Who should we believe?
When the official Juve twitter handle tweeted the Juve starting 11 for the Serie A week 3 clash against Napoli (against nobody actually), even after it had become common knowledge that the team from the south had not made the trip up north to Turin and the likes of Osimhen, Mertens etcetera were safely in their homes back in Naples, the Calcio world was launched into chaos and the confusion in the air was thick and heavy, like smoke puffing out of a steam engine belonging to a train from the 1800s. Everyone was glued to the news, following the saga with their fingers crossed.
Fan bases, the media and all stakeholders had quickly jumped on the issue with hot takes and divided opinions on who is right and who is wrong. Was Juve right to act as if nothing had happened and appeared at the stadium to play against a team they knew didn’t travel? Was Napoli right to ask their players to stay at home and not make the trip?
This was the latest in the many episodes of confusing sagas that has beclouded our beloved Calcio.
Against the backdrop of the Covid 19 pandemic, the Lega Serie A, in conjunction with all clubs, sports ministry and the Italian government had sat down to decide on how best to start and conclude the new 2020/2021 Serie A season in a way that ensures that there are no suspensions to the league once the inevitable situation of Serie A clubs registering Covid 19 cases sets in. As a result, a protocol was agreed on to help manage this situation:
Test swabs were to be administered every 3 days to ascertain the Covid status of all players and staff in the clubs.
Once positive cases are recorded, the rest of the team must go into fiduciary isolation (isolating the team from external contact while they continue to train and play games)
Games must go ahead as long as a team has a minimum of 13 players i.e 12 outfield and 1 Goalkeeper testing negative. (Adapted from the UEFA protocol)
This protocol makes a lot of sense especially if you consider that in the top 5 European leagues, games have gone on despite many teams registering one or two Covid cases in their match-day squads.
An attempt to sabotage the league or a simple obedience to authority?
Last weekend, Napoli recorded 2 cases of Covid and as a result decided not to travel for the Juve game claiming that the local authority had ordered them not to make the trip. Many people felt Napoli were simply being cry babies, and in fact were trying to sabotage the league especially as several clubs despite recording positive cases in their match day squad kept on playing games without any fuss. Milan played despite loosing their Talisman, Ibrahimovic to Covid, Genoa also played the week 2 game against the same Napoli even after recording a few cases, Atalanta also. And also because the initial letter from the ASL (local authority) to Napoli only asked the team to go into isolation and not necessarily a ban on travel. (The second latter from the ASL claiming it asked Napoli not to travel is clearly an afterthought and came on the back of pressure and request for clarification from many quarters).
Surprisingly, Napoli and her fiery President has been silent on this issue, not issuing a single press release concerning the matter.
To be clear, if the ASL had asked Napoli not to travel, that is a more than enough legitimate ground to stay back in Naples, but Juve’s President Andrea Agnelli had claimed that the local authority wouldn’t have intervened if Napoli had followed the protocol. Making the situation seem more like an intentional desire not to play on Napoli’s path and instigating the Local authority to intervene.
There are a few people with the opinion that Juve was being too cocky and selfish by going forward to attend the game even though they knew Napoli did not travel and parallels were already being drawn between this situation and that of Juve asking for a postponement of the Juve-Inter game last campaign because they didn’t want to play in an empty stadium. But we must credit Agnelli for taking the initiative by sticking to the only guarantee, (which was the givings of the protocol) in an uncertain situation. (Imagine how confusing it must have been to discover as a club President that the team you were supposed to play decided to not travel for the game).
Even though nobody has enough information to fully access and make an objective verdict on this issue yet, especially as the Sports judge who was to preside on the matter has asked for more time probably to conduct more investigations, it remains to be seen how the league deals with this issue and it just cannot afford to get it wrong for the simple fact that there is the real risk that this sets a bad precedence as teams can simply just decide not to show up for games.
In the face of these trying times for the soccer industry and especially Calcio, manifested in poor revenues and growth, and with every club counting their losses and licking their wounds like a dog who barely made it out of a fight by the skin of its teeth, it is imperative that the league continues without interruptions and maybe someday we would see fans return to the stadium and a turnaround in fortunes. But for that to happen, every team needs to show good faith, commitment, willingness to work and cooperate with the laid down protocols.
And to paraphrase the FIGC President- Gravina: ‘Anyone who disrespects the protocol thereby putting the league in jeopardy must pay heavily’. And maybe a 3:0 loss penalty might be the right starting point.
By: Bolu Onatade (https://twitter.com/TifeOnatade?s=20)