This photo, taken on October 26, 2019, shows Shenzhen FC head coach Roberto Donadoni during the Chinese Super League (CSL) soccer game between Shenzhen FC and Wuhan Zall FC in Shenzhen, south China's Guangdong Province (Photo by STR / AFP) / China OUT
Roberto Donadoni was supposed to be in the middle of China's football season, but his thoughts were consumed by the suffering that the coronavirus brought to his hometown in northern Italy.
Almost 14,000 people have died in Italy since the pandemic, more than in any other country, and the region where the legend of AC Milan comes from has been hardest hit.
“I come from Bergamo, one of the places in a very difficult situation. My family is from there, it is very, very difficult, ”said the 56-year-old former Italian international, now FC Shenzhen coach, AFP by phone from southern China.
“I talked to my mother, brother and sister every day. I can see my family on Facetime, Skype or WeChat, but it's different, ”said Donadoni.
"If you are close to your family, it is one thing, but if you are 10,000 kilometers away, it is another question."
Donadoni, three-time European champion during an extremely successful career, which he mainly spent at AC Milan, has not lost an immediate family to the corona virus.
However, he said his ex-wife's father died of it and he was deeply concerned about friends and family at home.
In contrast, China, where the outbreak occurred late last year before spreading worldwide, is slowly returning to normal despite the football season having been delayed indefinitely.
Donadoni wants to reunite with his wife Cristina and six-year-old daughter who are in the mountains outside of Milan.
However, this was made more difficult by the temporary restrictions that China introduced last weekend that prohibited foreigners from entering to stop a wave of imported coronavirus infections.
Like many others in the sports world, Donadoni, who coached Italy in 2006-2008, does his part to help.
He bought 15,000 masks and would also like to provide gloves and protective suits for medical workers in Italy. He also plans to send ventilators.
But he is upset that the masks have been sitting in Italy for more than 10 days, waiting to reach those who need them urgently.
"It is incredible, it is not possible. This is crazy because people have probably lost their lives at that time, ”he said.
"It is very important that the (Italian) politicians try to help me and everyone else who wants to help."
There is a lot of debate in Europe, including Italy, about what to do with football seasons that are nearing peak when the disease forced them to be suspended.
When asked what Serie A should do, Donadoni, a key member of the Italian team beaten by Brazil in the 1994 World Cup final, said, "Now your health is the most important thing. Now it is important to defeat this virus
"After we do it, it's possible to talk about football and sports again."
But Donadoni also has a job to do in China to prepare Shenzhen for the new season when it finally starts.
The Italian took command in Shenzhen in July when they were experiencing relegation problems and could not keep them in the Chinese Super League (CSL).
He is under pressure to steer the club back into the top league on the first try.
His squad is all healthy and in good spirits, said Donadoni, but preparing for a campaign with no start date is a challenge.
“Everyone expected the season to start in late February, but we don't know exactly when it will start now. Maybe May, maybe June, ”he said.
"This is the biggest problem for me and everyone, because if you know the exact start date, focus on that day."
But Donadoni's last thoughts are from home – and a message of hope.
"I am very proud of my people, my country, my city," he said.
“Bergamo and (near) Brescia are the two cities that are currently in a very difficult situation.
"But the spirit, the character, the power of these people is incredible."
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