Miguel Almirón’s availability for two of relegation-threatened Newcastle’s games in early April is effectively in the hands of the UK government.
The influential forward, arguably Steve Bruce’s best player in recent weeks, seems certain to be selected for Paraguay’s World Cup qualifiers in Chile and at home to Colombia late next month.
Yet with all arrivals into the UK from Paraguay and Chile currently mandated to isolate in a government-approved hotel for 10 days, Almirón would, as things stand, not only miss games at home to Tottenham on 3 April and at Burnley a week later but be sidelined from training for the best part of a fortnight.
The Premier League is awaiting clarification from the government but it is understood ministers are open to granting potential exemptions for footballers on a case-by-case basis.
“It’s an awfully difficult balancing act,” said Bruce, whose team are fourth-bottom. “We’re in the middle of a pandemic but we’re aware they’re two World Cup qualifiers. It’s something we’re going to have to be guided by the Premier League on.”
The league’s advice will be informed by government officials. Much could hinge on travel plans organised by clubs and it is possible that, to circumvent a hotel quarantine unlikely to appeal to Premier League footballers, Newcastle may need to go to the considerable expense of hiring a jet to transport Almirón to and from South America.
No decisions will be taken until much closer to the fixtures and will be contingent on the amount of virus circulating in Paraguay and Chile and whether ot Paraguay keep their players in a self-contained bubble.
Meanwhile Bruce, who takes Newcastle to Manchester United on Sunday, has rebutted suggestions that his players were disunited before their 2-0 defeat at Chelsea last Monday.
The Sky Sports pundit Gary Neville was taken aback when only nine of Bruce’s team emerged from the tunnel before kick-off, with Isaac Hayden and Allan Saint-Maximin following slightly later.
“Let me tell you, it was very, very difficult at Chelsea when we’re not even getting changed in the stadium,” Bruce said. “We had a two- or three-minute walk from where we got changed in a health club. So I don’t really go with that. We found it a struggle [the Chelsea game]. But I’ve seen signs over the last few weeks that we’re ready for the challenge [of avoiding relegation] and I’m quietly confident we’ll achieve it.”
Scott Parker has expressed confidence that his 18th-placed Fulham can overtake Newcastle but Bruce remains unfazed. “Fulham have closed the gap a bit but they’re struggling to win games,” he said. “They’ve only won once in 14 games. It’s all to play for. From 13th down you’re looking over your shoulder.”