Uncertainty swirls as to whether Serie A can really return to action as Italian football bosses hope on June 13 after a two-month coronavirus suspension.
Behind the united front, Italy’s 20 top-flight clubs have very different interests while Sports Minister Vincenzo Spadafora has been blowing hot and cold.
Meanwhile, the players may be back in individual training but are themselves divided in the face of a very strict protocol required for group sessions which begin on May 18.
Football in Europe is entering the unknown with Bundesliga’s return to action on Saturday with the resumption of the first top European league since the coronavirus lockdown watched closely to see if it provides a blueprint for other competitions. Matches will be played behind closed doors and players and coaches, who have been in quarantine for the past week, must follow stringent hygiene guidelines.
But the situation in Italy, a country that was severely impacted by the virus, is a lot more complicated.
Here is a look at the key questions over a return to ‘Calcio’ in football-mad Italy.
What is the stumbling block?
- Lega Serie A announced on Wednesday that June 13 was the date they hoped to resume the championship, with expectations boosted the following day when the influential president of the Italian Olympic Committee (CONI) Giovanni Malago declared he was “99 percent” certain it would restart. But the optimism only lasted a few hours.
- On Thursday evening, a press release from the League and then another from the professional players’ union (AIC) made it clear that the resumption of collective training, scheduled for Monday, remains very uncertain.
- Many clubs consider that the health protocol, painstakingly drawn up by the Italian football federation (FIGC) following recommendations of the government’s Technical and Scientific Committee, is impossible to enforce.
Two points are proving particularly problematic.
- The first concerns the logistical difficulties for clubs to try and organise a two-week group training period from next Monday. Players would theoretically have to practice together, then eat and sleep at the training centre or a hotel entirely available to the team to avoid any risk of contagion. Many clubs do not have these facilities.
- The second concerns the government insistence on quarantine for the entire team and staff, in the event of a positive test. Italian clubs favour the German model, where only the infected person is quarantined.
“It’s something that worries us,” FIGC president Gabriele Gravina said Friday of group quarantine, as he conceded the possibility of playoffs was still being examined.
Who is for, who against?
- On Friday, the FIGC and Liga Serie A met and prepared new proposals to submit to Italy’s ministers for sport and health. But the common front that the world of Italian football had managed to present in difficult discussions with the government seems to have cracked. According to all the sports media, Inter Milan are at the forefront of the “revolt”. Others followed, such as AC Milan, Atalanta, Napoli, Fiorentina, Sampdoria and Genoa. In total, more than half of all Serie A clubs would be opposed to the idea of training next Monday without more guarantees.
- Some, especially those at the bottom of the table, may have more to gain with a season definitively stopped. Others, like Lazio, are still pushing for a return. The Roman club are second, just one point behind Juventus when football was suspended on March 9 and firmly believe in their chances of a first title in two decades. According to the Corriere della Sera, the side from the capital has even been organising three-on-three matches in training for several days while the current protocol only allows individual sessions.
The government’s position?
- The government, for its part, has been sticking to a cautious line and a process in stages – individual training from May 4, group training from May 18 and day-to-day assessment of the health situation in Italy where nearly 32,000 have died. For a long time very sceptical about the resumption of the championship, Sports Minister Spadafora, whose relationship has been cool with football bosses, has seemed more open to a return in recent days. Spadafora said on Friday that the government were even ready to study individual quarantine “based on the evolution in the next 10 days of the curve of contagion”.
- But at the end of the day, the ball should end up at the feet of Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte, a football fan. Italian football bosses, who have consistently warned of the considerable economic damage of ending the season early, are due to meet Conte next week, on a date which is not yet confirmed.
(Reporting by AFP)