It was supposed to be Juventus-Napoli, an early big match in Serie A and the first time Gennaro Gattuso faced against his old friend Andrea Pirlo, but not only that. A revamped Azzurri side against the Old Lady of Italian football who wants to close the perfect domestic decade lead by one of the man who begun an incredible winning streak of Serie A titles from the pitch. It was to be a very different night.
Juve have been following their daily matchday routine as if nothing had happened in the previous 24 hours. The players, who are in self-isolation at the J Hotel after two of the staff members tested positive, trained in the morning at the Continassa, then had lunch and went to the Allianz Stadium by bus, which is just metres away from their training centre.
Outside the Stadium, nothing could indicate that this night would have been different from many others when games are usually played. Regular accreditation process, regular health checks at the stadium’s gates, Juventus had even invited the 1,000 fans that are allowed to watch the game from the stands of the Stadium. About 100 of them showed up.
Despite that, everyone knew there would be no match. The regular Juventus schedule was only interrupted when the players were about to leave their dressing room for the warm-up training. The likes of Weston McKennie and Leonardo Bonucci appeared just outside the dressing room door through the monitor screen where a message said: “Awaiting arrival of away team.” Which never arrived, because they were on the other side of the country.
Only Igor Tudor, Gigi Buffon and a couple of staff members entered the pitch before Andrea Agnelli’s interview to Sky Sport Italia and his successive press conference for us journalists at the Stadium.
So, why all the pantomime? Juventus believe Napoli breached the Serie A protocol that was approved only a few days ago and Pirlo’s team needed to show up to demand a 3-0 win by default.
Napoli, as is widely known, didn’t travel to Turin following a statement of the local health authority (ASL) on Saturday night that told the Partenopei to self-isolate after they had had two players and one member of the staff who tested positive for Covid-19. Technically, not a ban from travelling, but the ASL came back later on Sunday to say it specifically prohibited Napoli to travel to Turin.
It is a matter of fact that Napoli have been facing the same situation that many other clubs in Italy and Europe are living. Anyway, none of them were prevented from playing, apart from Napoli’s last Serie A opponents Genoa, who have had a massive outbreak with 22 people who tested positive for Coronavirus, 17 of whom are footballers.
The trouble is, Serie A copied the UEFA protocols stating that if a team has 13 players, including at least one goalkeeper, the match can go ahead. The Serie A protocol, however, also states that local health authorities or Government can over-ride their rules if travel is banned.
Napoli did not help their case when mentioning absolutely nothing about the situation on their website, Twitter or with a formal statement. Juventus acted as if nothing had happened, so did the Partenopei, and fans were left confused, wondering if they were going insane.
Many doubts, only one sure thing: this was another sad day for Italian football and even if Juventus-Napoli was not played, the game is going to drag on off the field and in the halls of power.