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Smith against strike but warns of ‘dangerous situation’ over player welfare

premier league newcastle united v norwich city
Smith has already seen one game called off because of the problems within his own squad

Norwich head coach Dean Smith does not feel he could back a players’ strike – but warned football now finds itself in a “dangerous situation” over player welfare.

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.

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.”

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 negligible” 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.

City boss Guardiola, meanwhile, suggested on Thursday that players could end up feeling that direct action might prove to have the most impact.

“Should the players and the managers be all together and make a strike, or something,” Guardiola said. “Because just through words it’s not going to be solved?

“For FIFA, the Premier League, the broadcasters… the business is more important than the welfare.”

Asked if he felt players really would strike, he said at a press conference: “No, I don’t think so because we want to play, we want to continue, to make the people happy going to the stadium on the 26th, 27th, 29th, 31st and first, and play games because we love to do that.

“I’m not saying there’s a reason to make a strike but (there are) more games and more games and less holidays. It’s a problem.”

Guardiola is not against the idea of playing games over the holiday period, but thinks the fixture list needs to be slimmed down.

“The tradition of Boxing Day in the Premier League is massively important. It is one of the characteristics, it is why the Premier League is special. This is not going to be changed,” he said.

“I would love to play in this period with lots of games. It is tradition from centuries ago. Boxing Day was so nice for families to go to the stadiums. I can imagine January 1 in London – Arsenal v Man City – it will be so nice.

“The problem is the fixtures. The calendar, 365 days a year with international duties for the national team, huge competitions with a lot of games.

“The players have two or three weeks of holiday in the summer and it’s the season again. This is too much.”

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