Neil Humphreys: EPL must take heed from Paulo Dybala's nightmare
Juventus forward still testing positive for coronavirus - six weeks after first diagnosis - highlighting the stupidity of rushing football's return
Six weeks ago, Paulo Dybala was a lively, robust forward for both Juventus and Argentina. Now, he struggles to breathe normally.
Covid-19 continues to stall his recovery.
Despite being an otherwise healthy 26-year-old athlete, Dybala has tested positive four times in six weeks. That's not a typo and he's not an anomaly.
Atalanta goalkeeper Marco Sportiello, 27, still has Covid-19, a month after his initial diagnosis. The Serie A shot-stopper tested positive, negative and positive again for the relentless disease.
Both Dybala and Sportiello are healthy men, in peak physical condition, but the virus respects neither fitness nor fame. The illness persists.
Their symptoms are not serious, but their inability to entirely shake off such a contagious disease highlights the stupidity of those pushing for an early return.
We love football. But we love life more and Dybala's alarming struggles should wake the complacent - and the greedy - from their naive daydreaming.
Athletes in Italy will be allowed to resume individual training from May 4. That's next Monday. Just four days from a potentially lethal decision.
Covid-19 continues to kill too many Italians. On Tuesday, the daily death toll actually rose. New infections still hover around 2,000 each day and yet, inexplicably, Serie A footballers will be allowed to trot out for training, albeit individually, next week.
Training in a group will be permitted from May 18. Even if all the social distancing measures are applied - which seems wildly optimistic when one considers the basic, physical aspects of the game - the players will gather as the most infectious disease in history continues to kill hundreds of Italians a day.
Dybala was actually one of three Juventus players to contract the virus. Daniele Rugani and Blaise Matuidi also tested positive and have subsequently recovered, but survivors across the world have acknowledged the toll on their well-being.
The symptoms differ, obviously. Some mention the fatigue and the effort required to even walk across a room. Others talk of a light-headed fogginess. They can't think clearly. A few displayed no symptoms at all.
But they all had it. They all carried a contagious virus that can be deadly and still has no vaccine or even medicine to alleviate its symptoms.
If just one footballer unknowingly contracts Covid-19 and infects his dressing room, Serie A will be directly responsible for starting a second wave in Italy.
And that's the best-case scenario, with games played behind closed doors as all supporters stay at home rather than meet outside stadiums. It's not going to happen, is it?
But English Premier League executives are eager for a Serie A miracle and a Bundesliga boost, desperately hoping that other leagues trigger a football recovery.
Apparently, "Project Restart" has quietly kicked off in the EPL, with clubs being advised to recall staff from overseas ahead of a possible return to training next month.
Early June has been suggested as a potential start date for games in a country where between 500 and 800 Covid-19 victims are still dying each day.
With the British government now combining hospital and non-hospital figures in the daily death toll, the inevitable spike in numbers could certainly use a positive distraction.
The collective mood needs a jolt and football's knack of bringing together disparate forces has been well documented.
Put simply, the British government needs the EPL more than the EPL needs the British government.
But the EPL does need money. Quickly.
Panic permeates the corridors of power at all EPL clubs as they stand to lose up to £1.137 billion (S$2b) collectively if the season does not resume and they are forced to hand back TV revenue for cancelled games.
But they must be wary of putting cash before common sense.
The British government and society may well benefit from an early EPL return, giving a timely confidence boost to the country (along with Singapore and just about everywhere else).
But there's a fine line between saviour and scapegoat. And, in this instance, that line can actually be measured: i.e. the number of new infections after the EPL resumes. Should the cases spike, the game gets the blame.
It's just not a risk worth taking.
Dybala has been extraordinarily unlucky to test positive for Covid-19 on four separate occasions. But his ordeal is a reminder of the virus' tenacity.
In medical terms, he's a rarity. There's only one Paulo Dybala.
For the sake of football, there cannot be another.