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Despite Government Plans, Remainder of ‘19-’20 Serie A Season Remains in Doubt

Restarting the Serie A season isn’t completely out of the question, but there’s no point risking dividing the country.

Cagliari Calcio v AS Roma - Serie A Photo by Enrico Locci/Getty Images

Following on from Giuseppe Conte’s announcement that team sports could begin training from the 18th May, I felt it was important to add some context to why that makes restarting the current Serie A season unlikely.

I don’t want to go at length or try for poetic license about it; seeing out the current season isn’t completely out of the question but it’d be against the odds.

Here are all the current reasons to set your mind to football being officially shut down for the season:

Conte Refuses Lega Serie A’s Make-or-Break Deadline

  • Lega Serie A are working towards June 14th as the make-or-break date with TV networks
  • Lega Serie A have accused the government of “broken promises”. FIGC and Coaches’ Association say the Lega is lying, and no promises of a restart were ever given.
  • Football training was originally touted to get underway by the beginning of May, giving enough time to train players back up to speed in time for June
  • The Italian government’s latest decision is an indirect “No” to that June 14th plan
OLY-2026-IOC-HOSTS Photo credit should read FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP via Getty Images

Though the Italian Prime Minister Conte conceded an 18th May green light for all team sports to restart training around Italy, it was just barely over a week ago that Conte was talking about a 4th May restart for all sports. That has even led to some in the Lega claiming that the government have broken a promise to football.

Now that May 4th date has only been given to individual sports alone, while the Italian football league are clear that their own TV deal’s survival depended on beginning training by next week. That’s because, in the Lega Serie A and FIGC’s opinion, football clubs would need four weeks training to get all players back up to competitive speed. Combine that with the Lega’s own internal “make or break” deadline—June 14th—by which professional football has to either get back on a TV screen or be called off indefinitely, and you’ve got a clear sign that the government could care less about Italian football’s desire to salvage their TV deal.

The long and short of it is, even though restarting training by May 18th would only put Italian football two days over their own internal deadlines, it’s a sign the government is working on a different page than the few people inside football that want to see the season restart.

Several people from the FIGC and the Italian coach’s association have denied the league’s claim of a “broken promise” and re-affirmed that the government never promised a restart date for football, beyond Conte’s public speech this past weekend. It seems that only some in the Lega Serie A are feeling the pressure to finish the season at any cost.

64% of Italy Doesn’t Want Football Back This Season

Social Football Summit 2019 Photo by Stefano Montesi - Corbis/ Getty Images

Though it’s only one of several polls done in the last week, IZI’s countrywide poll re-affirms what every other vote has said in the last week of April: 64% of Italians surveyed are against a Serie A restart right now. 51% are even against a restart under closed doors.

The government’s Minister of Sport, Vincenzo Spadafora, was presenting himself as the most eager to work out a deal to get football underway, and the few clubs who want a restart were pinning their hopes on him. However, even Spadafora started to change tact this past weekend:

“The vote says the majority of Italians want to shut down the championship. But I’m also not someone who decides based surveys. I just mention it to tell you all how easy it would be to shut down the season right now, like our science advisors are hoping we will.”

Translation: Even though I’m heading towards the decision everyone wants me to make, just don’t think it was easy for me. But the decision to call it off is coming.

Serie A Clubs Are Divided Over Restart

Leeds United v Bolton Wanderers - Sky Bet Championship - Elland Road

One sports side claims that most clubs are against restart to the current season, but there’s been no official stance for the league’s 20 clubs just yet. Only Brescia have come out in support of Spadafora’s change of stance last night, announcing on their club website that they back the government’s approach of caution above else.

And this may have to do with Brescia owner Massimo Cellino making it clear, over a week back, that he was against a restart under any circumstances—even willing to default all matches if needed.

Cellino also made this claim - speaking to Repubblica (via Football Italia)—about some of Serie A’s clubs that treat their spending like the Wild West and, let’s face it, it’s not that for even the least cynical among us to believe:

“There are €180m with the Lega Serie A destined for the teams that finish in the top 10. These bonuses have already been put into the balance sheet by the clubs. Now, if the season doesn’t end and Sky don’t pay the TV rights, what happens to the clubs who already spent that money?

“I ask the Presidents of the FIGC and CONI to take responsibility, because next year we risk having 10 bankrupt clubs in Serie A.”

FIGC Testing Still Doesn’t Deliver Any Certainty

FIGC Press Conference Photo by Paolo Bruno/Getty Images

We’re no medical professionals at CdT, and I’m sure some of our community are in medicine, so I can stand to be corrected on the following. But as far as I know, we only know how to test for symptoms of Covid-19 so far. We still don’t have a test to pick up signs of the root cause of it.

In other words, we still don’t know how lethal this thing is. We don’t know if tens of millions of us have caught it by now, or if the positive cases already run much higher. All we know are what the symptoms look like and, more than that, we’re throwing pretty much everything at live-testing trying to find a cure (as yet undiscovered).

Against the backdrop of all this uncertainty, the FIGC’s medical team have been working through April to come up with “strict protocol” for all football athletes, stricter than would be expected in any other sport.

This was meant to be a show of good faith that football is working to hardest for a safe restart. Only here’s the kicker: The FIGC’s advice—which government minister Spadafora declared “insufficient” for the country to feel safe about a restart—includes the guidline that if even one single player tests positive after the restart, the the entire sport shut be shut down.

That’s because most clubs will be working in groups of 50-70 people (including coaching staff on top of playing staff). So the risk of contagion among Serie A means the risk of pushing hospital beds back over quota overnight, at the first positive test.

The risk vs. reward factor just doesn’t seem worth it, in any way.

KAA Gent v AS Roma - UEFA Europa League Round of 32: Second Leg Photo by Jean Catuffe/Getty Images

Sure, cynics will say the only reason Italian football is considering a restart is because of the money—around 440 million euros of TV money in the short team, and up to 1.3 billion euros of TV and sponsorship money lost over 2020 itself. But there is good faith from many of us wanting football back in front of an audience: The fact is some kind of normalcy of seeing football back on the screen would be a big morale boost in terms of unity.

Seeing football back, a big part of our regular week before 2020 hit, feels like it would be easier to see that getting on top of this thing, and all the new habits we have to learn to do that, is all worth it. But that’s the risk of complacency knocking on our door, isn’t it?

The consequences of another contagion inside of football would only shed light on some very divisive decisions to be made- decisions that can be avoided entirely by calling off the season altogether.

So does the Italian league have a Plan B?

The Gazzetta dello Sport reports this morning (via TMW) that the Scudetto could be voided, with no champion declared. There may be a 22-team Serie A next season, calling off any relegation from Serie A and letting Serie B leaders’ rise to the top flight.

But that still leaves the question of which six Italian teams launched into European football for next season. It goes without saying that Roma’s short and long-term future rests upon that decision.