MILAN, Italy, May 31 – Atalanta coach Gian Piero Gasperini revealed Sunday he thought he would die as he suffered coronavirus symptoms when the Italian team played their Champions League match against Valencia in March.
Gasperini told the Gazzetta Dello Sport that he was sick when Atalanta beat Valencia 4-3 behind closed doors at the Mestalla stadium on March 10, to reach the quarter-finals with an 8-4 aggregate victory.
“The day before the Valencia game I was sick, the afternoon of the game worse. I didn’t look good on the bench,” said Gasperini.
“It was March 10. The following two nights in Zingonia (Atalanta’s training centre) I slept little. I didn’t have a fever, but I felt shattered, like I had one at 40 (degrees).
“An ambulance passed every two minutes. There is a hospital nearby. It seemed like a war zone. At night I thought: ‘if I go in there, what happens to me’?
“I can’t go now, I have so many things to do … I was saying it jokingly, to lighten things. But I really thought so.”
Gasperini, 62, said he was never swabbed as he had not suffered from a fever, but 10 days ago serological tests confirmed he had COVID-19.
“I have antibodies, which does not mean that I am now immune,” he added.
Valencia said on Sunday that they were “surprised” to see Gasperini say he was “aware of suffering symptoms theoretically compatible with those of coronavirus, without taking preventive measures”.
“Such actions, if this was the case, would have put at risk numerous people during the trip to — and stay in — Valencia,” the La Liga club said in a statement.
“This game was held behind closed doors amidst strict safety measures, on the order of the Spanish health authorities, to prevent the risk of COVID-19 contagion, precisely due to the presence of persons from an area already publicly classified as ‘at risk’ at that time.”
– ‘Centre of evil’ –
Gasperini said that four days after the Valencia game he felt the worst was over, after a workout like he hadn’t had in years and running 10km on the treadmill, but he then lost his sense of taste.
A celebratory meal and vintage 2008 Dom Perignon sent by a Michelin-starred chef and Atalanta fan, tasted like “water and bread”, Gasperini said.
Bergamo, in the northern Lombardy region, was one of the epicentres of the coronavirus pandemic, with many experts believing Atalanta’s Champions League game at the San Siro on February 19 to be one of the key causes.
More than 40,000 fans travelled the 60km to Milan, joining in celebrations for a historic 4-1 win in the club’s first elite European campaign.
“Every time I think about it, it seems absurd to me: the historic peak of sporting happiness coincided with the greatest pain in the city,” said Gasperini.
“It will take years to truly understand what happened, because right here was the centre of evil.”
– ‘Help Bergamo start again’ –
Serie A will return to action after a three-month absence on June 20, and the former Inter Milan and Genoa coach backs the decision.
“We had every interest to keep the table as it was and play only the Champions League,” said Gasperini, whose side are fourth, 15 points behind leaders Juventus.
“But from the lads to the club we just felt like playing.”
“Some consider it amoral to start again” he continued.
“I saw people singing on the balconies of Italy while Bergamo loaded their coffins onto trucks. I didn’t consider it ‘amoral’.
“I considered it an instinctive reaction, an attempt to cling to life, to react.
“Atalanta can help Bergamo to start again …the people of Bergamo are embers under the ashes.
“The team has remained connected with Bergamo’s suffering and will bring it to the pitch.”