MARTIN SAMUEL: Arrogant footballers’ lockdown rule-breaking must be stopped or game faces shutdown


It must be very easy being a Covid safety officer. Don’t have to patrol, don’t have to investigate, don’t have to follow tips, make raids, keep ’em peeled or have so much as an ear to the ground. Just sign up to Instagram.

It’s all on there. The parties, the raves, the transgressions, major and minor. If the rule-breaking wasn’t infuriating enough, what must a club, or a coach, make of the sheer idiocy of posting pictures and placing illegal events in the public domain?

Everyone involved must have known what they were doing was wrong. There is not a club in the country who are not reminding their players, daily, of their responsibilities, as Pep Guardiola insisted was the case at Manchester City. 

Three Spurs stars and a West Ham player (identified above) broke rules to party despite Covid-19 restrictions in place over the Christmas period

Benjamin Mendy was blatant in throwing his own party, and didn't hide it from Instagram

Benjamin Mendy was blatant in throwing his own party, and didn’t hide it from Instagram

Tottenham and West Ham’s rule breakers

What They did: Three Spurs players and West Ham’s Lanzini celebrated Christmas with at least 11 other adults and three children, then made it public on social media. 

Reguilon had received a suckling pig from Jose Mourinho because he was going to be on his own.

The consequence: All the players have apologised and the clubs are promising internal action. Neither Lamela nor Reguilon featured against Leeds (Lo Celso is injured), and Lamela will not play against Brentford but Mourinho would not confirm this was a disciplinary decision. Both Spurs and West Ham also condemned the players.

Covid history: Spurs have had issues before. Sergio Aurier had a haircut and went running with Moussa Sissoko during the first lockdown. Even Mourinho had to apologise after conducting a training session with Tanguy Ndombele in a public park and team-mates Ryan Sessegnon and Davinson Sanchez were caught not socially distancing.

Yet they couldn’t resist. Couldn’t wait to share their illicit New Year’s Eve gathering, or Christmas jamboree, with the world. The egos are astonishing.

And if this is an example of decision-making on the outside, why would it be any different in professional surroundings?

The mystery of some of Benjamin Mendy’s defensive performances for Manchester City is suddenly solved.

Mendy’s New Year’s Eve gathering is a particular favourite, but there were plenty of others. The secret session in Chingford, Essex, for instance, that helpfully had a Secret Sessions installation in neon, just for those who didn’t realise quite how secret this session was.

For those still not getting the message there were a few secret fire-eaters doing their secret stuff near the secret entrance, in a way that was not at all likely to draw attention in a residential Tier 4 area.

Meanwhile, in Cheshire, Mendy was having his usual low-key soiree, including a giant firework display at midnight, lasting around 10 minutes. Guests were still leaving at 6am and some women were pictured carrying gold balloons, identical to the ones that can be seen in the Instagram narrative of the occasion.

Mendy must surely be aware of the rules, given that he was condemned for breaking them with a previous ‘do’ in October.

Live and don’t learn would appear to be the party’s theme, and anyone who has seen him defend would surely concur.

One local in the village of Mottram St Andrew, where Mendy lives, summed it up. ‘He is an idiot for breaking the rules so blatantly,’ said the neighbour. Note that ‘blatantly’.

Covid is a crisis of isolation, separation and loneliness. Many people understand the toll can be mental as well as physical. 

CHRIS SUTTON: Clubs need to ban guilty ones not allow them to play on

Break Government guidelines, get caught, copy and paste an apology from your agent on social media, then carry on as normal. That is the way it seems to go.

It did not sit right seeing Luka Milivojevic lead Crystal Palace out on Saturday after spending New Year’s Eve with Aleksandar Mitrovic, the striker of the club whose games are being postponed because of a Covid-19 outbreak.

Though Milivojevic flouted Government guidelines, we are told he did not break Premier League protocols because he tested negative before appearing for Palace.

Roy Hodgson (right) condemned Milivojevic, yet started him against Sheffield United. Jose Mourinho condemned his Covidiots, yet Sergio Reguilon was sitting there on his substitutes’ bench against Leeds.

It feels as if these players are getting away with their ignorance on technicalities.

I would rather see clubs or the footballing authorities police and punish their players.

If caught, that is a three-match ban, for example. Let that act as a deterrent.

Professional players are in privileged positions — so many at amateur and youth level would love to play a game of football right now.

To not socialise together is such a small sacrifice compared to what the rest of the country is going through.

Footballers did so much good work during the first lockdown. They were charitable and showed great compassion.

Now, a minority are not only giving the game a bad name, but they are also giving the Government more reasons to shut it down, especially if infections continue to rise. None of us want that to happen.

Football has been allowed to continue through lockdown but players are lacking responsibility

Football has been allowed to continue through lockdown but players are lacking responsibility

The huge effort of staff and strict protocols to keep the game running are being disrespected

The huge effort of staff and strict protocols to keep the game running are being disrespected 

City’s Mendy partied on New Years Eve 

What he did: Arranged a New Year’s Eve dinner party for six, which included two people outside his household and a chef. Neighbours have said that other visitors arrived at the house but Mendy insists they were turned away.

The consequence: The player has apologised and Manchester City have promised an internal investigation and ordered Mendy to take another Covid test, which proved negative. He was on the bench for the Chelsea game.

Covid history: Mendy, who went into self-isolation in March when a family member was hospitalised with symptoms, and who has since had the virus, was accused of throwing a party at home in October which broke the rule of six. He insisted he wasn’t present.

Even the police said they would not be knocking on doors during the holiday period, demanding to see the papers of those sitting around the table.

So we are familiar with tiny blurred lines. Dame Joan Bakewell admitted bending the rules just a little last year and many related to that. We all know the figures around suicide, and self-harm, at Christmas and New Year. 

It is not in humanity’s nature to turn away an elderly relative, a son or daughter. A great many are living like hermits right now. And footballers are often in foreign countries, away from networks of friends and families.

Just don’t rub people’s noses in it. Don’t have a bash, don’t have a bang, don’t go out out. Mendy was on Instagram on Boxing Day, too, asking a modelling agent to fly girls up to him from London.

This is when the capital was in Tier 4 and on the same day two of his team-mates, Gabriel Jesus and Kyle Walker, had tested positive. Manchester City’s match with Everton would later be called off.

The intended breach, the hazard involved, was obvious. Nobody can argue that importing models might not have consequences. Nobody can reason that a person prepared to take that risk might not have taken similar risks before.

Face it — this was not going to be a Covid-secure party. Fortunately, on this occasion, it does not appear to have happened. Certainly, the modelling agent denies supplying party guests. 

For the football to continue under the current conditions the players must do their part

For the football to continue under the current conditions the players must do their part 

Serbian stars flouted rules, too

What they did: The two Serbs, who play for Fulham and Crystal Palace respectively, got together on New Year’s Eve. Mitrovic’s partner revealed via Instagram that at least nine adults were in attendance.

The consequence: Milivojevic, who tested positive for coronavirus in November, kept the captaincy and his place against Sheffield United despite strong words from Roy Hodgson. Palace say disciplinary action will be kept internal. Fulham have also criticised Mitrovic and promised internal action.

Covid history: Fulham have been forced to postpone matches against Tottenham and Burnley because of an outbreak while manager Scott Parker had to selfisolate because a member of his family was showing symptoms but has since tested negative.

Shove match: Serbian chums Milivojevic and Mitrovic

Shove match: Serbian chums Milivojevic and Mitrovic

As for Jose Mourinho, it is fair to say this could be his last year playing Secret Santa. 

Hearing his defender Sergio Reguilon would be spending Christmas alone, he bought a suckling pig so Reguilon could prepare and enjoy cochinillo asado, the magnificent roast considered a delicacy in Portugal and Spain. 

Reguilon accepted the gift, then went to a jolly-up anyway. One that involved his team-mates Giovani Lo Celso and Erik Lamela and West Ham’s Manuel Lanzini, plus their families, in what a photograph reveals to be a gathering of at least 18.   

And again — why so grand? Had a team-mate taken pity on Reguilon, alone in a foreign country, and invited him to his table —socially-distanced, clean and well-ventilated in a large, family house — well, it would still have been against the rules, but there would be some understanding.

Eighteen is different. Eighteen is a kiss-off to all those working hard to keep football secure and viable, to all those doing their best in difficult circumstances, who deny and endure and who fondly imagine communal accord and empathy. Football continues, in part, because society lets it.

Football operates by different rules because it is seen to be setting an example about best practice and responsible behaviour. And there has been the odd exception, as there have been in all walks of life, but people accept individual transgressions.

Yet the moment football is more widely perceived as arrogant, as somehow above the law, that relationship changes.

That is why it is vital the game gets the message now.

If football shuts down again it faces ruin. That is what is at stake here.

Blow this, and the game is going to be out a lot more than one suckling pig. 

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