Italy's football bosses take to name-calling over virus

Rome (AFP) –


Italy's football schedule has been thrown into disarray by the new coronavirus and its bosses are taking out their frustrations via social media and calling each other names.

The football-mad Mediterranean country has borne the European brunt of the COVID-19 disease now sweeping across much of the world.

More than 2,000 people have tested positive and 52 have died from the virus in Italy since February 22.

The big problem for football is that the Italian epicentre of the outbreak is in the northern part of the country where many of the big teams play.

Milan's Lombardy region has recorded 38 deaths and its western neighbour Piedmont -- home to Cristiano Ronaldo's Juventus -- has also been heavily hit.

Now the bosses of Inter Milan are lashing out at league president Paolo Dal Pino for what they view as completely random scheduling decisions that favour specific teams.

Inter's Chinese chairman Steven Zhang posted a somewhat extraordinary missive on his verified Instagram account Tuesday calling Dal Pino a "clown".

"Playing around (with) the calendar and always putting the public health as secondary consideration," Zhang wrote in English.

"You are probably the biggest and darkest clown I have ever seen."

Zhang then posted what a "face vomiting" emoji to illustrate the strength of his feelings about Dal Pino's scheduling moves.

"How about we don't protect our players or coaches and ask them to play for you 24/7 nonstop?" he somewhat rhetorically asked.

"Yes, I am speaking at you. Our Lega President #PauloDalPino! #shameonyou."

- 'Playground squabbling' -

Zhang and other Italian football bigwigs could be forgiven for being a little upset.

Inter have not played in Serie A since losing to surprise league leaders Lazio on February 16.

They trail second-placed Juventus by six points but have a game in hand.

But it is far from clear just when that game might be played.

Their home match against Sampdoria and last weekend's title clash with Juventus were both postponed.

Inter wanted the Juve match played behind closed doors so that players did not lose form.

Their last meaningful match was against Bulgaria's Ludogorets in the Europa League last week.

It was a drab affair they won 2-1 at an empty San Siro stadium in Milan.

All the postponements have created massive confusion and a logistical nightmare.

Some of the matches are being rescheduled for May 13 -- theoretically the time the Italian Cup final should have been played.

Inter could be in that final if they manage to overturn a 1-0 deficit away to Napoli in the return leg of their semi-final tie on Thursday.

That match is still scheduled to go ahead.

Inter chief executive Beppe Marotta called Dal Pino's various scheduling moves "impractical and almost provocative".

"You find teams that haven't played for two weeks, others that play continuously," Marotta fumed in a separate TV interview.

Dal Pino has not said much in self-defence and largely avoided the media.

But Italian Olympic Committee boss Giovanni Malago -- himself facing uncertainty about whether the Tokyo Summer Games will go ahead in July -- told La Repubblica daily it was time for everyone to calm down.

"Health comes before everything, and that includes football," Malago said.

"There are people dying, people getting sick, and people trying to bring this global emergency under control," he said.

"I'd say it is time to stop this playground squabbling."