Dean Smith has described the “very scary” scale of the Covid-19 outbreak that forced Aston Villa’s entire squad into isolation this month but says he is in favour of continuing the season.
Nine Villa players and five backroom staff members tested positive as the virus swept through the club, leading to illness and anxiety as well as the closure of the training ground, the postponement of two Premier League matches and the deployment of youth players to fulfil the FA Cup tie against Liverpool.
“It was very scary,” Smith said. “We produced total negative tests on New Year’s Eve and then played Manchester United. We got tested again on 3 January and there were nine positive tests. That raised an alarm straight away and we got tested the following day and then we got another five positive tests after that.
“It was a little bit worrying because nobody knows how and we also know then our bubble has been compromised. We don’t know how as we followed the protocols. It was a scary time because you didn’t really want to touch anything because you didn’t know how it was being transmitted.
“[It was] really frightening. Every time we got tested it seemed somebody else was getting it. A lot of the players and staff were asymptomatic but some symptoms crept up on people. I told one of the players that he’d had a positive test and he felt fine and said: ‘No chance, I’m in a good place.’ Two days later when I spoke to him he was lying in bed with aches and pains.
“How quickly it was getting transmitted was the biggest surprise. You do worry. But we have come through the other side of it now and I am thankful for the quick work of the doctor and the other medical staff who have helped us.”
The Premier League issued tighter restrictions to all clubs last week in an effort to prevent further outbreaks, a move welcomed by Smith. “The stronger protocols needed to come in, definitely, I think that has been proven. The new variant transmits a lot quicker and we saw that for ourselves first hand.”
Smith supports pressing on with the season rather than suspending it. “We knew there were going to be changes to fixtures and we were going into uncharted territory. We knew it was going to be unknown and we would have to react to changes.
“We are in a very privileged position in that we are allowed to continue. I have had to bear 10 days of self-isolation and it was not a problem, knowing there are a lot of people who have not been out of their house since last March. We understand the position we are in. It is a football country and people want to see their teams playing games. If we can keep that show on the road, I think we should do.”
Villa return to action on Wednesday at Manchester City, the first of four matches in 10 days as they work through their fixture backlog. Smith says only one of the players who tested positive this month is definitely unavailable for the match, with the fitness of others to be monitored closely.