Juve Napoli Ruckus Is Another Loss for Calcio: Here’s What Happened

No matter how you look at it, this weekend’s Juventus – Napoli drama was a poor figure for the calcio system who once again showed its lack of unity and difficulty in reaching a clear and univocal position.

The match at the Allianz Stadium between the Bianconeri and the Azzurri scheduled for tonight at 8.45 PM will not be played as Napoli were reportedly ordered to undergo quarantine by the Campania Region Local Health Unit following some of his players and staff testing positive for coronavirus. Napoli will respect the ruling and will not leave for Turin.

Juventus’ positition, however, is different, with the Bianconeri ready to show up at the Allianz Stadium tonight – vainly hoping for their opponents to appear  – and in case ask to be forfeited the game.

That seems to be the same direction followed by the Serie A League (Lega Calcio) board who on Saturday late night confirmed the match to be still on and has not changed its position at the time of writing.

The anticipation for what could have been an exciting battle on the pitch – the first real test ahead of the Scudetto race – turned into a whirlwind of contrasting positions, diverging interpretations, legislative loopholes, and ultimately the disappointing conclusion that things and rules are not clear, not even in the face of a recrudescence of the COVID-19 cases in Italy. (2844 people tested positive yesterday – that’s the highest number since April in the Belpaese)

So let’s try to recap and see what happened in these past 48 hours that showed once again the worst face of calcio – the quarrelsome one.

In the wake of a coronavirus outbreak among the lines of Genoa – with 19 players and staff testing positive to COVID-19 – the Italian Football League had already postponed the Rossoblu’s game against Torino, originally scheduled for Saturday.

The full Napoli entourage were tested for the virus on Tuesday as the Partenopei had been Genoa’s last opponents one week ago. All players and staff tested negative. However, a second round of tests on Thursday reported midfielder Piotr Zielinski, as well as a Napoli staff member, as positive.

Zielinski was soon joined by Elif Elmas, who was reported as infected by the coronavirus yesterday. Both players went in quarantine, while the rest of the Partenopei regularly took part in the last training session before their departure for Turin – which was scheduled for 6.00 PM.

With a document published on October 2, the Lega Serie A made it clear that, in case some players tested positive to COVID, as long as a club has at least 13 players available including one goalkeeper, their scheduled matches should be played regularly. They added, however, that such disposition could be overruled by “different dispositions given by the national and local health authorities.” Enter the loophole that made things complicated.

With some Partenopei staff already at the airport, the Local Health Unit in Naples reportedly “blocked” the club’s departure for Turin. Napoli players were meant to come back home and go into self-isolation. It would be later explained that, in the wake of Zielinksi and Elmas’ positivity, the Napoli management had contacted multiple times the Local Health Unit in order to receive some clear instructions on how to proceed.

Clear seems to be the key word here, as the Campania’s health authorities instructions seem to have left some room for interpretation. Or perhaps were not clear enough. Or perhaps – and more likely – were understood differently by each part, basing on their interests.

Later in the night, Juventus were quick to cover themselves as they announced in a tweet that their team would be regularly showing up at the Allianz Stadium on Sunday night. For them, the match was up and running. Their position seemed to be backed by the Lega Calcio who, at 11.30 PM on Saturday, confirmed that the match was meant to be played as scheduled.

According to Italian leading news agency ANSA, the Local Health Unit’s disposition did not clearly forbid Napoli from traveling but only advised players and staff members to go on “voluntary isolation.” The local health authorities supposedly didn’t have the authority to rule on a situation that should be rather regulated by the Ministry for Sport’s protocol for professional athletes.

Basing on the protocol introduced when the Serie A restarted after the lockdown, Napoli players who tested negative for COVID-19 could regularly travel, play their game, and then come back into self-isolation – and that seems to have been the Lega Serie A’s position since Saturday.

On Sunday morning, however, there seemed to be a sudden change of disposition as Italian Football Federation (FIGC) board member Pietro Lo Monaco anticipated in an interview with a local Napoli radio: “We are looking at postponing the game, Juventus – Napoli will be rescheduled to a date yet to be decided. The Lega Calcio’s document from October 2 is clear. The Local Health Unit’s ruling is a legitimate one and the regulation is clear.

Still, the FIGC and the Lega Serie A are two different organs and so far the Lega‘s position has not changed. Juventus – Napoli remains to be played as scheduled.

One thing is for sure, at least in our view. In view of yesterday’s ruckus, there are no longer the conditions to play Juventus – Napoli in a safe, constructive, and enjoyable atmosphere. The outcome of the pitch – no matter what it would be – would lead to additional controversies and recriminations from either side.

And, there seems to be already enough controversy going around, together with the need to take note that, once again, the various calcio components could not find a univocal agreement. Expect more battles to come in the following days – and no, we are not talking about battles on a football pitch.