London – Former Manchester United star Wayne Rooney claims the British government and football authorities have treated players like “guinea pigs” during the coronavirus crisis.
While the rest of European football was shutting down due to the growing threat of the global pandemic, Rooney is angry it took several days for the Premier League and Football League to postpone their matches until April 3.
It was only when Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta and Chelsea winger Callum Hudson-Odoi tested positive for the virus on Friday that football’s UK governing bodies called a temporary halt to the season.
Rooney, currently playing for second tier Derby, felt they should have acted quicker and the former England captain said he would “never forgive” the authorities if his family fell ill as a result.
“Why did we wait until Friday? Why did it take Mikel Arteta to get ill for the game in England to do the right thing?” Rooney wrote in the Sunday Times.
“For players, staff and their families it has been a worrying week – one in which you felt a lack of leadership from the government and from the FA and Premier League.
“After the emergency meeting, at last the right decision was made – until then it almost felt like footballers in England were being treated like guinea pigs.
“I know how I feel. If any of my family get infected through me because I’ve had to play when it’s not safe, and they get seriously ill, I’d have to think hard about ever playing again. I would never forgive the authorities.”
Many matches at non-league level were going ahead as scheduled in Britain this weekend and Rooney believes Prime Minister Boris Johnson “dodged” the issue by letting football make its own decision about playing on.
The 34-year-old claimed money was key to the authorities’ reluctance to cancel games.
“The rest of sport – tennis, Formula One, rugby, golf, football in other countries – was closing down and we were being told to carry on,” Rooney said.
“I think a lot of footballers were wondering, ‘Is it something to do with money being involved in this?'”
Once the virus is under control, Rooney wants a radical schedule shake-up which could see the current season being concluded as late as September, and the next two kicking off in winter-time as a result.
“We’re happy to play until September if the season extends to then, if that’s how it has to be. That’s our job. As long as we know we’re safe to play and it’s a safe environment for spectators, we’ll play,” Rooney said.
“The next World Cup is in November and December 2022, so you could actually use this situation as an opportunity and say we’re going to finish the 2019-20 season later this year, then prepare for 2022 by having the next two seasons starting in winter.”