Roberto Firmino, Alisson and Fabinho suffer more than anyone from Brazil's hypocritical Liverpool retaliation

By Theo Squires

It’s rare for Jurgen Klopp and Tite to be on the same side, given the Brazil manager’s use of his Liverpool trio in recent years, but they might actually be when it comes to the Brazilian FA’s ongoing club vs country row.

Alisson, Fabinho and Roberto Firmino are all currently set to miss the Reds’ trip to Leeds United on Sunday after the Brazilian FA invoked FIFA’s ‘five-day rule’ in response to Premier League clubs refusing to let their players report for international duty due to current UK coronavirus travel rules and restrictions.

Brazil is currently a red-listed country and any Premier League player that had reported for duty in the South American country ahead of their suspended fixture with Argentina and clash with Peru tomorrow morning, along with their away win over Chile last Friday, would have had to quarantine in a hotel for 10 days following their return to English soil after the government refused to sanction an exemption.

With all of Brazil’s fixtures in the upcoming October, November, January/February and March international breaks scheduled to take place in current red-listed countries, this is not an issue that will go away quietly in the weeks and months ahead.

The Premier League are currently in talks to find a resolution to allow Brazilian players to play in the Premier League this weekend but unless the Brazilian FA can be talked down from forcing the ‘five-day rule’, an alternative compromise can be found or the UK government relax rules or grant a quarantine exemption in future, this is an ongoing issue that looks set to continue every international break in the near future.

READ MORE: Liverpool at risk of further FIFA bans after Alisson, Fabinho and Roberto Firmino problem

And that’s regardless of whether Brazil’s fixtures actually go ahead or not, having seen health officials storm the pitch during their World Cup qualifier against Argentina in Sao Paulo on Sunday, forcing the game to be suspended after insisting the away side’s four England-based players had to quarantine anyway.

But despite the Brazilian FA’s belligerent tantrum, forcing FIFA to reluctantly ban players, Tite admits player health has to come first.

“A fair decision is to respect laws, a fair decision is first and foremost the health of people," Tite said ahead of his side’s meeting with Peru when asked about the Argentina suspension, via GE .

"The fair decision is that the sport is important, but it has a scale of importance in which health is above, the laws are above.”

And it was players’ health, on top of missing matches in quarantine, that prompted Liverpool and the rest of the Premier League clubs to block international call-ups in the first place.

“When the players have to go on international duty, it's never great for a club manager. It's never, "Oh great, I have a few days off," or whatever,” Klopp explained before the Reds’ meeting with Chelsea last month. “It's more, "Oh God, they have to travel a lot, come back late and all these kind of things.

“But we still always do it. We never moan, we never discuss it. The players want it and we are completely fine with it.

“In this case, obviously, it's different because England has different rules and the rules are if you come back from a red-listed country, you have to quarantine 10 days in a hotel, not the hotel of your choice, a hotel which somebody tells you where it is, next to the airport or whatever.

“It's not even close to being a spa hotel or whatever. It's eating and waiting and sleeping. As the clubs we cannot do that, not only because we cannot do that. Not only because we play games in that time when they come back but they lose, without being positive, 10 days of training.

“In 10 days you can ask whoever you want - a doctor, a sports science person - without any chance of moving, you lose muscle. That's how it is.

“So then they would come back and have to start training, you have to do different stuff and it's a real risk for the boys then if they would play three, four or five days immediately again football after a 10-day quarantine. That's the problem we had, and it's not that we said, "We'll do it like this."

“It's just the government didn't give an exemption for football players, even when they're fully vaccinated, then the situation is like it is. We cannot change it but then of course the players can't go.”

Spare a thought for the affected players who would happily play for both club and country if allowed to do so, but are now set to miss matches for both because of reasons beyond their control.

"Honestly, I feel bad because I want to play for my national team, I want to play for Liverpool,” Alisson admitted after finding out he wouldn’t be able to link up with Brazil.

"I don't want to get punished to make a decision but, from what I know, it's not even a decision. We cannot choose too much in this moment."

Yet despite Klopp and Tite being on the same page when it comes to putting player health first, by invoking the ‘five-day rule, punishing players is exactly what the Brazilian FA have done.

It’s selfish, it's unfair and it's just childish retaliation which serves no benefit to any of the affected parties.

As such, it is rather hard to stomach, especially when you take into consideration Brazil’s health authorities later cancelling their clash with Argentina anyway due to their own coronavirus concerns.

It appears they’ll respect their own country’s rules but not the UK’s.

Then consider that Richarlison will be free to play for Everton this weekend against Burnley, with the Brazilian FA deciding to spare him from the ‘five-day rule’ because the Blues let him play in last month’s Olympics, having already represented his country at Copa America earlier in the summer, and it demonstrates just how pig-headed they are being.

It’s all very well having a "good relationship" with the Brazilian FA to be spared from such punishment, but at what cost? And will they be so forgiving to Everton if Richarlison is then blocked from international duty in October, November, January/February or March?

What the Brazilian FA have essentially done by invoking the 'five-day rule' resembles the actions of a sulking child. Unhappy at what has unfolded, they have taken their ball home to stop anyone else from playing, but might return for a quick kickabout with Everton and Richarlison in front of all their frustrated "friends" while forbidding anyone else from joining in.

A penny for Klopp's thoughts. The most faithful supporter of his Liverpool players, the German has spoken in the past of his misgivings with Brazil’s usage of his players and Fabinho in particular, with the club's relationship with the Selecao already fragile as a result.

The 27-year-old is one of the world’s best ‘number sixes’, yet on international duty, he finds himself behind Real Madrid’s Casemiro and Manchester United's Fred in the pecking order and fortunate just to get off the bench.

As already highlighted, Klopp is not the biggest fan of international football. But when said player has to make a 10,980 mile round-trip, minimum, to report for international duty in South America, then the Reds boss’ grievance become even more understandable.

"I'm not sure if Tite's too worried because he plays him never so he will probably now not sit on the bench for the next three international games,” Klopp replied to a Brazilian journalist when Fabinho was struck down by injury last October.

Less than a year down the line and the midfielder’s international standing has not changed despite his status at Anfield.

The midfielder’s lack of game-time for the Selecao is not a new phenomenon. Since winning an international recall in September 2018 following his move to Liverpool, he has won just 13 international caps from 37 Brazil matches (tonight’s game with Peru becoming the 38th), with a number of them coming at right-back and only five of them coming from the start.

An unused substitute on 12 occasions since becoming a Reds player, he was also left out of their Copa America squad in 2019 and boasted just one minute of competitive action to his name prior to this summer’s continental tournament.

With Casemiro in the current Brazil squad, and selected as captain in last week’s victory over Chile and postponed meeting with Argentina, Fabinho’s game-time would have remained limited at best even if he had been allowed to accept his call-up.

As for Alisson, he lost his status as Tite’s first-choice goalkeeper to Ederson during this summer’s Copa America, despite starring in their 2019 victory, seeing his Man City counterpart selected throughout the knock-out stages as they were beaten in the final to Argentina after sharing the gloves during the group-stages.

But perhaps Firmino is the Liverpool player who can feel most aggrieved, with the forward currently banned for facing Leeds United thanks to the Brazilian FA’s decision despite the fact he has a hamstring injury, couldn’t have answered his international call-up anyway and was set to miss the Reds’ clash with the Whites regardless.

Like Alisson, the 29-year-old too lost his place as first-choice for Tite at Copa America, having previously been a go-to in attack since the 2018 World Cup.

His place behind Neymar in the pecking order is understandable, as are misgivings about his starting role for club and country due to a dwindling goal return.

But he also found Richarlison, Gabriel Jesus, Gabriel Barbosa, Vinicius Jr and Everton Ribeiro selected ahead of him on various occasions during this summer’s Copa America as he was limited to just two starts, withdrawn early in both and an unused substitute on two occasions.

Having started all but three of Brazil’s previous 19 matches prior to Copa America, featuring in all and returning seven goals and four assists, his new overlooked status was a new experience for the forward.

If this is how limited their game-time is going to be, why on earth should Liverpool be expected to grant them permission to link up with their international teams at the aforementioned expense on their return.

It’s bad enough calling up these players and not selecting them, but now preventing them from playing for the Reds, when they are all key players for Klopp’s starting XI, is next-level disrespect to both the players and the clubs.

The Brazilian FA can stamp their feet all they want, ignoring their own hypocrisy and the irony of it all, but this is not an argument the Premier League clubs can afford to back down in. They pay their wages and need to look at the bigger picture.

A compromise needs to be found before this weekend’s Premier League matches get underway otherwise a dangerous precedent has been set with more blocked call-ups likely to follow if UK coronavirus rules and restrictions don’t change.

And with Liverpool’s relationship with the Brazilian FA already not the strongest, this whole episode will have done nothing to aid relations at a time when it is becoming increasingly clear that only one party actually has the best interests of the affected players at heart.


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