Casey Stoney apologises for allowing Manchester United players to join trip to Dubai that has wiped out games

Manchester United manager Casey Stoney apologised on Friday night for allowing her players to go on a controversial trip to Dubai, which led to a range of postponements and sparked one of the most fractious week’s in women’s football.

This weekend’s league game between Everton and United became the fourth fixture to be called off this week, due to Covid-19 concerns in the Merseyside camp. Despite there being no outbreak in her own squad, Stoney was the one left apologising, after admitting the club gave United players permission to leave the country over the winter break – a decision she said “on reflection” was a mistake.

“I said before Christmas that I will always take my players’ well-being into consideration and I granted [them] permission to go home and see their families to have a break,” Stoney said. “Everything we allowed them to do was within government guidelines, but I have to be honest and on reflection it was a poor error in judgment from me. I am sincerely sorry for that. I’m human and I make mistakes, I take responsibility for it.”

When pressed, Stoney confirmed suspicions there had been United players on the trip to Dubai, after which four Manchester City players tested positive upon their return and resulted in the postponement of their match against West Ham on Saturday.

On Tuesday, Telegraph Sport revealed news of the City players’ club-approved trip, as well as that three Arsenal players also travelled to Dubai during the Christmas break, for ‘business’ reasons, with one subsequently testing positive for Covid-19.

The Arsenal trio have apologised to their team-mates for the impact their trips have had, as calls for a more public apology grow. Some other members of the Arsenal squad were understood to have initially been “furious” after one of the three tested positive for Covid-19 and their game away to Aston Villa on Saturday was subsequently called off, with several of the team isolating as a precaution. The players, all senior internationals, are not expected to face any sanctions.

Manchester City have had two games called off: Saturday’s Women’s Super League game against West Ham and next Wednesday’s League Cup quarter-final at Chelsea. In each case, the clubs requesting postponements told the FA they could not field a squad of 14 players. The decision to postpone both City and Arsenal’s ties sparked allegations of double standards being employed for bigger clubs in the WSL, and Stoney expressed her own concerns over the postponement of their tie against Everton.

Earlier on Friday, Everton boss Willie Kirk had admitted that injuries and niggles were going to make it “difficult to piece together a team” for Sunday, but that all of his squad had tested negative for Covid-19 after Christmas. Their subsequent U-turn hours later left Stoney baffled: “I find it fascinating I read an interview with Willie Kirk saying they didn’t have any positive tests but yet our game has been called off. So I’m confused, genuinely confused. I’m not saying it’s an easy time for the FA, but there has to be a level of consistency and consequence. I would never ask for a postponement – unless there was an absolute outbreak or crisis. Obviously I’m saying that we’ve potentially made poor decisions over Christmas, but had that come back to us, I still wouldn’t have wanted to call the game off because of the integrity of what we’re doing.”

Bristol City confirmed on Friday they were seeking clarification from the FA on what qualifies a game for postponement. In November, they were denied last-minute requests to have their game against Manchester City postponed, after five of their first-team players were forced to isolate when one developed coronavirus symptoms. Required to field a number of academy players, bottom-side Bristol were thrashed 8-1.

Oxtoby said more “transparency” was needed to avoid feelings of injustice which have been voiced by players like Reading’s Emma Mitchell in the league this week: “I think the FA have a decision to make now around the transparency of the situation. There’s things they can’t disclose, which I understand, but it’s about understanding the decision-making process and it being really clear. There may be underlying factors we’re not aware of.”

Brighton boss Hope Powell, whose side face Oxtoby’s on Sunday, said the Seagulls had wanted to postpone that match but they were not able to. The former England boss said: “We have players in isolation, we’ve got a depleted squad. But we have to play. We’ll get on with it. We’ve had to draw on our academy squad. I can’t talk about what other teams do.”

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