Tottenham COVID-19 outbreak: Antonio Conte, squad ‘scared’ as cases rise, upcoming fixtures in doubt

A visibly concerned Antonio Conte said he and his Tottenham squad were scared to come into work as a COVID-19 outbreak rips through the squad.

Eight players and five members of staff have tested positive for COVID-19 with Conte revealing that there have been daily increases to that tally. Spurs are expected to ask for the postponement of their Premier League game against Brighton on Sunday but they may be obliged to play Thursday’s Europa Conference League clash with Rennes. If they are able to name a squad of 13 senior players from their A list, including one goalkeeper, UEFA regulations dictate they must fulfil the game.

Conte did not clarify whether tomorrow’s game against Rennes would be going ahead but made clear his concern not just to be fulfilment of fixtures but the safety of players and staff. He subsequently added that Tottenham have 11 players available (UPDATE: Spurs Europa Conference League match has been postponed).

“The problem is every day we are having people with COVID, people that yesterday weren’t positive today were and we are continuing to have contact with people that we think are negative but the day after become positive,” he said. “I think this is a serious problem.

“The situation is serious. Every day we are having a positive. Today one player and one member of staff. I think that the worst is that we don’t know and we continue to have contact with people. For sure this is not a good situation. We had a training session, we prepared the game against Rennes but it’s very difficult to face. At the end of the training session today, again, one player positive. Another member of staff is positive.

“Tomorrow, who? Me? Another player? Another member of staff? We continue in this way.

“This is not a good thing for me, our fans, for all football.”

Postponing Sunday’s match will be at the discretion of the Premier League. However UEFA’s regulations are clear on the circumstances in which they must fulfil their game against Rennes. Unless Spurs have “less than 13 players registered on the A list or no registered goalkeeper are available” they must play.

“I don’t have to send a message to anyone,” said Conte. “The situation is very clear. Every day we are having contact with people that are false negative and become positive and everyone is a bit scared. We have family. Why do I have to take this risk? Tomorrow, who? I don’t know. Better me than a player for sure.

“It’s not right for everyone because we have family and we have contact with our family when we come back home. It’s a pity that today during the press conference I have to speak about a different situation and not football… Today to speak about football is impossible. This situation has made me very upset. I think the situation is serious. There is a big infection. Now for sure we are a bit scared. Tomorrow we don’t know what will happen.”

Conte ended his press conference after just five questions, noting that his players and staff had been coming into contact with players who would subsequently test positive.

“Today we prepared the game with one player who should play, we finished the training session and this player was positive,” Conte added. “The situation is so strange and incredible that to speak about football is very impossible. This makes me for sure upset. I’m here to speak about football, my players, the atmosphere we want to see tomorrow. Instead we are talking about people that have COVID.”

In purely practical terms scrubbing the Brighton game from their schedule adds to the complexities facing Spurs around their fixture list. Last weekend’s trip to Burnley had already been postponed due to snowfall in Lancashire; should their request be successful Tottenham will have played two fewer Premier League games than almost every other team.

There is certainly no immediate window in which to play either of the matches. Thursday brings a trip to Leicester City before they host Liverpool in the Premier League on Sunday. After that comes an EFL Cup quarter-final against West Ham United and the lurch into English football’s hectic Christmas fixture list.

Should the Premier League board give the green light to Tottenham’s request it will be the first game moved in the 2021-22 season due to COVID-19, reflecting the growing fear around the Omicron variant in the United Kingdom. The season’s opening game between Brentford and Arsenal was briefly in doubt due to a late outbreak in the latter’s camp that struck four players. However no formal request was ever submitted, after the Premier League made clear its reluctance to see the first game in front of a full stadium for nearly 18 months fall to coronavirus.

Earlier this week the Premier League confirmed that from Monday to Sunday of last week there had been 12 positives from 3,154 players and club staff.