Football will always have a raw intensity and a unique ability to make anyone that steps over that white line feel the need to win. We see this is in the parks, recreational grounds and in any amateur version of the game. Inter’s Europa League fixture took place at an eerily empty San Siro due to the Coronavirus outbreak, a situation that engulfs Italy and may soon do the same to the rest of Europe. It only served to prove that this sport is still beautiful, even without the fans.
There are two obvious issues that need to be clarified. The Coronavirus needs more discussion and football without fans is much, much worse. Personally, as I write, my trips to Venice (then Hellas Verona), Genoa and Milan look to be cancelled. The frustration is felt, just as the huge effects of a virus that is beyond control is also felt. Medical personnel will be better placed to talk about this, after all, one is only missing football. When all is said and done, public safety is as important as fear-mongering.
As the creator of the niche website ‘The Gentleman Ultra’ I spend time on the Curva, especially with Inter. The reason I went to Italy in the first place, back in 2006, was to satisfy a craving I’d felt since 1990.
So how do we view the game behind closed doors? After all, this will also be case for the Derby D’Italia on Sunday, along with another four Serie A fixtures this weekend.
Inter played Ludogorets at San Siro with only the shouts of their teammates to be heard. It felt at first like a house party without music, yet the participants were dancing anyway. So, what did we learn?
What we learned in this game is that players care. They want to win, they still put in 100%. The Bulgarians were not over-awed and the Italians played with intensity. What was different about this to the first leg? Inter won the game, the players celebrated and it mattered. Was it as intense as with the crowd? No, but it was not far off. The issues with Daniele Padelli remained, Romelu Lukaku still performed, would this be that much different with the Curva in view? In fairness, the players who didn’t perform under less pressure have to answer.
Instead, we realised that football isn’t just about the fans, the city and the real heart of the game. We need to realise that the crowd do not make the team up their game 50%, but just maybe they can 5%. That is why home advantage matters. The Europa League game still mattered to the players and if anything, the quality was a little better, as there was less pressure.
Inter versus Ludogorets was raw, it was certainly with pressure, but it was not gladiatorial. What it showed was the basics of football, the beautiful game just played between two teams without the baying crowds, just like in any park this weekend. Maybe you expected a tactical analysis. I think this is more important. Do not ask if the players care anymore.