Italian football giants Inter Milan and AC Milan were both back training on Friday two months after a strict lockdown which has hit the northern Italian city hard.
Captain Samir Handanovic led the way in the afternoon as players, including Belgium striker Romelu Lukaku, wearing face masks and some in gloves, arrived at the team’s Appiano Gentile training centre, 35km northwest of Milan.
Inter said all their players and staff had tested negative for the coronavirus on Friday, clearing the way for them to return to individual training.
Temperatures were taken on arrival with three groups of players alternating in the afternoon to respect social distancing rules.
Their city rival resumed earlier in the week with club technical director Paolo Maldini warning “not going back on the pitch would be a disaster.”
Former captain Maldini, together with his 18-year-old son Daniel, a Milan youth team player, have both recovered from COVID-19, but the San Siro outfit revealed on Friday that some squad members are still not negative.
“You have to be careful, but not to resume would be a disaster from all points of view,” 51-year-old Maldini said during an Instagram Live chat on Friday.
“France were wrong to decree the end immediately, but we will accept what will be the verdict of the government. There is so much uncertainty.”
The city in the northern Lombardy region is the epicentre of Italy’s outbreak, one of the worst in Europe in terms of deaths and infections.
It has suffered some 15,000 deaths, around half of Italy’s 30,000 coronavirus fatalities, since the outbreak first erupted in early March.
– ‘Negative signals’ –
One by one stars have returned to Italy with Juventus forward Cristiano Ronaldo in two weeks’ coronavirus quarantine as his team got back to training on Tuesday.
Milan are awaiting the return of Swedish star Zlatan Ibrahimovic early next week.
But opinions are divided on whether to follow France and the Netherlands and end the season or the Bundesliga and return behind closed doors.
The Italian Football Federation (FIGC) met on Thursday with the government’s technical scientific committee to discuss details of the medical protocol for a return to group training.
“Tell us what we need to do to return to play,” FIGC president Gabriele Gravina was reported to have told government officials.
Italian Sports Minister Vincenzo Spadafora said afterwards he was “hopeful” group training could resume on May 18.
“I don’t want to risk forecasts at this time, we must be careful,” said Spadafora. “If it is to be resumed, it will be behind closed doors.”
Almost at the same time as the meeting two clubs, Fiorentina and Sampdoria, announced ten positive tests — seven players and three staff members.
In addition, a Torino player tested positive on Wednesday, giving “extremely negative signals for a restart of the championship,” according to newspaper Il Messagero.
Italian football bosses want to follow the example of Germany, which returns to action on May 16 and where only positive cases would be put into isolation.
But the scientific committee insisted football must comply with the general rule that those who have been in contact with positive cases should be isolated.
In this scenario, any positive screening after the resumption of collective training on May 18, would sideline the entire team.
Another obstacle is the scientific committee protocol requires regular repeated screening for each player, which means clubs would need to acquire a considerable number of testing kits, which could prove difficult in regions such as Lombardy.
There is also the problem of individual regions which could refuse to host teams from highly-infected areas.
Serie A, meanwhile, has called an emergency assembly next Wednesday to take stock of the situation, and also to discuss TV rights.