Milan (AFP) – Cristiano Ronaldo has been recalled from Portugal as Serie A clubs get back to individual training on Monday after a two-month coronavirus lockdown, but doubts remain over whether the championship can return.
The interior ministry’s go-ahead for players to return to club training facilities two weeks ahead of schedule has offered fans hope that the 2019-20 season might yet be saved.
The government was responding after regions that had avoided the worst of the pandemic took matters into their own hands and gave permission to clubs to open their facilities for players to train on their own.
But sports minister Vincenzo Spadafora has warned that although individual training can resume, training in groups must wait until May 18. And with Italy still in the grip of the pandemic which has killed nearly 29,000, it is uncertain whether matches will be able to restart.
“Nothing has changed compared to what I have always said about football,” said Spadafora.
“Team training will not resume before May 18 and the resumption of the championship, for now, is not really discussed.”
Spadafora added, as if to confirm his difficult relationship with professional football: “Now excuse me, but I’m returning to take care of all the other sports and sports centres (gymnasiums, dance centres, swimming pools) which must reopen as soon as possible.”
The Corriere dello Sport daily on Monday created a front-page photo of the minister with a dagger in his hand about to burst a ball, with the headline “Attack on Calcio”.
Officially all 20 Serie A teams have unanimously backed a return to competition, despite reservations from clubs such as Brescia and Torino, in the north of Italy, which was particularly hit hard by the virus.
Torino president Urbano Cairo conceded there were “divergent opinions”.
“Everyone is assessing whether the restart is possible and it is normal, even if the last word will be down to the institutions,” he told Radio Anch’io.
Cairo stressed the importance of safeguarding the health of employees, “without forgetting that the players have been stopped and locked up at home for two months”.
With the league suspended since March 9, football authorities point to the severe economic impact for a sector which according to the federation posts a turnover of 4.7 billion euros ($5.1 billion) and employs more than 120,000 people.
– ‘Cautious return’ –
Some of the clubs with title aspirations from the less affected areas of the country have been talking about going back to training for weeks.
Following decisions from local governments, teams such as Napoli and Parma have followed the lead of Lazio — who trailed leaders Juventus by just a point when play was suspended — and set dates this week for players to train.
Sassuolo became the first team to resume individual training on Monday, with Bologna set to follow on Tuesday, followed by Lazio and Roma after their players and staff undergo coronavirus tests.
Inter Milan said “first-team players will, on a voluntary basis, be able to make use of the pitches at the Suning Training Centre in Appiano Gentile over the coming days for individual activities.”
Champions Juventus have recalled their overseas players, including Ronaldo, who once back from the Portuguese island of Madeira will have to spend two weeks in quarantine.
City rivals Torino are also cautiously preparing to return to training.
“The contagion is still important and we are not yet out of the problem,” Cairo said on the 71th anniversary of the Superga tragedy, a plane crash which killed all the members of the legendary ‘Il Grande Torino’ team.
“We must be on high alert. The restart on a day like this is something symbolic.
“Today Phase 2 begins. We hope it will be a day of restart and rebirth.
“We have approved an accelerated programme to do tests and fitness visits this week, in the next three to four days we will be ready for individual trainings.”
The Italian Football Federation (FIGC) will hold a meeting on May 8 which could be decisive, although president Gabriele Gravina warned he would “never sign for the end of the championships”, which he said would be “the death of Italian football”.
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