Tammy Abraham and Jadon Sancho (and Ben Chilwell, too) broke COVID-19 rules when they attended Abraham’s (surprise) birthday party last weekend, and were subsequently dropped from the England squad. But unlike previous rule-breakers Phil Foden and Mason Greenwood, the birthday party trio were all quickly reinstated after missing the friendly against Wales last week — although Ben Chilwell has yet to return due to an unrelated, non-coronavirus illness. (Foden and Greenwood will be back eventually, too, but not yet.)
So what’s the difference? According to England boss Gareth Southgate, the difference is where and in what context the infractions occurred.
“It’s a very difficult moral maze and you’re having to make decisions that are impossible really on how you treat all these different incidents that we’ve had to deal with over the last few months.
“Where we have been fairly consistent is that the lockdown breaches that have happened away from our camp, players have been selected. [...] I don’t think it’s comparable to what happened last month because that’s a completely different set of circumstances in my view.”
While I’m not sure the “maze” is as difficult to navigate as Southgate claims, nor is it in fact a “moral” one so much as one of personal responsibilities and obligations, the distinction that’s being used is indeed fairly clear.
Foden & Greenwood broke rules while with the team and in the “bubble”; Abraham, Sancho, and Chilwell did so before the team even got together. Neither was a smart move of course, but Southgate’s only looking at them from the perspective of building a team and which behaviors he can condone in that process, and where he draws the line.
“But I can’t sit here and say I have got all of these things right. It’s impossible. What is right? Everybody is going to have a view on that, so I have to make decisions that I feel are right for the culture of the team, first and foremost.
“[...] at this point I am not going to lose sleep over that. We’ll try to do the right thing, we’ll try to have as much consistency as we can.”
-Gareth Southgate; source: BT Sport
Abraham, Sancho, and the rest of the now rather sizable England squad take on Belgium later today, then play Denmark on Wednesday. Chilwell might be back for that one as well, provided he’s well enough to take the UEFA-mandated coronavirus test beforehand.