“The virus reaches the Champions League.”
That is Madrid paper AS’ front page headline on Monday morning, reflecting a development that is rocking UEFA’s premier club competition.
Ninety-three Atlético Madrid players, personnel and staff were administered coronavirus tests on Saturday, two days before the team was set to jet off for Lisbon to finish preparations for the Champions League quarterfinals. Ninety-one players, personnel and staff tested negative for COVID-19.
Two did not.
Atlético confirmed the news via a lengthy Sunday evening statement, and made clear that it followed properly all guidelines and regulations. The two who tested positive were sent home to isolate, and the club alerted the relevant organizations in Spain and Portugal. Atleti planned to touch down in Lisbon on Monday — now, no one knows when the team will arrive, or in what condition.
A lot of conflicting information circulated around social media on Sunday as the story developed rapidly. This is as good a time as any to separate the known from the unknown, with as little irresponsible speculation as possible.
(This story will be updated.)
What we know
- Two PLAYERS tested positive for the novel coronavirus.
This has been reported by both Madrid dailies, as well as major outlets Cadena Cope and Cadena SER. To this point, each organization has respected Atlético’s wishes by not revealing the now-quarantined squad members. Goal further corroborated these reports and the website went so far as to say it knows the players’ identities, but would not reveal them out of respect.
Obviously, these two players will not travel to Lisbon (whenever Atleti head there) and it should be easy to figure out their identities based on Diego Simeone’s next squad list.
- The club will repeat the testing and again report the results to UEFA.
As written above, the club insisted that it followed each domestic and continental policy to the letter. UEFA requires full clearance within 48-72 hours of travel (which is why the testing occurred on Saturday the 8th), and Atlético immediately reported the positives to UEFA, the Spanish Football Federation, the Portuguese Football Federation, and health authorities in both countries. The club then moved to hold another round of testing, and those results should be communicated sometime Monday.
What’s more, Atlético claimed it continued to test players and personnel weekly, as LaLiga mandated — even going so far as to retain the supervisor LaLiga appointed to oversee the testing over the league’s final 11 matchdays. That said, Atleti apparently will turn to a special molecular test to ensure there are no more surprises.
- UEFA protocol requires 13 available players (including a goalkeeper) for a Champions League match to go ahead.
This is important to note and a segue into the next section, which is...
What we don’t know
- Who tested positive
It’s possible that a coach or a staffer registered the other positive test. It’s possible that person had already been isolated or away from the team’s training sessions in Majadahonda. And hopefully, said person — along with the seemingly-confirmed player — is on the road to recovery from a disease that has killed over 730,000 people worldwide (and 28,000 in Spain) as of Sunday night.
- When Atlético will arrive in Portugal
Los Rojiblancos were due to arrive in Lisbon at some point Monday. They were to train at Benfica’s Seixal academy grounds — where João Félix once called home — before kicking off their quarterfinal against RB Leipzig at Estadio José Alvalade on Thursday night.
Those plans have been scrapped. Theoretically, Atlético could still leave for the Portuguese capital late Monday — but the club may be forced to wait it out until Wednesday or even Thursday. This would create a logistical nightmare, though it could be the worst-case scenario based on how Monday’s results look. That said, we have to consider...
- What happens if the virus has spread throughout the team
Atlético announced just the two positive tests on Sunday, but this is not the first time the club has had to distribute similar information during the pandemic. The Cadena SER report linked above highlights fears within the club that more positives will appear with another round of testing.
If coronavirus is indeed bouncing around the squad, Atlético and UEFA would have quite the problem on their hands. COPE claimed later Sunday that European football’s governing body has no interest in postponing Los Rojiblancos’ quarterfinal, so if that’s true, Simeone would have to trot out whoever tested negative.
The doomsday outcome would see the virus’ reach being far enough that most of the team ends up quarantined. In that case, UEFA could declare Leipzig 3-0 winners and boot Atleti out of the competition. However, the Portuguese government would be involved in making that decision, as the mini-tournament takes place on its soil.
While we wait anxiously for more information, please enjoy this (admittedly unwise and poorly-time) Thomas Partey TikTok. Seems like he’s okay.