ROME — No soccer balls. No contact with teammates. And no entering the locker room.
One by one, Serie A players are returning to the training field this week under a strict set of guidelines amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Ten Sassuolo players were the first ones back Monday, with each player working out on their own at the club’s training facility. Players were spread out over several fields — some had an entire field to themselves — and performed only light running exercises without any balls involved.
Another 10 Sassuolo players were due for workouts on Tuesday, when league-leader Juventus, Atalanta, Bologna and Udinese were also restarting.
Most of the other Italian league clubs were also expected to resume training on an individual basis this week before full team training is slated to restart on May 18.
“There’s a big desire to resume playing and the return to training, even individually, was definitely positive because little by little the players are returning to their jobs — whether or not the season resumes,” said Damiano Tommasi, the president of the Italian soccer players’ association.
Having already been tested for the virus, cleared players are showing up at training centres already dressed for practice then leave immediately afterward to shower at home.
Cristiano Ronaldo arrived back in Turin late Monday after spending most of the lockdown at home in Madeira, Portugal, meaning he’ll now have to spend 14 days in isolation before reporting to Juventus for training.
AC Milan has been the only major holdout so far, seeking more clarification from health and government officials before calling their players back to train.
While soccer officials hope to resume the season in June without fans, the Italian government has not given the go-ahead yet for the remaining 124 games.
The government is waiting for soccer officials to revise their protocol for what to do if a player or team member gets infected after returning to training: quarantine the entire team — which could quite possibly result in the season being suspended again — or only the positive player or team member.
“Team training will resume May 18 if the protocol is approved,” said Vincenzo Spadafora, Italy’s sports minister. “We should have a response by the end of the week.”
The Italian government is likely watching to see what Germany decides Wednesday on restarting the Bundesliga.
“I’ll do everything I can so Serie A can resume safely,” Spadafora said. “At the same time, however, I can’t tell you now if it can restart a month from now or in mid-June.”
At least 15 Serie A players have tested positive for the virus since the league was suspended on March 9, when the government ordered a nationwide lockdown. Juventus standout Paulo Dybala and Atalanta reserve goalkeeper Marco Sportiello were reportedly still positive after several weeks of tests.
About 4.4 million Italians were allowed to go back to work Monday and more people ventured out after restrictions on movement eased for the first time in nearly two months.
There are 12 rounds remaining in Serie A, plus four matches that were postponed from the 25th round. Also, the Italian Cup semifinals were interrupted after the first-leg matches.
“The only certain thing is that nobody has answers,” Tommasi said, “and therefore it’s even more complicated to make decisions and know what the right thing to do is.”
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Andrew Dampf is at https://twitter.com/AndrewDampf