How are you and your family members? Tell us about the situation in Italy right now?
I’m fine and everyone in my family is doing well. I spent lockdown in Genoa with my wife Rosanna. Sampdoria have given us all the help we needed to get through a very difficult and unusual period. We were in contact with the club, the staff and the team every day, through chat and video conferences. But, obviously it’s not the same as the normal day-to-day that we are used to. For someone like me, who has always loved human contact and has travelled all over Europe and the world, finding myself stuck in a flat for such a long time was strange to say the very least. I did get used to it without any issues, however. Staying at home was really the only way to help the people in hospitals fighting to save coronavirus patients’ lives. In general, the Italian people have handled it extremely well. They made huge sacrifices during the most difficult part of the crisis.
When do you expect Serie A to restart? Are there any concerns you have in mind?
We’ve been back in training for a few days and are now waiting for the government to decide when the league can be resumed. There are many things to bear in mind, starting with medical and health issues, because nobody knows yet exactly what the consequences might be for the players who’ve tested positive for coronavirus. We’re proceeding with caution, which means many tests and player monitoring on a daily basis. Our habits have also changed. As coaches, for example, we have to keep wearing a protective mask on the pitch. If the league resumes, we’ll be playing many games in a short space of time, almost always three per week. And, it will be in the summer, the hottest part of the year. There are no similar cases in the past that can help us. We’ll have to call upon common sense and our ability to adapt. Luckily, the five-substitution rule has been approved. I was in favour of it and I am sure it will help us. If we resume, the games will be behind closed doors and football without fans isn’t football. We’ll be playing for three points in empty stadiums.
How different will it be for a coach to conduct a training session and prepare for a match with the social distancing norms and safety protocols in place?
I realise that each of us, coaches, assistants and players are doing all we can to adapt to a new situation. We’re doing our preparations once again, like we do when we come back after the summer, but it’s not after a holiday this time… We’re trying not to let these behavioural differences weigh on the team. I’m confident, but careful.
After two months without football, what it would mean to the players and also you to return to playing matches?
Being out on the pitch is everything for a footballer. They are professionals, but it’s their passion for the game that pushes them forward. Resuming training was very rewarding for them and now they have to get their fitness back and get ready mentally for matches. They diligently trained at home during lockdown and respected the training programmes that they were sent every day, but there’s a big difference between running on a treadmill or cycling on an exercise bike and drills with a ball at your feet. Footballers want to play, which is normal, but they’re worried about the same things as everyone else: themselves, their health and their families.
For a country that has been so badly affected by the Covid-19 pandemic, do you feel the resumption of Serie A might provide some happiness to the people?
During the peak of the Covid-19 crisis, I don’t think most Italians’ first thought was about football and the resumption of the league. Now that Italy is recovering, the level of interest is probably different, although like in Germany and other countries, fans will have to get used to watching games on television. It’ll be a new situation for those who are used to regularly going to the stadium. This is an aspect that football can’t underestimate because it’s the first time that it has happened in over 100 years. The game will be different, but just like everyone else all over the world, I hope that the football that we’ve always loved can make a comeback as soon as possible. Now we need to be careful and take responsibility, like in every single job.
Would it feel strange to play in empty stadiums?
As I’ve already said, it’ll be a strange, new and unnatural situation. I hope that we can return to normalcy soon. Every sport without the passion and support of fans is not the same. It’s a similar story in tennis when you clap after hitting a winner, isn’t it? Or when a 200-metre runner gets that boost from the supporters in the stands? Or when a cyclist has to go uphill with the crowd cheering them on? Athletes aren’t robots and they live to have those emotions running through their veins and to generate them for themselves and those watching. I was never involved in a match behind closed doors during my playing days, but it’s happened a few times to me as a coach, most recently with Sampdoria on March 8 before everything was brought to a halt. It didn’t feel like a home game, where the fans always play a key role and get behind the team, even when the scoreline isn’t going our way and it’s as if they are on the pitch as well. We won’t have that feeling for a while and we’ll certainly miss it.
What are the lessons the footballing world can learn from this pandemic?
That’s a difficult question to answer. I hope that everyone all over the world is stronger now after this terrible experience that we weren’t ready to face. That’s my wish, but we can’t be certain about anything. Football is experiencing a historic change just like every aspect of life, but it’s still early to know if everyone, with no exceptions, has learnt something new and significant. Football on the pitch will not change. The essence of the game will remain the same, but as a business there will be changes dictated by the consequences of the financial crisis that has affected every sector, sport included. I’m an eternal optimist, however, and definitely won’t be changing my philosophy.