative and me too so stop talking in a vacuum and put on masks and gloves when you come to take pictures at the training center its part of the rules too».