TUESDAY’S BIG STORIES

International football is a farce

It reads like a news bulletin humming away gently in the background of a ludicrous action film set in a dystoptian future, probably starring Jason Statham.
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‘News is just reaching us that the upcoming football match between England and Iceland could now be played in Albania. Iceland are due to face Denmark in Copenhagen on Sunday but the United Kingdom has implemented a travel ban on any visitors from Denmark due to the discovery of a mutated strain of the deadly virus which has now caused upwards of 1.25m deaths across the world. The mutated virus has been transmitted to the local population from a mink farm.’
And yet, every word of it is true. The fact that football has continued through the pandemic has largely been great. Liverpool won the title, Arsenal won the FA Cup, the continued rhythm of weekly football, even if it has unfamiliar edges, provides some structure, distraction and enjoyment in a world where otherwise our activities and social interactions are being heavily restricted. You can still watch Ian Wright on Match of the Day most weeks. It’s not all bad.
And yet, that doesn’t mean that all football should continue during the pandemic. The wisdom of conducting an intra-European competition was highlighted during the recent round of Champions League matches when Dynamo Kiev almost forfeited their game against Barcelona and Ajax were also hit by a Covid-19 outbreak.
As the second wave seemingly gathers pace across Europe, it really does beg the question of why we are even bothering to have an international break, always the most insipid and uninspiring juncture of any football calendar, just in order to play a bunch of friendlies and a relatively meaningless competition in the UEFA Nations League. Get the Euro 2020 play-offs done safely, fine, but to hold the wider set of fixtures, and incur all the cross-European travel involved, just seems egregious.
Even the Euro 2020 play-offs are not without their problems after Italian authorities issued travel bans for any players representing Fiorentina, Genoa, Roma, Sassuolo and Inter following positive Covid cases in their teams, meaning Serbia will be without some key players for their match against Scotland. But at least that is a match with genuine importance: it will directly decide which team goes to the Euros, if indeed the Euros take place.
Meanwhile the vast majority of fixtures over the next week and a bit, including England’s game against Iceland – which could indeed be played in Albania, or potentially Germany – are so devoid of genuine meaning as to be virtually meaningless. The entire Nations League could just be sacked off this time around. We are going to play Euro 2024 qualifiers anyway and the play-off system could just revert to the old method.
The fact that international friendlies are being held on top of this is, quite frankly, a complete p***-take.

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We are all being urged to stay at home. No one can go on holiday. Most shops aren’t allowed to open. But significant numbers of footballers are being allowed to traverse the continent for… what exactly? The chance to play 60 minutes in a slow-paced, non-important match in an empty stadium?
We’re already starting to see the potential impacts of the heavily congested calendar which players are having to try and negotiate safely, with the second half of Liverpool and Manchester City being played at a dreary tempo and Trent Alexander-Arnold picking up a muscle injury which rules him out for around four weeks. He will not be the last.
Imagine if instead of now spending the best part of a fortnight on pointless international exertions, players were given a period of rest to combat fatigue, both mental and physical.
England’s potential fix around playing in Albania is a total shambles. In fact it’s worse than that. The UK has brought in the Danish travel ban due to public health concerns over receiving any visitors who have been in that country. So a solution which requires England’s players to travel to another country just so they can still play a match against a group of visitors who have just been in Denmark, is only a cheap workaround. This game shouldn’t be happening. Full stop. And you can say the same for almost the entire international window.

Desperate blow for Ansu Fati

Ansu Fati FC Barcelona

Image credit: Getty Images

If football continues like it currently is, then we run the risk of The Warm-Up becoming little more than a long list of all the players who have picked up injuries each day. Well, maybe not. But there is sadly more injury news to report this morning.
Barcelona’s incandescent young forward Ansu Fati, still only 18, has been dealt a significant setback following the news that he is expected to be out for around four months after undergoing surgery on a knee ligament injury.
Fati had been one of the bright spots of a fairly miserable season so far, with five goals and two assists in eight games. But the team sitting eighth in La Liga – yes, eighth – have now lost their second most exciting player for a prolonged period of time.

IN OTHER NEWS

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IN THE CHANNELS

Playing in the FA Cup last night, Oxford City’s Aaron Drewe produced the kind of goal-line clearance that even the most elite defenders spend their nights dreaming of.

RETRO CORNER

For no other reason than it was the greatest period of football we will ever see in our lives, between two of the greatest teams, with an edge, nay hatred, which has never been replicated since, what better viewing during the international break than a look back at the rivalry between Arsenal and Manchester United?

COMING UP

It’s another night off before the absolutely, positively, extremely necessary round of international friendlies start on Wednesday.
Ben Snowball’s managed to avoid a travel ban from his bedroom to his sofa and will be raring to go in tomorrow’s Warm-Up.
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