Neil Humphreys: EPL bubble can’t keep out Covid-19 crisis
Clubs face moral dilemma as players, coaches test positive
Not for the first time in his managerial career, David Moyes has messed up.
He messed up Manchester United, in a farcical, Marouane Fellaini-kind of way. He messed up Sunderland, in a slapstick kind of way. And then he messed up West Ham United, but not as disastrously as previous foul-ups.
So the Hammers hired him for a second time and he contracted Covid-19.
Did you feel that? Did you catch the abrupt, sledgehammer shift in tone?
From the silly to the deathly serious in a single incident, poor Moyes finds himself the unwitting poster boy for the English Premier League's moral dilemma.
How many more positive tests can an isolated football kingdom accommodate before the sanitised walls fall down?
When one manager and a couple of middle-of-the-road footballers (West Ham's Issa Diop and Josh Cullen) test positive, there is a headline and a slight wobble as the real world dares to press its unwelcome face against the EPL bubble.
But a crisis of confidence looms if EPL personnel continue to tick the wrong boxes. There may come a point where the money saved no longer outweighs the public goodwill being lost.
At the moment, EPL clubs are huffing and puffing from one Covid-19 test to another in a concerted, impressive effort to keep their bubble inflated, even paying for the tests of lower league clubs.
Chelsea earned plaudits after paying for Barnsley's players to be tested, ahead of their League Cup clash, which was played this morning (Singapore time).
A noble gesture, even if there's a slightly patronising whiff, like a wealthy client paying for a sex worker's health check-up before the physical deed.
Tottenham Hotspur did the same for League Two side Leyton Orient and was rewarded with a League Cup postponement when the majority of Orient's first-team squad returned positive results.
Just take a moment to ponder that jaw-dropping statistic again, as it neatly summarises not only the rich-poor divide as EPL clubs stay safely ensconced inside their bubble, but also the worrying spread of the virus in England.
Orient's players were given private Covid-19 tests that they wouldn't have had access to otherwise - and the majority of the squad tested positive.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson conceded that a "perilous turning point" required fresh restrictions, which included a delay in the return of crowds until next year at the earliest.
The UK is heading towards 5,000 new Covid-19 cases a day. Hospital admissions and the death tolls are also increasing.
At what point, does it become insensitive to brush all that aside to focus on Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's tendency to still look like a smiley Under-eights manager at Bishan Park?
And that's not to downplay the triviality. Football's true glory lies in its irrational obsession with trivial details. Arguing over VAR lines and dodgy penalties are often the best bits of our day.
It's the trivial piffle of football that briefly takes us away from the apocalyptic movie montage that's currently playing out across the planet right now.
No football fan underestimates the seriousness of Covid-19 or overplays the importance of Man United's lack of squad depth or Chelsea's goalkeeping crisis. The game's role is simply to provide a superficial distraction from reality.
But if the two worlds collide, if reality infiltrates the EPL's version of the Truman Show, then none of us can really play ostrich any more.
Heaven knows we tried.
When Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta tested positive in March, it was front-page news. When Hammers boss Moyes tested positive yesterday, it was almost a minor inconvenience.
West Ham still battered Hull City 5-1 in the League Cup. Assistant manager Alan Irvine took charge and will deputise until the 57-year-old Moyes completes his self-isolation.
The eagerness to move on is unmistakable. Get back in the bubble and prepare for this weekend's fixtures. There's nothing to see here.
West Ham will presumably take further tests and track and trace previous encounters with different clubs, players and staff.
Tottenham and Orient's League Cup tie must be somehow rescheduled in a condensed season and stadiums may remain empty until April, even though the closures are costing the EPL £100 million (S$174.2m) every month.
The new season is two weeks old. Things can only get worse. And pessimism isn't the EPL's function, especially now.
Arsenal's revival under Arteta or Chelsea goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga's form collapsing like a Jenga tower are the tidbits needed to drag us away from the never-ending buffet of pandemic misery.
But if English football cannot provide this service, if that damn virus keeps poking its spiky crown through our football fantasy, then the EPL bubble will burst.
West Ham, Hull play on despite 3 Covid-19 diagnoses just before game
West Ham United insisted that their Covid-19 protocols remain stringent, after manager David Moyes tested positive for Covid-19, along with Issa Diop and Josh Cullen.
The Hammers were told of the positive diagnoses about an hour before their League Cup tie against Hull City yesterday morning (Singapore time).
It is understood that West Ham and Hull's medical staff agreed the match could be played after consulting with the English Football League (EFL)'s medical department, and given the evidence that suggests there is very low risk of transmission during a match outdoors.
Assistant manager Alan Irvine stepped in for Moyes, while Diop and Cullen were replaced by Harrison Ashby and Jack Wilshere in the first XI.
The third-round tie went ahead as scheduled, as the Hammers mauled Hull 5-1, with Sebastien Haller and Andriy Yarmolenko both scoring twice and Robert Snodgrass also finding the net.
Moyes, Diop and Cullen, who returned home from the London Stadium, will have to isolate for 10 days.
They will miss the Hammers' English Premier League match at home to Wolverhampton Wanderers on Monday morning and next week's League Cup fourth-round tie against Fleetwood or Everton.
Hammers owner David Sullivan told talkSPORT that the results of their weekly tests came through just before the League Cup match. The whole team will be re-tested.
A Hammers statement said the trio were asymptomatic, but Sullivan said: "(Moyes) has had a slight sore throat for a couple of days, but he put it down to the fact that he shouts a lot."
West Ham added that they offered to test the Hull team ahead of the fixture, but the Tigers did not accept.
Asked why, Hull boss Grant McCann said: "We decided against it, we felt we were fine. No one is showing any symptoms or anything like that."
Fourth-tier side Leyton Orient took a different approach and accepted Tottenham Hotspur's offer to have their players tested for the coronavirus ahead of their League Cup tie, which has been postponed after a number of Orient players returned positive results. - REUTERS, AFP