The Spanish football club Valencia has criticised the coach of Italian team Atalanta for “putting the health of numerous people at risk’’ after confessing he had symptoms of Covid-19 prior to the Champions League match between the two sides in March.
In an interview with the Italian newspaper La Gazzetta dello Sport, Gian Piero Gasperini admitted he was very sick the day before the second leg match in Valencia on 10 March, which took place behind closed doors, but that he was afraid to go to a hospital as they were overflowing with Covid-19 patients at the time.
Atalanta is based in Bergamo, one of the cities in Italy hardest hit by Covid-19. The first leg Champions League match between the two clubs, on 19 February, in Milan, is thought to be among the main factors that contributed to an escalation of cases in Italy’s worst-affected province and has been described as the “biological bomb” that turned the north of the country into the centre of the country’s outbreak.
That day, about 40,000 football fans from Bergamo travelled the 30 miles (50km) to Milan’s San Siro stadium to watch Atalanta beat Valencia 4-1.
“I was afraid,” Gaperini said. “The day before the match in Valencia I wasn’t well; the afternoon of the match I felt even worse. The following two nights after the match, I didn’t sleep much. I didn’t have a fever, but I felt miserable, as if I had a fever of 40 degrees. Ambulances went by every two minutes. The hospital was nearby. I was as if we were at war. At night, I thought: ‘If I end up there, who knows what will happen to me?’ I can’t leave now, with so much to do …”
“If you look at the pictures, I did not look good on the bench,” he added.
An antibodies test carried out 10 days ago confirmed Gasperini had contracted the virus.
On 16 March, a week after the match, Valencia announced that “around 35%” of their players and backroom staff had tested positive for coronavirus.
In a statement on Monday, the Spanish club said: “Following the statements made by the Atalanta coach, Gian Piero Gasperini, Valencia FC wishes to publicly express its surprise over the fact that the coach of the rival team has admitted that he knew he apparently had symptoms compatible with the coronavirus on both the day of the match played in Mestalla – which Atalanta won 4-3 – and the day before. And yet he took no preventive measures, thereby potentially putting the health of numerous people at risk during both his journey to, and stay in, Valencia.”
“It should be remembered,” it added, “that this game was played behind closed doors in accordance with the strict measures put in place by Spanish health authorities to prevent the risk of Covid-19 transmission, especially in the case of people coming from an area that had already been declared a public risk zone.”
Italy has the third highest coronavirus death toll in the world, with more than 33,000 deaths.
Gasperini said he self-isolated for three weeks at Atalanta’s training ground after the trip to Valencia and respected social distancing with his family.
Like Italy, Spain has been particularly hard hit by the virus. To date, there have been 239,638 cases and 21,127 deaths.
However, the country’s strict lockdown, which has been in force since 14 March, has succeeded in containing the virus. On Monday, Spain reported no Covid-19 deaths over the previous 24 hours for the first time since the beginning of March. The prime minister, Pedro Sánchez, has said he will seek congress’s approval for a sixth and final extension of the state of emergency, which will expire on 21 June.