Should Sheffield United have objected to Crystal Palace star's involvement after Covid-19 breach?
Roy Hodgson, the Crystal Palace manager, defended his decision to select Luka Milivojevic against Sheffield United after the former Red Star Belgrade and Olympiacos midfielder was accused of breaching social distancing rules designed to limit the spread of Covid-19.
Milivojevic started Saturday’s meeting between the two clubs despite being pictured on social media celebrating New Year with Fulham’s Aleksander Mitrovic, his partner Kristina Janjic and possibly seven other unidentified adults - a contravention of regulations in a Tier Four area.
With United clearly sensitive to the issue after reporting a series of positive tests earlier in the week - and Mitrovic’s employers forced to postpone their meeting with Burnley because of an outbreak of the respiratory disease at Craven Cottage - there had been calls for Milivojevic to sit out the contest at Selhurst Park.
Hodgson, who substituted the 29-year-old during the closing stages, confirmed Palace have launched an investigation into the incident but insisted it would have been “taking it too far” to leave him out.
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“Luka, well I didn’t know about it until last night,” Hodgson said, after watching goals from Jeffrey Schlupp and Eberechi Eze leave United still searching for their first win of the Premier League season. “That was when we were told the story was going to break.
“He invited his fellow Serb Mitrovic to come around and join them. We condemn it, we apologise for it and he must take responsibility. There is nothing positive I can say about it. But neither he nor Mitrovic had tested positive, so we weren’t concerned that any Premier League protocols had been breached. So we felt it was okay to play him.”
If he is found to have broken rules aimed at fighting the spread of the coronavirus, Milivojevic’s actions should invite even greater criticism because, aged 73 and 64 respectively, Hodgson and his assistant Ray Lewington could prove particularly vulnerable if they contracted Covid-19.
“It was a breach of government guidelines, which we apologise for and will deal with,” Hodgson added. “But in terms of him not playing and not being captain, I think that’s taking it too far.”