EPL

Conte calls Tottenham-Arsenal postponement 'very strange' but Rodgers appreciates caution

By Sports Desk January 18, 2022

Tottenham coach Antonio Conte believes the decision to postpone last weekend's scheduled north London derby was "very, very strange", but Leicester City counterpart Brendan Rodgers appreciates the Premier League's caution.

Arsenal submitted their request to have the game called off due to a lack of first-team player availability.

But critics accused the club of exploiting the Premier League's rules in order to get out of games while players were absent through injury, suspension or Africa Cup of Nations duty.

Arsenal had only one confirmed positive COVID-19 case at the time of their application, but the Premier League deemed they were unable to meet the required number of available players (13 outfielders and a goalkeeper) despite their Under-23s managing to field a squad of 16 on Friday.

Spurs released a statement criticising the decision, and Conte has since commented in public for the first time.

"The club made a statement and it was very clear to show our disappointment," the Italian told reporters. "It was disappointing because we prepared the game to play against Arsenal and the decision to postpone the game was very, very strange.

"My feeling is that when there is a situation to play we have to play, not to postpone games for injuries, for international duty.

"I think we have a big problem to solve and that is COVID, but only about this situation can you decide to postpone, not for other situations.

"Honestly, it's my first time in my life – and I've had a bit of experience in football – to see this type of decision."

Frustrations relating to postponements had been building over the previous couple of weeks and they seemed to reach boiling point with the decision to call off the derby.

Much of the discontent relates to certain clubs' apparent reluctance to use younger players from their second or academy teams.

Leeds United were praised on Sunday for going ahead with their match away to West Ham and winning 3-2 despite seven of their nine substitutes having no prior Premier League experience at all – one of the two who had appeared in a top-flight game before had only a three-minute cameo to his name.

Premier League rules state Under-21 players must be deemed "appropriately experienced" in order to count towards top-flight eligibility criteria for postponement purposes, and Rodgers – whose Leicester face Spurs on Wednesday – feels this is the fairest approach for the mental well-being of youngsters.

"It depends on how you frame it," Rodgers responded when asked about the apparent under-utilisation of young players.

"We have young players coming in now like [Kiernan] Dewsbury-Hall, and his timeline is that he went out on loan.

"You have to be careful. Not every Under-23 player is ready for Premier League football and you don't want to destroy a career. Development is different for players. We will look to play young players at the right time, we have been able to do that in the FA Cup.

"The rules are clear. For the Premier League, you have to have 13 plus a goalkeeper, so there is enough clarity. It doesn't say the guys out have to be out with COVID. The rules are there and clear.

"We are clear on where we are now. We were shown in a managers' meeting that it will hit different areas at different times, and different parts of the country will be hit.

"Lots of players are injured because they are having to play more. The Premier League have tried to be as fair as they can, and then there's Under-23s if they are experienced enough.

"We played the FA Cup game, but then we couldn't play the next game because we didn't have the players.

"Everyone has an opinion, but unless you're inside a club and are privy to the injuries and COVID cases, then it's probably difficult to say [games shouldn't be postponed]. All the clubs are working to get the games on."

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