Former Liverpool midfielder Jason McAteer believes Premier League players would have every right to reject the call to return to training this week as he insists he would put the health of his family ahead of his job amid the Covid-19 pandemic.
Premier League clubs have returned to work this week ahead of a possible relaunch of the season next month, but McAteer has told gambling.com that he has reservations about football’s resumption after more than 500 more deaths from the coronavirus were confirmed on Tuesday in Europe’s worst-hit country.
“For me, personally, I would feel that my family have to come first,” said McAteer. “My mother is 74 and has been in isolation for several weeks, hasn’t been out of the house. She’s scared stiff and the most interaction we’ve had is a conversation from a car window from about 14 foot away.
“I wouldn’t want to be in the situation where I was offered the chance to return to football, but that there was a chance – even a very small chance – that I could catch it and pass it on to anybody in my environment.
“It would change my whole aspect of life. If I was in that situation, I wouldn’t be comfortable going to visit my mother after playing. I wouldn’t want to leave the house at all if I thought there was any slight chance that I had contracted the virus through playing football, and potentially impacting someone else’s life as a result.
“It’s a really difficult position to put players in. It only takes one thing to slip through the net – it’s a contact sport after all.
“I was thinking to myself if I’ve ever been in a situation where I’ve been asked to play under extreme circumstances and there was a couple of times playing for the Republic of Ireland, albeit they were security issues.”
McAteer went on to outline occasions when he had a decision to make over whether to play in hostile conditions, as he revealed some pressure was applied to take to the field.
“One experience that sticks out in my mind was when we went into the old Yugoslavia when tensions were really high,” he added.
“We were given the opportunity to go and play, or not. I remember the team meeting quite vividly actually. It was a simple question – it won’t be held against you if you don’t want to go, but would you like to go?
“I was a lot younger back then and football was different in how we dealt with problems, and bravado definitely came in to play. You didn’t want to be seen as weak and you definitely didn’t want to be the first person to put your hand up and say ‘I’m feeling a bit scared about it actually, I’ve got a family and I’d rather not go’.
“Back then, we would have been afraid of being ridiculed or scared of what people might think. But we were asked the question and no one put their hand up, we all went and we were kept safe with our own security. We were in and out like clockwork.
“The only other example I can think of was Iran. Around that time, 9/11 had happened, and the Iranians were supposedly harbouring Al-Qaeda in Iran – at least that’s what was being reported at the time – so tensions were really high and Iran wasn’t a place you’d really want to visit.
“But we had a World Cup play-off to win and it was a similar feeling to what we went through in Yugoslavia. No one wanted to be the first person to put their hand up. The circumstances are completely different, but that’s the only way I can relate to current players being asked to play when there’s a global pandemic ongoing.”