Tottenham’s push to postpone their Europa Conference League tie at home against Rennes on Thursday night has been met with a furious response by the French club, who have accused them of acting unilaterally – without the support of Uefa – and in bad faith.
Spurs, who have experienced an alarming rise in Covid cases and have closed the first-team area of their training centre, released a statement at 9pm to say the game against Rennes was off, with English football confronting an escalating crisis in terms of the virus.
Leicester earlier reported seven of their players had not travelled to their Europa League game at Napoli because of Covid or illness. Three members of staff did not make the trip either because of illness.
The Spurs manager, Antonio Conte, had said he was “scared” as he revealed eight players and five coaches had tested positive, and the club announced “discussions are ongoing with Uefa [over the Rennes fixture] and we shall provide a further update in due course”.
Spurs are now likely to ask the Premier League to postpone their match at Brighton on Sunday, and the visit to Leicester next Thursday is also set to be affected.
But Rennes hit back in a statement of their own at 10.30pm, saying that as the decision to postpone the tie had not been confirmed by Uefa, the club were sticking to their decision to play. The Ligue 1 club argued that Spurs had not provided the needed details of the scale of the outbreak within their ranks and, faced with what they called a “London fog”, they reserved the right to approach Uefa.
Rennes said: “This lack of fair play is all the more flagrant as Tottenham confirmed by email early this afternoon that the match would be held before informing us of their intention not to play after we landed at London City airport.”
The Premier League had last week confirmed 12 positive results among players and staff – the highest figure since August – and, amid concern over the rapid spread of the Omicron variant, the situations at Spurs and Leicester are a worry.
Conte had worked with a skeleton senior squad on Wednesday morning and said that after the session a player he had intended to start against Rennes returned a positive test.
The senior outfield players pictured in the session were Matt Doherty, Eric Dier, Davinson Sánchez, Joe Rodon, Japhet Tanganga, Harry Winks, Giovani Lo Celso, Tanguy Ndombele, Dele Alli, Steven Bergwijn, Ryan Sessegnon, Jack Clarke and Harry Kane. Sessegnon was suspended and Lo Celso a fitness doubt. It was understood the goalkeepers Hugo Lloris, Pierluigi Gollini and Brandon Austin were available. Tobi Omole, who is on the Uefa A list, was also pictured.
Under Uefa rules, if a club have fewer than 13 available senior players and no goalkeeper, a tie can be postponed, meaning Spurs were on the edge and, in the end, they came to feel the situation regarding the Rennes came was untenable. Spurs, who were conscious of their responsibility not to put Rennes at risk, know the Uefa cut-off date for a rearranged tie is the end of the month.
It is understood the Leicester players who did not travel are Kelechi Iheanacho, Ademola Lookman, Daniel Amartey, Jannik Vestergaard, Ayoze Pérez, Filip Benkovic and Vontae Daley-Campbell. Leicester need a draw to ensure they advance.
“We’ve had a number of people, staff and players, who haven’t travelled,” Rodgers said.
“We’ve had some positive [Covid] cases, some are generally not well, so we haven’t taken the risk. We will have seven unavailable. It’s been [over the] last few days, really. In general, you’re starting to see a few more cases and, for us, it’s always about the health of our players. We have to respect travelling into Italy.
“The players who were unwell who we could’ve maybe given 24 hours to feel better – we couldn’t take any risk with those so we’ve kept them at home along with the other guys who were deemed positive.”
Conte had spoken with emotion and no little anger at his media conference, which was staged remotely, and his biggest concern regarded the unknown.
“It’s eight players and five members of staff but the problem is that every day we are having people with Covid,” he said. “People that yesterday weren’t positive, today are positive and we continue to have contact with people we think are negative but the day after they become positive. This is a serious problem.
“Everyone is a bit scared because we have family and [we ask]: ‘Why I have to take this risk? Why?’ This is my question. Tomorrow, who [will be positive]? Me? I don’t know. Maybe. Better me than a player for sure but I think that it is not right for everyone because we have family and contact with them when we come back home. Football is the most important thing but today to speak about football is impossible. There are situations that made me very upset.”
To advance to the Conference League play-off round Spurs must match Vitesse’s result at home against NS Mura and make sure their goal difference remains superior to that of the Dutch club.