Dean Smith forced into borderline ‘negligent’ decision as player welfare row hots up

Dean Smith before a Norwich City match

Norwich boss Dean Smith echoed Antonio Conte’s comments about the Premier League, and revealed he was forced into a borderline “negligent” decision amid the player welfare storm.

Liverpool captain Jordan Henderson has spoken out over issues of welfare not being taken seriously enough while Manchester City boss Pep Guardiola suggested a strike may be the only way to call serious attention to the concerns amid a Premier League fixture pile-up.

The intensity of the Christmas schedule, and the burden it places on players, is an annual subject of debate but this year the issue is being exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Smith has already seen one game called off because of the problems within his own squad and Norwich have more Covid worries ahead of the Boxing Day fixture against Arsenal.

The Canaries boss, though, believes clubs just have to follow the latest Premier League guidelines, which state games must be played if 13 outfield players and one goalkeeper from the squad were available.

Norwich boss wouldn’t back player strike

Asked whether he would back a player strike if requested by Norwich’s captain, Smith said: “I don’t think you can. We have to follow the guidelines of the league that we are in.

“The Premier League have given their guidelines on what needs to be done to get a game postponed.

“The West Ham game was too much for us, and that got postponed by the Premier League after we submitted a request with the injuries and the illness that we had, so that is the way forward and that is the way we will continue.”

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Dean Smith forced into decision that was borderline “negligent”

Smith then backed up the conclusion Antonio Conte came to regarding the managers’ meeting with the Premier League on Thursday.

When the Tottenham boss was asked if the meeting was a waste of time, he reluctantly admitted it was after suggesting it was like talking to a “wall”.

Smith added: “We went into a (Premier League managers’) meeting yesterday where the decisions had already been made, so I think we had already missed the boat in terms of decision making.

“They (Premier League) decided the season would continue as was and we have got to fulfil fixtures now, so we have to cope as best we can.”

Smith had requested Norwich’s game against his former club Aston Villa also be called off because of Covid issues and injuries in the squad.

The Norwich boss revealed he felt “it was bordering on negligent” for him having to field the likes of Sam Byram who was rushed back into action following a lengthy lay-off when sent on as an emergency substitute during the 2-0 defeat.

“I think we are in a dangerous situation now, where we are risking the health and welfare of the players,” said Smith.