In a year that’s redefined our understanding of normal and common, Serie A and its fans were subject to a bizarre scene that nobody enjoyed on Sunday night – and one we’ll hopefully never see again.
“Awaiting arrival of away team,” is what flashed across the TV screen as Juventus players appeared outside their dressing room, a phrase I’ve never come across in all my days of watching the beautiful game.
Seeing the faces of Gianluigi Buffon, Leonardo Bonucci and Weston McKennie gave a sense of normalcy, a sign that the Bianconeri were ready for their match with Napoli.
The problem was the Partenopei weren’t in the stadium. They weren’t even in the same city. They were tucked away in the other end of the country.
Napoli were told by local health authorities to self-isolate after two players and one staff member tested positive for COVID-19 on Saturday, with the authorities taking it one step further on Sunday by prohibiting them from travelling to Turin.
The problem is the Partenopei could still play according to the new Serie A protocol that states a match can be played as long as a team has 13 players, one of which is a goalkeeper.
As a result, Napoli boss Aureilio De Laurentiis spoke with Juve counterpart Andrea Agnelli in an attempt to postpone the match. Rightly so, it didn’t work.
It’s a situation other clubs have navigated despite the odd positive test here and there. All have been able to play their matches outside of Genoa, who’s recent massive outbreak forced authorities to postpone their match with Torino.
Given the prolonged talks between the FIGC and the Italian government that were needed to even get football back up and running in the country, it’s certainly a head scratcher to see all that brought to a halt by local health authorities. All so very bizarre. All so very Italian.
In a country that seems to enjoy off-field controversy as much as on-field action, there will be no shortage of takes and stances over the coming days as this issue won’t be going away anytime soon.
Maybe new measures will be adopted, maybe they won’t. What is for certain is that nobody wants to see Sunday night’s farce play out again.
Only 15-20 fans out of a possible 1,000 actually showed up to the Allianz Stadium, and its unlikely any of this will impact their enjoyment of the product moving forward.
However there are countless Serie A fans across the world, and many more neutrals that would have perhaps tuned in to see an early season clash between two rivals. Instead, there was no mention of what was happening on Napoli’s website or any of their social media channels. Juventus continued on as if everything was normal.
Perhaps it’s a reminder to all of us that these are uncertain, unclear and unique times, a fact that many of us, including myself, may have forgotten given how smoothly things have gone since the restart.
That all changed in a hurry. The new season has brought with it a challenge that will have to be resolved quickly, or the Serie A campaign runs the risk of going off the rails.
What will happen if a similar situation plays out at Fiorentina? or Benevento? What will their local authorities decide? Will there be a plan in place to ensure things are decided on the field?
Let’s hope the answers we get are clearer than the ones offered on Sunday, as nobody wants to wait around for a sad spectacle like that again.