SINGAPORE: Given the spread of COVID-19 in Spain, it was “not alarming nor surprising” that players from Spanish top flight side Valencia tested positive for the disease, said Singaporean club president Anil Murthy. 

Speaking to CNA in an exclusive interview, Mr Murthy said that club began taking precautions in February, adding that the club had been proactive in applying “kiasu” standards to push for “maximum safety”.

Valencia is owned by Singaporean businessman Peter Lim, who bought the club in 2014. 

As of Tuesday (Mar 17), Spain had more than 9,000 cases of COVID-19 – with nearly 300 deaths. It now has the most number of cases in Europe after Italy. 

“We were the first club to impose isolation measures for our players and coaching staff,” said Mr Murthy. 

“In spite of criticism from fans, press and the authorities, we banned all access to players and coaching staff to press and fans … It was a hugely unpopular measure in February. But it was the right decision.”

The club had also bought “essential items” in advance and had also started planning on how to operate with minimum staff, added Mr Murthy.

“As a football club your main activity is playing football. We built all our operations around that and cut off the rest. We flew from private terminals and did not give access to fans and press. (That was) not very popular.”

Valencia president Anil Murthy. (Photo: Valencia CF)

READ: Football: La Liga suspended for at least two weeks

LA LIGA SUSPENSION AN “EVENTUALITY” 

Mr Murthy added that it was an “eventuality” that the league would be suspended, and Valencia were prepared to act fast. 

This postponement was eventually announced on Mar 12 when the league’s organising body said in a statement that all football matches in Spain’s top two divisions would be suspended for two weeks to help mitigate the potential spread of the coronavirus.

At the time of La Liga’s suspension, Valencia were seventh in the table. 

“We closed the training grounds for first team and academy last Friday. As soon as it was made official that Liga Liga would be suspended,” said Mr Murthy. 

“To us it was an eventuality and were prepared to act fast.”

The club had already put in place plans to keep the players – from the first team to the academy – active, he added. 

“Each one has a work plan. For the first team, other than coaching staff who do daily phone checks, our doctors do daily house calls for screening and spot checks,” said Mr Murthy. 

“Quarantine means stay home and follow (the) work plan and diet.”

Mr Murthy also decided to send his family back to Singapore last week.

“It was clear to me given the evolution of the coronavirus crisis in Italy that it was a matter of days before Spain would be hit,” he explained. 

“Could be my kiasu mentality but I was right. For the club, we have applied the same kiasu (Hokkien for fear of missing out) standards to push for maximum safety for players, coaches and employees.”

READ: Football: Valencia confirm five tests positive for coronavirus

The club announced on Sunday that five players and staff were infected with the novel coronavirus. 

Defenders Ezequiel Garay, Eliaquim Mangala and Jose Gaya confirmed on social media that they tested positive. 

Valencia's Argentinian defender Ezequiel Garay posted that he has tested positive for

Valencia’s Argentinian defender Ezequiel Garay posted that he has tested positive for coronavirus AFP/JOSE JORDAN

“The story of three Valencia players being positive for coronavirus is not alarming nor surprising,” said Mr Murthy. “Although all our players and coaching staff displayed no symptoms and were well, many were concerned about the situation.”

“To put them at ease we did tests,” he added. “I had told them that given the contagion curve in Spain, we should expect 20 per cent positive. 

“They were shocked. I explained to them that this was normal given that we live and interact in Spain. (It) does not mean that their lives were endangered.”

MORE PLAYERS, STAFF INFECTED

On Tuesday, the club said further tests for the COVID-19 coronavirus among Valencia coaching staff and players have come back positive. 

“Despite the strict measures adopted by the club after their Champions League game … these latest results show the exposure inherent to such matches has caused a positive test rate of around 35 per cent,” Valencia added.

“All cases are asymptomatic and those involved are currently isolated at home, receiving medical assessment and carrying out their scheduled training plan.”

The club are taking quarantine measures “very seriously”, added Mr Murthy.

“Others in society will pay if we are not responsible,” he said. 

“All are at home now following the quarantine measures. They are well and working. All our boys including the academy.”

Nearly 1,000 new COVID-19 cases in Spain in 24 hours

Should no new measures be implemented by the Spanish government, players will be able to return to training on Mar 30, said Mr Murthy.

“The key is to come back operational. And ready to start competing again,” he added. 

“We hope to return to the competition soon. Because we are still fighting for our objective of Champions league next year.”

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