Norwich City head coach Dean Smith has expressed his concerns at player safety over the current Covid crisis - calling plans to make his team play twice in 48 hours "lunacy".
His comments come 24 hours after Premier League managers held a virtual meeting to discuss the crisis that is gripping the game.
Speaking of the meeting he said: "Nobody left really satisfied or happy with the festive schedule that’s coming on. There’s two games been lost already [Burnley's game against Everton has since been called off] due to the current situation.
"We all know that there’s a tradition with the festive scheduling. It’s difficult normally but it’s nigh on impossible at the moment for them to ask players to play twice in 48 hours and I - at the moment - don’t know how we’re going to do it."
Outlining his worries at a press conference ahead of City's Boxing Day clash with Arsenal, the Canaries boss:
Described as "lunacy" plans to make players take to the pitch twice in 48 hours, with a game against Crystal Palace set for 28 December;
Questioned the integrity of Premier League as some teams get to play sides forced to field weakened line-ups;
Highlighted the fact that England star Jordan Henderson had voiced concerns that no one was taking player safety seriously;
Revealed that Chelsea and Scotland midfielder Billy Gilmour played against Aston Villa with a temperature of 38.4C.
He said players were being pushed to come back too early from injuries due to players dropping out with Covid, putting them at risk.
He highlighted having to play Sam Byram against Aston Villa sooner than he would have liked. Byram had been out of action for almost two years when he came on as a first half substitute.
Smith said: "We pretty much had it the other day against Aston Villa - I blame myself really for not pushing to get the game called off because we shouldn't have played.
"I had four players pull out on the day of the game, I’ve got three players on the bench who I couldn’t put on and we ended up making a substitution of a guy who hasn’t played for 22 months after 43 minutes."He wasn’t due to make a first-team start until the FA Cup game on the 9th of January but that’s where we were. It was bordering on negligence for myself. If he got injured I would feel very very guilty… Thankfully Sam Byram got through the game but I think we’re in a dangerous situation where we are risking the health and welfare of the players."
Asked about the impact of the Christmas and New Year schedule, he said: "It’s lunacy that we’re having to play two games in 48 hours and there’s got to be a question about the integrity of the competition when some teams are playing weakened teams and it’s affecting league positions."
Earlier this week Liverpool and England star Jordan Henderson spoke out over issues of welfare not being taken seriously enough.
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."When you’ve got the England captain coming out and speaking and saying that nobody is looking at the players' welfare and health at the moment... I think that should make us all sit up and take notice," said Smith.
"He’s not a spokesman for all players but there’s plenty of England players who he speaks to regularly, he speaks to all the Liverpool players and I know for a fact that our captain had spoken to him as well. So it certainly seems to be a message that the players want to get out there at the moment and it’s certainly something we have to sit up and take notice about."
Smith added that the club were following all Premier League Covid protocols, but despite this were still awaiting PCR tests to see who would be available to play on Sunday.
He also revealed that the club had a 90% vaccination rate.
Smith is not alone in worrying about the impact the Covid call-offs are having.
Cambridge United have been forced to postpone the next two matches after a rise in cases. Head coach Mark Bonner described the situation as "challenging" and said more needed to be done to protect players.
"I think it’ll become louder over the next few weeks among teams - certainly at the top level the demand number of the games they’re playing is really high."
Ipswich Town striker Macauley Bonne, speaking to the club's website, said the issue was a major talking point among players.
"We speak about it as players as well - of course we're worried about it," he said.
"Because we're footballers people might think we don't speak about that type of thing, but before training we will chat about what's going on in the world."