The last fortnight of March is dedicated to international football, with many countries playing three times in World Cup qualifiers and in some cases friendlies.
Liverpool’s Jurgen Klopp is the most prominent manager to voice his unwillingness to release international players if they then have to quarantine for 10 days because of Covid-19 restrictions on their return. At present there is no sporting exemption to the Government’s rule that anyone returning from a country on its “red list” must do so.
Most if not all of the Leeds players expected to be on international duty are travelling to countries not on the list but it is ever-changing. The exception could be winger Raphinha, who is uncapped by red-listed Brazil, due to play at home and in red-listed Colombia, but whose Leeds form could change that.
As a former coach of Argentina and Chile, Bielsa can see both sides of the argument and thinks it is down to Fifa to arbitrate.
“This is a decision the authorities need to make, those who establish the rules,” insisted the Argentinian.
“For players to play for their national teams is an honour but with the regulations the situation is altered because they extend the day of return (to club training) by 10 days. Those who take the decisions and make the rules can’t look the other way. It is they who have to say how we resolve this.
“I would never tell a player not to respond to a call from his national team but I totally understand what Klopp is saying.
“They can’t say those who want to allow their players to go, allow them to go, and those who don’t, don’t because the clubs are owners of the players and if a player wants to go with his national team there can be friction or an argument.
“The authorities are there for this reason – they must say whether it is obligatory to let your players go even if it extends their absence by 100 per cent, to take responsibility from the clubs, or that the rule is the players called up and have to be away for an extra period of time should be allowed to go.
“That’s what the authorities are there for, to take on the consequences of the rules. In no way can they leave this in the hands of the clubs because it forces them to look at their own interests rather than the national associations’. It will leave them in a situation that is going to be very uncomfortable.
“I insist the authorities who have had to make a lot of difficult decisions throughout the pandemic and have allowed football to survive – which indicates they’ve done a very good job – have to take on board this responsibility.
“I’m not the right person to choose a side but I think my reasoning is linked to commonsense.”
Disputes between clubs and national associations over player availability have been a feature of football for decades, and have only got worse as some countries have begun to pay players for call-ups whilst some poorer nations cannot hope to match the wages paid to their star players at leading European clubs.
It is why world governing body Fifa brought in international windows when player availability is guaranteed, with punishments for those who do not comply. Those rules, though, are based on swift returns, not 10-day Covid quarantines.
Any Leeds player quarantining would be liable to miss the April 3 visit of Sheffield United. The Blades could potentially be without England Under-21 goalkeeper Aaron Ramsdale and striker Rhian Brewster were they to travel to Portugal.
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