Inter, AC Milan back training after two-month lockdown in coronavirus epicentre

Milan (AFP) –


Italian football giants Inter Milan and AC Milan were both back training Friday two months after a strict lockdown which has hit the northern Italian city hard.

Inter said all their players and staff have tested negative for coronavirus on Friday, clearing the way for them to return to individual training in the afternoon.

"All the medical tests that the first team underwent have come back negative," the team said in a statement.

"Optional individual training sessions will begin this afternoon."

City rivals AC Milan resumed earlier in the week with club technical director Paolo Maldini warning on Friday "not going back on the pitch would be a disaster."

Former Italy captain Maldini, together with his 18-year-old son Daniel, a Milan youth team player, have both recovered from coronavirus.

"You have to be careful, but not to resume would be a disaster from all points of view," 51-year-old Maldini said during a live Instagram chat on Friday with former Milan teammate Filippo Inzaghi.

"France were wrong to decree the end immediately, but we will accept what will be the verdict of the government. There is so much uncertainty."

The city in the northern Lombardy region is the epicentre of Italy's outbreak, one of the worst in Europe in terms of deaths and infections.

Lombardy has suffered some 15,000 deaths, around half of Italy's 30,000 coronavirus fatalities, since the outbreak first erupted in early March.

Both Milan clubs insisted they were taking the maximum precautions.

"We have closed the common areas of Milanello," said Maldini. "The players are divided into four for each pitch and in 12 you can work well anyway."

Inter added: "The club maintains the utmost attention to preventive measures to safeguard the health of the players and all members of the club, in accordance with all the governmental and public health protection guidelines."

- 'Negative signals' -

One by one stars have returned to Italy with Juventus forward Cristiano Ronaldo is in two weeks' coronavirus quarantine as his team got back training on Tuesday.

AC Milan were on Friday awaiting the belated return of Zlatan Ibrahimovic from a protracted exile in Sweden.

But opinions are divided on whether to follow France and the Netherlands and end the season or the Bundesliga and return behind closed doors.

The Italian Football Federation (FIGC) met on Thursday with the government's technical scientific committee to discuss details of the medical protocol for a return to group training.

"Tell us what we need to do to return to play," FIGC president Gabriele Gravina was reported to have told government officials.

Italian Sports Minister Vincenzo Spadafora said afterwards he was "hopeful" team training could resume on May 18.

"I don't want to risk forecasts at this time, we must be careful," said Spadafora. "If it is to be resumed, it will be behind closed doors."

Almost at the same time as the meeting two clubs, Fiorentina and Sampdoria, announced ten positive tests -- seven players and three staff members.

In addition, a Torino player tested positive on Wednesday, giving "extremely negative signals for a restart of the championship," said the daily Il Messagero.

Italian football bosses want to follow the example of Germany, which returns to action on May 16 and where only positive cases would be put into isolation.

But the scientific committee insists that football must comply with the general rule that those who have been in contact with positive cases should be isolated.

In this scenario, any positive screening after the resumption of collective training on May 18, would sideline the entire team.

Another obstacle is that the scientific committee protocol requires regular repeated screening for each player, which means clubs would need to acquire a considerable number of testing kits, which could prove difficult in regions such as Lombardy.

There is also the problem of individual regions which could refuse to host teams from highly-infected areas.