Southgate vows to support Foden and Greenwood over Covid-19 rule breach

  • England pair broke isolation bringing two women to team hotel
  • Manager concerned with ‘very intense’ spotlight on youngsters

Gareth Southgate has vowed to protect Mason Greenwood and Phil Foden despite sending the players home after they disrupted England’s preparations for Tuesday night’s game against Denmark by inviting two women to the team hotel in Reykjavik, breaking coronavirus isolation rules.

Although Southgate admitted that Greenwood, 18, and Foden, 20, were guilty of “naive” behaviour, England’s manager said he wants to shield them from criticism because of their age. The scrutiny on both players is likely to be intense and, along with being forced to miss England’s trip to Denmark, they have each been fined 250,000 Icelandic Krona (£1,300) by police before returning to Manchester on separate flights.

The story was broken by the Icelandic publication DV, which said the women had revealed the rendezvous to their Snapchat followers late on Sunday night, and has cast a considerable shadow over two of the brightest young talents in England.

The duo made their senior international debuts in England’s 1-0 win against Iceland on Saturday evening but they did not train on Monday and have not travelled to Copenhagen to face Denmark in the Nations League. Foden’s club, Manchester City, described his conduct as “totally inappropriate” and Manchester United said they were disappointed with Greenwood.

However Southgate is determined to stand by both players. “I think I’m very conscious that these two boys are going to walk into something that’s going to be very intense, and very difficult for them at their age to deal with,” he said. “Whether people like it or not I’ve got to try and support them and I’ve got to try and not add to how difficult their situation is going to be. That said, I will be very clear with them on my feelings and how they need to respond.”

It is understood that Foden was reminded of his responsibilities by City after being pictured in an impromptu kickabout with members of the public on Formby beach in June, with the 20-year-old posting an apology on Monday night in which he admitted he is “a young player with a lot to learn”.

Foden said: “On this occasion I made a poor decision and my behaviour didn’t meet the standards expected of me. I breached Covid‑19 protocols put in place to protect myself and my England colleagues. As a consequence I will now miss the opportunity to travel to Denmark with the squad, and that hurts. I will learn a valuable lesson from this error in judgement and I wish Gareth and the team good luck this week.”

Foden and Greenwood are not the first English players to step out of line in recent months. Jack Grealish and Kyle Walker both apologised after breaching lockdown rules. Southgate was forced to drop Harry Maguire after a Greek court convicted the Manchester United defender on four counts following a fracas outside a Mykonos bar last month. Maguire maintains his innocence and has been granted a full retrial.

Southgate dismissed suggestions his players could start to regard him as a soft touch. “I think we’ve been very strict and firm. The players that have worked with me for a long time know I’m not afraid to make tough calls.”

All the same there are questions to answer following the breach of the team’s biosecure bubble. England were given an exemption to the rule that states travellers to Iceland must quarantine for five days upon arrival in the country. Under the terms of the exemption, the players and members of staff were not allowed to meet anybody outside their biosecure bubble – apart from when they played the Iceland game. According to an Icelandic FA employee, they “do not even get permission to meet their family”.

Asked if Greenwood and Foden had invited women to their rooms, Southgate said: “Nothing has happened in the areas we occupy in the hotel. It was a clear breach of covid guidelines. They’ve been naive, I recognise their age but the whole world is dealing with this pandemic and there’s responsibility on every age group in playing their part and not spreading the virus. They have apologised.”

The Football Association is investigating the incident. “Whilst in Iceland, both Phil Foden and Mason Greenwood spent time outside of our private team area, which was a breach of our Covid‑19 rules,” the FA said. “While they did not leave the team hotel, it was an unacceptable breach of our protocol. They have both apologised for their serious lack of judgment.

“We have spoken to the Football Association of Iceland to offer our apologies for this incident and to ensure them that we are taking the appropriate steps. We have also assured the Danish Football Union that all other players and staff members have been isolated [in] this period.”

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Foden and Greenwood are clearly identifiable on the screen grabs of the Snapchat footage. In an interview with DV, one of the women in the Snapchat video allegedly filmed in the hotel room said: “We had no idea about these [Covid‑19] rules, they never said we could not take pictures.”

Another woman said Foden and Greenwood had not opened a message informing them the photos were in circulation on Snapchat. “The only thing I can say is that I had been talking to one of them for a few days,” she said. “I’m not going to say where.”

The incident leaves Southgate with a 21-man squad to choose from against Denmark, with Walker suspended following his red card against Iceland. Southgate is expected to use a back three and give debuts to Conor Coady and Kalvin Phillips.


Jacob Steinberg and David Hytner

The GuardianTramp

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