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Covid-19 Chaos Hits International Break

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An attempt to make some sense of the latest covid related crisis to hit football.

Italy U20 v England U20 - 8 Nations Tournament
Will Castrovilli get to wear the Italian jersey this time?
Photo by Pier Marco Tacca/Getty Images

As yet another international break is here, the local health authorities in different parts of Italy have yet again caused confusion and an absolute headache for Italian football authorities to deal with.

This conflict between health and football authorities has already been at the root of last months Napoli disaster, when the local ASL (Aziende Sanitaria Locale) apparently refused the club permission to travel to Turin for their game with Juventus. Juventus were then handed a 3-0 win by the Lega Calcio, while Napoli also suffered a one point deduction on top of the defeat. The latest developments will do nothing to placate that controversy, and surely Napoli will only use this as further evidence that they were in the right.

While I have spent most of my time today, Monday, trying to gather and understand every report coming out of Italy on this latest issue, it’s bound to be constantly changing and even at the moment I am having a hard time trying to get my head around what is actually happening. So please bear with me while I try to give a rundown of what we know, or think we know, so far.

Fiorentina were actually the first club involved in this, when the ASL from Tuscany announced that their players could not leave the club’s ‘bubble’, caused by José Callejón’s positive test last Friday. This means that until after Sunday 15th November, the Viola players called up by their respective national sides cannot travel to join up.

This leaves the Italian internationals Gaetano Castrovilli and Cristiano Biraghi in the strange position that they cannot travel the short distance that divides the Fiorentina training ground from the Italian training camp at Coverciano. Goalkeeper Bartłomiej Drągowski will not be allowed to meet up with his Polish team-mates, who amongst other matches, are due to play against Italy. Nikola Milenković and Dušan Vlahović are also stuck in Florence and unable to join Serbia’s training camp, while three South Americans, Martín Cáceres, Erick Pulgar and Lucas Martínez Quarta find themselves in the same position.

This also effects the Italian Under-21 players in Fiorentina’s squad, Patrick Cutrone, Federico Brancolini and Christian Dalle Mure. They have as yet been unable to join up with the Italian squad, while Inter’s Alessandro Bastoni has on the other hand been able to move from the Under-21 squad to the senior squad.

When the news broke on Sunday night, we were told that 6 clubs were involved, along with Fiorentina, we had Roma, Lazio, Sassuolo, Genoa and Inter. It now seems that Inter can allow their players to travel, so long as it is done by private transport. How this helps things when they join up with their international team-mates is not exactly clear, although this too could change in the coming hours and days. To confuse things a little more, it appears that Inter’s Alessandro Bastoni and Roberto Gagliardini will arrive at the Italian camp already today, while Nicolò Barella and Danilo D’Ambrosio will not arrive until tomorrow.

It also needs to be pointed out that at present Italian manager, Roberto Mancini, is not even with the squad in Florence. As he recently tested positive for Covid-19, he will need to wait until Thursday to join his team, after they have already played their first game, a friendly in Florence with Estonia on Wednesday, November 11th. This will then leave him free to travel with the squad when they leave for Poland and then Bosnia for their two Nations League games, on Sunday 15th and Wednesday 18th.

Mancini certainly seems to have foreseen these current events, when he announced a 41-man squad for these three fixtures, which means he should have enough players available to him right now whatever happens. He has also called in a few new names to replace late withdrawals due to injury.

Meanwhile it also seems that other players from Inter including Romelu Lukaku and Lautaro Martínez have also left to join up with their respective national sides. Another player who already departed last night was Aleksandar Kolarov, joining up with the Serbian training camp, along with Lazio’s Sergej Milinković-Savić, while as we’ve already seen, Fiorentina’s Serbian pair Vlahović and Milenković have been prevented from doing the same. There was a statement this afternoon from Serbia’s manager, Ljubisa Tumbakovic, who stated that he expects the two Fiorentina players to join his squad.

It also emerged today that the South American football authorities of Uruguay, Argentina and Chile have decided to challenge the decision. They sent a joint statement to Fiorentina, stating that unless they receive official proof that Cáceres, Pulgar and Martínez Quarta are unable to travel, then they will expect to have the players with their squads. The Argentinians seem particularly upset and have said that if Martínez Quarta has a negative result from his next test then they will provide him with a private flight to allow him join up with the national side. They can hardly be blamed for wondering what exactly is happening when players such as Lazio’s Joaquín Correa has already arrived in Argentina.

So it looks like Fiorentina will have a lot to deal with right now, in either convincing the local ASL that their players should be allowed to travel, or else explaining to these understandably confused foreign football authorities how things work in Italy, and why their players are not allowed travel when other clubs, in the same situation, don’t seem to have this issue.

Lazio in fact have been allowed to let all of their foreign players leave for international duty while it’s the FIGC, Italy’s football ruling body who has blocked, for now, Francesco Acerbi from joining up with Italy. In the meantime, Sassuolo’s covid bubble will end tomorrow, Tuesday, allowing their players to leave for Coverciano. All perfectly clear no?

While all this is happening, there are also reports of an investigation into Lazio’s handling of the Covid tests around Ciro Immobile, Lucas Leiva and Thomas Strakosha. There seems to be a lot of confusion over their positive tests in Rome, but then testing negative when club owner, Claudio Lotito decided to use another test centre in Avellino.

We can also look back at the last international break, if we want to muddy these dark waters just a little more. Cristiano Ronaldo was just one of the Juventus players to leave the club’s self-imposed isolation to join up with their national sides. Later of course Ronaldo would test positive for Covid-19 while at Portugal’s training camp.

Overall it seems like there is no one set of rules for all the different local health authorities in Italy to follow, which means they will continue to give different advice and instructions to different clubs. This combined with the fact that the Italian football authorities on the other hand, have one strict set of rules which doesn’t take into account those ASL directives, means that these confrontations with clubs are set to continue for the foreseeable future.

With those in charge of football determined to keep the game going, the sense of these international breaks needs to be looked at, especially when we are talking about friendly matches and a competition such as the Nations League. Surely they should be more concerned about making sure that next year’s Euro Finals, already postponed this year, goes ahead.

We’re also in a period when international travel is severely restricted for most people around the world, and with case numbers continuing to rise, perhaps it’s time they realized that football players are not immune to Covid-19, and aside from the obvious health risks, bringing back more cases to the domestic leagues is only going to make it harder for the football authorities to keep their league competitions going.

The situation right now is changing with every passing hour, so don’t be surprised if by the time you read this, Fiorentina’s players have suddenly been given the all clear to join up with their national squads. Likewise, the opposite could also be true, with Fiorentina needing to confirm to those countries that they cannot allow their players to travel.

After all that, just before this gets published I do need to make a quick update. Vlahovic and Milenkovic are by now probably already in Serbia having earlier boarded a private plane chartered by the Serbian FA. Our South American trio, Caceres, Martinez Quarta and Pulgar will now also be travelling tomorrow, again on private flights organised by their countries FA's.

This does mean of course that they'll all miss Cesare Prandelli's first day back at the club!

For many football fans, the international break can usually be seen as nothing more than a disturbance to their normal weekly dose of Serie A football, this one however, could turn out to be a little more interesting, albeit for all the wrong reasons.