Phil Foden and Mason Greenwood have been sent home by England for what Gareth Southgate called a “very serious” breach of coronavirus regulations, leading to a public rebuke of the apologetic players by their clubs.
Allegations emerged in the Icelandic media on Monday that Foden and Greenwood had spent time with two girls during the trip, with media outlet DV publishing purported footage filmed by one of them.
Southgate refused to confirm the exact nature of the breach but underlined England’s rapid response when it became clear that the duo had jeopardised the stringent Covid-19 measures.
“Unfortunately this morning it was brought to my attention that the two boys have broken the Covid guidelines in terms of our secure bubble,” the England boss said.
“And so we had to decide very quickly that they couldn’t have any interaction with the rest of the team, wouldn’t be able to travel to training.
“Given the procedures that we have to follow now, they’ll have to travel back to England separately.”
Southgate said nothing happened in the areas that England occupied in the hotel and the PA news agency understands the incident occurred in a different part of the property rather than off the premises.
Asked if the pair had put Tuesday’s Nations League clash against Denmark in jeopardy, Southgate said: “We’re very clear that no other members of our party have been in contact with those two players.
“That’s why they couldn’t go to breakfast this morning, they couldn’t join us for training, so we’re very clear that we have followed all the guidelines in that regard.“It’s a very serious situation and we have treated it that way and have acted as quickly as we have been able to”
“It’s a very serious situation and we have treated it that way and have acted as quickly as we have been able to.”
The youngsters’ behaviour has not only gone down badly with the Football Association but their respective clubs, with City swiftly condemning Foden’s behaviour.
“Manchester City FC are aware of the story which has emerged today from the England national team camp in relation to the behaviour of Phil Foden,” read a statement from the club.
“We have also seen the comments from England manager Gareth Southgate.
“It is clear that Phil’s actions were totally inappropriate. His behaviour not only directly contravenes strict guidelines related to Covid-19, but also falls well below the standard expected of a Manchester City player and England international.
“The club supports the FA regarding this incident, and officials from the club are now in touch in relation to Phil’s enforced early return to the UK.
“We have no further comment to make on this matter.”
Manchester United released a statement at a similar time, saying: “We are liaising with the Football Association and are disappointed with the actions of Mason Greenwood over this situation.”
The PA news agency understands United want to establish the full facts before deciding on any disciplinary action – just as Southgate is having to do before deciding what kind of punishment to mete out.
“This is a job like no other in terms of the things you have to deal with,” the England manager said.
“All management roles are difficult. This is another level of the things you have to deal with.
“In terms of what’s expected, I think the players that have been with us for a longer time know exactly what’s expected and what we’re prepared to go with as a coaching team, in particular, but as a wider staff (too).“It is clear that Phil’s actions were totally inappropriate.
“And I think whenever people have stepped across that line when they’ve been with us, we’ve dealt with it appropriately.
“We can’t be responsible for things that people do when they’re not with us. That’s their responsibility and at that time their clubs.
“People will have a view I am sure but I think we’ve been firm when we’ve needed to be.”
Southgate refused to divulge the details of his short discussion with the “naïve” duo, who he plans to speak to again “later in the appropriate way”.
“They’ve got responsibilities, they have apologised,” the Three Lions boss said.
“But everything has happened so quickly that I am obviously speaking to you as was pre-planned.
“The rest, we’ve got to get to the bottom of all the facts.”
Southgate was stony-faced in Monday’s delayed press conference nominally previewing the Nations League match in Copenhagen, with his disappointment as palpable as his frustration.
Foden and Greenwood’s actions have added just another level of difficulty to what has been the most challenging camp of the England manager’s reign.
“I am hardened to it, really,” said Southgate, who has had to juggle fitness concerns, Covid-19 measures and selection headaches as well as Harry Maguire’s early withdrawal.
“I am totally focused on preparing the team for the game. I have to make decisions around that all the time.
“As a football manager, you’re always dealing with situations that are outside of your control and things that have the potential to distract the team from the game.
“But we’ve got a game that we want to go and win tomorrow night and amidst everything else I’ve got to make sure the focus is on the players that are going to be here and that they’re prepared properly for the game.”