Gareth Southgate has defended his England players’ reluctance to clarify their COVID-19 vaccination status by claiming “medical confidentiality is being totally overlooked in a lot of areas.”
The England manager was speaking on Friday after arriving in Andorra ahead of Saturday’s World Cup qualifier which will take place on an artificial surface, raising potential fitness concerns for several players.
Southgate said captain Harry Kane, who has a history of ankle problems, would be available for selection but subsequently confirmed Kieran Trippier will skipper the side, suggesting Kane will not be involved from the start at the Estadi Nacional.
“Every player is available,” he told a news conference. “To be honest, there are players with different medical issues that would be less likely to be available than Harry but none that would stop them from playing a part in the game.
“We are conscious that one or two have had small, ongoing problems if you like that are the sort of things that changing a surface can create a problem. Changing from one grass surface to another is one of the biggest injury risks you have. But with the artificial [surface], it is a similar thing. It is the change from one to the other that can create a problem. But no, we are not concerned with Harry at all.”
When asked if he would reveal which players were at risk, Southgate replied: “No. There’s a thing called medical confidentiality which seems to be being totally overlooked in a lot of areas at the moment. These aren’t our players.
“I don’t think the clubs would thank us for sharing that sort of information and frankly, it is personal to the players. I’m sure you have GDPR at your workplace, you’ll be conscious of all of that.”
The players attended a meeting at St George’s Park this week in which England’s medical staff explained the latest protocols and the benefits of vaccination but many players are seemingly either reluctant to get the jab or explain their position in public.
“I’m not sure that’s totally accurate in terms of ‘most’ [players not having been vaccinated],” Southgate added. “Look, everybody knows where I stand on the subject. To move out of a pandemic, the only way was a vaccination programme and I think that was essential.
“There is then the complication that there are lots of individual circumstances around that and I understand that some people would be anxious, perhaps. So, when you’re in the camp of mine — over 50 — there’s less to consider really. The odds are more straightforward. It is a much more straightforward decision.
“I am a believer that that’s the right thing to do but I kind of understand there are other topics we’ve talked about where everybody would be aligned and we would all have a very clear view as a team.
“With this, it is a little bit more nuanced. Lots of people have had the virus so maybe they feel antibodies are high in their own bodies. Lots of people might have individual medical conditions.
“Some people in the country might have religious reasons. It is a complicated area but my belief is the route out of the pandemic is the vaccination programme. I am yet to hear anybody offer an alternative and there’s not a lot more we can say than that really.”
Southgate continued to play down any fears over the surface, which Gareth Bale described in 2014 as “by far the worst pitch I’ve ever played on” after playing there for Wales, whose manager at the time, Chris Coleman, claimed “it is not up to the standard of a UEFA qualifier.”
But Southgate said: “The first things is a lot of those interviews were from when Wales played here and it has been relaid since then so it is a more up to date surface.
“We’ve played on some really different grass pitches where teams have kept the length of the grass long and we haven’t been able to move the ball quickly.
“For us, to have a surface that you know the ball can move quickly, is good. All of the players have grown up in academies and at younger ages playing on these pitches. We played in Lithuania a few years ago on one. We have to adapt. The game can be slightly different.
“The risk is you always end up playing to feet. That would be an observation I’ve seen in matches on these types of surfaces and we’ve got to make sure we play as much of our normal game as we possibly can.”
Around two hours after Southgate’s Friday lunchtime press conference, a fire broke out inside the stadium. Early indications were that nobody was injured in the blaze, which began in the television gantry and required a local fire crew to extinguish.