There were farcical scenes on the pitch in Brazil involving Tottenham’s Cristian Romero and Giovani Lo Celso on Sunday night which were entirely in keeping with the mess of this international break.
The World Cup qualifier between Brazil and Argentina at the Corinthians Arena was just a couple of minutes old when it was cut short by the arrival of government officials walking on to the pitch.
The men entering the field of play were from ANVISA – Brazil’s national health surveillance agency.
They claimed that the four Premier League players involved in Argentina’s squad – Lo Celso, Spurs’ summer signing Romero and Aston Villa’s Emiliano Buendia and Emiliano Martinez – had entered the country without declaring that they had arrived from the UK, a country which requires isolation upon arrival in Brazil for 14 days.
Chaos ensued as the Argentina players retreated to the dressing room and the match was soon suspended amid suggestions that ANVISA were looking to take the Premier League quartet into isolation for two weeks.
The visitors made a quick retreat to the airport and the entire squad flew to Argentina, including the Premier League quartet.
Across the border in South America on the same night, Davinson Sanchez was turning out for Colombia in their qualifier at Paraguay.
Then on Monday morning, football.london revealed that all three Spurs players who had accepted call-ups to go to the continent were expected to be fined.
That left some Tottenham fans confused as to why their club was fining three players for doing what FIFA wanted them to do.
The situation began with the decision by football’s governing body to squeeze more previously lost international matches into breaks and in doing so they removed the ability given last year for clubs to decide against releasing their players for matches to countries deemed to be struggling with the pandemic.
The president of FIFA, Gianni Infantino, said English clubs had an “obligation” to release their players in order to play in fixtures hosted in countries red-listed by the UK government.
Aside from the immediate Covid concerns for players and their clubs of them flying into countries on the red list, the government’s rules do not allow for an exemption for elite sports people returning from such countries.
That meant that any footballer returning from a red list country would have to isolate for 10 days in a government-designated hotel, without the facilities for much exercise or instead spend 10 days in a green list country or amber list (if not fully vaccinated) before returning.
So while on social media Spurs congratulated all of their players for their international call-ups, including Romero, Lo Celso and Sanchez, all of the Premier League clubs were holding discussions over the problems on the horizon, specifically the isolation period after the matches.
With the likes of Brazil and Argentina playing a third match on the Friday September 10 – the day before the Premier League returns – that created the issue of international players in red list countries missing up to four matches for their employers once the isolation period was done.
The Premier League clubs, and then the EFL, all decided to take a collective stand against the farcical situation.
They released a statement through the Premier League to announce that they had ” reluctantly but unanimously decided not to release players for international matches played in red list countries” in September, a decision that would apply to nearly 60 players from 19 Premier League clubs who were due to travel to 26 red list countries in the international break.
The problem was not only about this international break but also further breaks to come in both October and November.
The collective power of the Premier League would make it harder for FIFA to impose sanctions upon teams, with suggestions of players being banned from club games if they were not released.
Tottenham made it clear that they were standing with their fellow teams in not releasing players to games in red list countries.
The Brazilian squad was shorn of its Premier League players but for Argentina it was a different situation and that led to the problems on Sunday night.
What made it different for Spurs was that Aston Villa, a couple of days after the Premier League statement, gave permission to Emi Martinez and Emi Buendia to travel to meet up with the Argentina squad, with the proviso that they would not take part in the third international match against Bolivia.
Spurs’ duo Lo Celso and Romero as well as Sanchez had all indicated that they wished to meet up with the Argentina and Colombia squads respectively.
football.london understands that not all three of the Spurs stars were desperate to make the trip but players are being put in an awkward position in this international tug of war.
There is plenty of pressure from international football associations for them to play and for the players, particularly with the World Cup on the horizon, a fear of being left out if they cannot be involved in the qualifying process.
That’s not to mention the fervour of the South American football fans who would not take lightly to their players being unavailable for their country’s games.
Tottenham maintained their stance though and are believed to have made it clear that meeting up with the international squads was against the decision by themselves and the Premier League clubs and the players could expect to be fined.
Once the players had decided to accept the Argentinean FA’s call-up to play, while frustrated at their decision, the club attempted to mitigate the impact of their departure, with head coach Nuno Espirito Santo admitting that a plan to try to prevent the problems afterwards was being looked into.
That is believed to have involved the players training in Croatia for 10 days after their international duty was done, where they could keep up their fitness before returning to the UK and be ready to play matches quickly.
However, the problems did not finish with the chaos on the pitch in Brazil on Sunday night.
Villa officially giving permission to their duo’s involvement meant that Argentina coach Lionel Scaloni agreed to allow Buendia and Martinez to miss out on their third match.
Some within Spurs believed they had a similar agreement with their players, but at this stage the Argentinean FA’s statement on Monday only suggested that the Villa duo would be ending their time with the squad.
Earlier in the week Scaloni had suggested that the Tottenham players would be involved for the duration of the series of matches.
That has created confusion at Spurs over when Romero and Lo Celso will return to the UK with the club left in the dark over the duo.
If Scaloni does not release them and they do not leave Argentina until September 11 then the duo would not be able to enter the country until at least September 21, which would see them miss the Premier League games against Crystal Palace and Chelsea, as well as the Europa Conference League clash at Rennes and potentially the Carabao Cup game at Wolves, which is on September 22.
For Sanchez, he has now been released from the Colombia set-up ahead of their third game against Chile.
Although the Colombian FA have stated that he is “already back in England to join his club Tottenham”, the defender is believed to be on his way to Croatia in order to begin his mini-training camp ahead of his return to the UK in ten days’ time.
The international mess means Spurs will be without two centre-backs for at least the games at Palace and Rennes and potentially at this stage without Romero and Lo Celso for the big derby against Chelsea.
Tottenham are expected to fine all three players for their missed time although exactly how that will work in regards to the mixed messages of FIFA urging clubs to release players and the Premier League clubs’ decision remains unclear.
What is clear is that with two more international breaks to come and fixtures crammed in for both countries and clubs, it’s heading towards a huge tug of war if FIFA, the governments and the clubs cannot find a solution.
Source by Football London