Here’s an end-of-the-week update on football and politics in the time of Coronavirus, with Serie A’s shutdown looking like it’ll be confirmed by the end of next week at the latest, protests over the Italian government’s sports-training double standards, and the Europa League looking like Roma’s last ticket to the Champions League.
Clubs Question Italy’s Double-Standards Over Training Rules
“I don’t think it’s reasonable that people can leave home to run in the park freely,” Roma’s Davide Santon said to Sky Sport (via ForzaRoma), “but we can’t return to our training sessions at Trigoria. I don’t think that’s fair, especially because we’ll be under supervision.”
Santon isn’t alone in a sentiment that’s been publicly echoed by Roma coach Paulo Fonseca and even club captain Edin Dzeko, this week. The issue here isn’t so much whether football re-starts, but the Italian government’s decision to delay athletes in teamsports from training until May 18th, while every other athlete (whether professional or hobbyist) has been given the green-light to train from this coming Monday, May 4th.
Reading between the lines here and a wild guess from me: Yes, there’s the safety risk of people training in groups when it comes to team sports. But what’s really driving the government’s decision here is that footballers make more money, and even just one squad of multi-millionaires falling ill, then potentially taking up hospital space with a Covid-19 contagion that would potentially stop an everyday Joe getting seen by a doctor, is absolutely the kind of social ruckus the Italian goverment does not want to risk on their watch. And some clubs have turned to regional government instead.
Sky Sport (via ForzaRoma) reports that the Campania and Emilia-Romagna regions may give the green light for their local teams (Napoli, Sassuolo, Parma, Bologna among others) to starting training from this coming Monday.
However, this a separate (if inter-related issue) with the current Serie A season winding down.
FIGC Pressure Builds to Bailout Serie A Clubs Amid Shutdown
Many sources suggest that Giuseppe Conte’s office are going to have to be the ones to call off football, if Serie A’s current 2019/20 season will be officially called off. The Italian football league themselves are reluctant to do so, as a raft of divisions emerge between all 20 clubs on where to go next.
Il Romanista reports that Juventus, Atalanta and Inter want the right to be able to play matches—even playing further south if needed—in order to see out the European and title spots. Only Lazio stand alone in wanting to see the current season be played out under normal conditions at all costs.
Torino and Brescia have declared themselves completely against a restart, with Torino objecting to the ideal of travelling for all remaining league games.
As many as 17 different Serie A clubs have had their medical staff (including Roma’s chief medic Andrea Causarano) point out the impossibility of respecting social distancing protocols if group training were to resume, as well as strong doubts about keeping teams in ritiro in the pre-match build to league games.
But the bigger issue is the FIGC pressing the government to come up with a financial rescue plan for all clubs in the league. FIGC President Gabriele Gravina summed up the weight of the decision in black-and-white terms this week:
“Calling off league football entirely would mean the system loses 700-800 million euros. If ever we would finish out the season under closed doors, then the loss would be 300 million euros, and if we would play matches with the gates open—even if this last option is not possible—the loss would amount to 100-150 million.”
That weight of that decision was re-affirmed by Roma’s Lorenzo Pellegrini taking to Instagram, claiming that restarting the current season must happen to help “thousands of families” inside of football from employment trouble.
There’s another subtext to this FIGC-government stand-off: Clubs still haven’t recovered from Italian football’s legacy of handing over 80% of club revenues to players, and Italian clubs have become even more and more dependent on TV money to foot the bill.
So how about letting clubs build their own stadium? And expand commercially beyond just TV network deals?
There’s a feeling that if authority intervened to put football in such a dangerous financial position, then it at least should come with some long-term concessions on the government’s part to make sure that football can explore more options to recover.
That kind of growth and diversity of income that could come with private-stadium ownership has been choked by government red tape for decades now. It’s only become more clear just how much Italy needs to let football clubs (and the business of football as a whole) build a healther infrastructure, if not now then yesterday.
Roma’s Europa League Show to Roll Onto August?
Even though domestic football could be called off, that won’t stop UEFA from insisting the show must go on. The European football body has urged all clubs to do everything possible to see out the current 2019/20 season, and has given every league a May 25th deadline to announce whether they are in or out.
Meanwhile, UEFA are looking are seeing out their own competitions—the 2019/20 Champions League and Europa League—in a mini-August calendar that would see all the current entrants play a match every 3-4 days. That includes Roma’s current Europa League campaign.
“We’d like to reach the Champions League,” Paulo Fonseca told Fox Sports Brazil this week, “either via fourth place in Serie A or via an eventual Europa League victory, where we have to play against Sevilla, a very strong club with a big tradition in this tournament. Our aim is to go far in the Europa League.”
If the Europa League really see out the current campaign to a winner, that makes August 2020 a bigger month than ever for Roma’s current ambitions.
That wraps it up for this week. I wouldn’t expect any major surprises over the weekend.
Just the prospect of looking at a Roma squad training throughout May, June and July for the financial future of the club being settled entirely in August is strangely tantalizing enough already.