Atalanta coach Gian Piero Gasperini reveals he had COVID-19 on the day of their Champions League match with Valencia. ‘I thought I can’t go now, I have so much still to do…’
Bergamo was one of the epicentres of the pandemic in Italy and many experts cite that Round of 16 game at San Siro as one of the key causes, as 40,000 travelled to Milan and back, joining in celebrations for this historic 4-1 result.
“I felt ill the day before the Valencia game, then on the afternoon of the match I felt even worse,” Gasperini told La Gazzetta dello Sport.
“If you look at the pictures, I did not look good on the bench. That was March 10. The two nights afterwards, I did not sleep well. I didn’t have a fever, but I felt like I did.
“Every two minutes, an ambulance would go past, as there’s a hospital near the training ground. It sounded like a warzone. At night I would think, what will happen to me if I go into that hospital? I can’t go now, I have so much still to do…
“It was in a way a joke with myself to lighten the mood, but on the other hand, I really did think about that. Then, on Saturday March 14, I had the toughest training session in years, an hour on the running machine, plus a 10km run. I felt strong, wonderful.”
It has only recently emerged that loss of taste can be a sign of COVID-19, but Gasperini describes the symptoms perfectly.
“The day after, the team received food and 2008 Dom Perignon from a Michelin-star chef who is a fan of Atalanta. I tasted it and said: ‘This is water…’ The food tasted like bread. I had completely lost my sense of taste.
“I stayed at the Zingonia training ground for three weeks. When I did get back to my home in Turin, I always respected social distancing with my wife and children. As I never had a fever, I didn’t do the swab test, but 10 days ago the blood tests confirmed I had COVID-19.
“I have the antibodies, but that does not mean I am now immune.”
Bergamo provided the most haunting image of the pandemic in Italy, a convoy of military trucks taking coffins for cremation to other cities, because their facilities could not keep up with the growing pile of bodies.
“There is this deep, dignified sadness in the city. The air is thick with it, you feel it everywhere, in the street, in people’s eyes, in the shuttered bars and restaurants, in the silence of my staff member who lost his father.
“It’ll take years to truly understand what happened, because this was the centre of the tragedy. Every time I think about it, this feels so absurd: the peak of sporting joy coincided with the depths of despair for Bergamo.”
There are some Atalanta ultras who are protesting the decision to resume Serie A football on June 20, but Gasperini insists the city is behind them.
“We asked ourselves this many times, but what some might call amoral, others see as an instinctive reaction, clinging to life and reacting to death. Atalanta can help Bergamo to get back on its feet, while respecting everyone’s pain and mourning.
“It’ll take time before we can see the joyful scenes in the square or at the airport again, but the people of Bergamo are the burning embers under the ash. They will slowly emerge again. This team remained connected to the suffering of Bergamo, none of the players left the city during the lockdown, and they will represent Bergamo on the pitch.”
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