Chelsea head coach Thomas Tuchel has warned against starting “a hunt for non-vaccinated people” as English football battles to continue its schedule over Christmas with COVID-19 cases rising in the United Kingdom.
The UK recorded 90,629 new cases on Tuesday, a day after the Premier League and English Football Leagues vowed to continue with the existing fixture list as much as possible.
The Premier League released figures on Monday which stated 16% of top-flight players have refused even one dose of a vaccine, leading to clubs discussing proposals which include segregating players according to their vaccination status by arranging separate travel or requesting additional checks to enter stadiums.
Chelsea face Brentford in Wednesday’s EFL Cup quarterfinal at Stamford Bridge with both clubs managing serious COVID-19 outbreaks. Chelsea were only able to name four outfield substitutes in Sunday’s 0-0 draw at Wolves with Tuchel claiming after that game it was “not safe” to play after the Premier League denied their request for the game to be postponed.
Asked whether unvaccinated players were causing problems, Tuchel said: “You know that it’s causing an issue. But it’s not that we have all non-vaccinated infected. We have vaccinated players who are positive. So obviously don’t start… I don’t want to get involved in pointing fingers and starting the hunt for non-vaccinated people.
“Guys, this is a choice to make. Leave it there. If you don’t want to leave it there, it is OK for you.
“I mean you can have an opinion, I can have an opinion but a player can also have an opinion. Then there can be regulations around this, like when you arrive to work, your employer can create an environment where you are not allowed to be in the building if you are not vaccinated. This can happen so you have to adapt to it and you have to live with the consequences.
“But we cannot force people to get vaccinated. And I will not change my opinion on that. And I am not the guy to comment on that, I am not the expert here. There are experts in this country, all over the rest of Europe. Ask them and ask me please about football. I will not get involved. I am vaccinated. I took the decision for me. And that’s it.”
Tuchel also revealed that Chelsea’s academy has been closed due to a high number of COVID-19 cases which include midfielder Lewis Baker as he discussed the difficulty of rushing back players either from injury or, in Mateo Kovacic‘s case, straight into the team at Wolves following his 10-day isolation period.
“We planned a squad [against Brentford] with Lewis Baker from the academy and now he is positive so we start from scratch,” Tuchel added.
“This is what we do right now. People will say I can play an academy player. I could yes. The risk [to play Kovacic at Wolves], was a risk that we took, we did not force a person out of bed or out of hospital and put him on the pitch. It was a calculated risk but it was a risk yes.
“But we calculated, we talked to our medical department, the player and then take the risk. I can see that people look at our squad and think this a strong squad.
“I said this before the match and if you talk about it, you need to talk about it correctly because I said before the match this is the situation and it will not hold us from having the highest demands on our players and our performance on the pitch.
“If I catch COVID, hopefully I don’t, I am not sure after 10 days that I would for a run straightaway. Or do sports. But Mateo Kovacic did. I put him on the field. I took the risk. I could have left him at home so we arrived with only 13 players and took one from the academy who were already shut down. The academy is shut down because of COVID. Big surprise.”