Covid-19 sorts heroes from villains: Neil Humphreys
Aurier's idiocy and Kante's class show why EPL behaviour matters
To lighten the grim mood, let's kick things off with a Covid-19 joke.
N'Golo Kante, Serge Aurier and Jordon Ibe walk into a hairdressers during a pandemic and… the joke immediately collapses because Kante would not visit a hairdresser during a pandemic.
The Chelsea midfielder is as classy as the other two are clueless, demonstrating again that the coronavirus is drawing a distinct line between heroes and villains.
As the English Premier League fumbles through the public relations battle for hearts and minds in a polarised climate, the game needs as much community support as it can get.
Aurier and Ibe's decision to breach social-distancing rules by getting haircuts is the last thing the EPL wants at this critical juncture.
Now, more than ever, players need the public on their side.
Kante was granted compassionate leave to skip Chelsea's training because of his understandable fears of Covid-19 and his difficult family circumstances.
The Frenchman lost his brother to a heart attack just before the 2018 World Cup. In the same year, Kante collapsed at a training session.
The subsequent tests came back clear, but no one at Chelsea begrudges Kante a little time off to deal with personal concerns.
His father died when he was 11 years old. Kante is also black, which increases the Covid-19 risk four times over for him and his family.
As a result, the general response to his compassionate leave has been overwhelmingly empathetic and maybe Troy Deeney deserves credit for this shift in opinion.
While EPL administrators procrastinated, the Watford striker confronted the harsh racial and socio-economic realities of the Covid-19 death toll in Britain. He said what others within the industry were reluctant to say.
Non-white footballers now make up around a third of all EPL squads, but their families are more likely to succumb to the coronavirus.
The figures were readily available, but Deeney was the first high-profile figure within the league to highlight both the glaring disparity and the obvious health risks involved.
His outburst undoubtedly moved the needle and encouraged the likes of Kante to step away from training.
Through Deeney's reasoned words and Kante's quiet actions, the pair raised awareness for a sensitive issue. The public get it now. Footballers have the right to protect vulnerable families, too.
The people, for the most part, are in their corner.
So Deeney and Kante could really do without a couple of clowns flaunting their rule-breaking antics on social media.
Ibe faces disciplinary action at Bournemouth after posting photos of him getting a haircut from a visiting barber.
In England, hairdressers cannot open until July 4 and home visitors are not allowed under the current guidelines.
The winger has since apologised, but the Cherries are past caring. He's no longer part of the squad after previous misdemeanours, including breaking the terms of a 16-month driving ban.
Aurier, on the other hand, deserves a match ball for Muppets, having scored a hat-trick of lockdown violations.
Tottenham Hotspur are likely to fine the fullback for posting photos of himself getting a haircut, after being caught jogging with a friend and training with teammates without permission.
In the grand scheme of things, these are minor transgressions and the medical risks are probably minimal.
But, as the lockdown drags on and patience wears thin, an Aurier haircut becomes ammunition to shoot down Kante's leave of absence. Every Aurier incident makes a mockery of Deeney's impassioned plea for understanding.
One EPL footballer asks for more time to isolate while another breaks isolation to get an unnecessary trim. One acts selflessly, the other selfishly as the mixed messaging that bedevils Project Restart seeps into daily behaviour.
Beyond the EPL bubble, uninterested sceptics already have little interest in seeing football return while the infection rates and death toll remain alarmingly high.
The private testing being carried out at EPL clubs has not reassured those who believe that other industries should be prioritised - quite the opposite in fact.
Of the 748 tested in the EPL, six had Covid-19. The figure is not huge, but 0.8 per cent still tested positive after eight weeks of lockdown.
The rate is high enough to sympathise with Deeney and Kante's predicament, but also high enough to trigger anger over Ibe and Aurier's stupidity.
Project Restart continues to divide opinion. That will not change until the infection and death rates drop considerably.
In the meantime, the game cannot accommodate any more self-obsessed pantomime villains worrying about haircuts instead of healthcare.
The heroic, dignified response of Deeney and Kante should not be undermined by a handful of jokers.