“The opponent now is the Coronavirus”: American coach Michael Wood is adjusting to life under Italian quarantine

Head Coach Michael Wood of the reigning Italian champions, the Milano Seamen has seen a lot of things over his nearly twenty-five years coaching in Europe, but he’s never seen anything like this. Isolated in his Milan apartment, the two-time reigning Italian champion has been struck by the gravity of the situation around him.

“The situation is pretty scary right now. We have been locked down for 17 days, meaning we can only go out to the grocery store or pharmacy for essential items.” He said over video chat. “This virus has been terrible. Over the past 4 days, more than 2,500 people have passed. The total number of deaths is over 6,000. Think about that. Over 6,000 people that a couple of weeks ago were living a normal life, then they got infected and suddenly they are gone.”

Italy has been the hardest hit country in all of Europe, with over 86,000 people infected. As of Friday, the official death toll was 9,134, a dramatic increase even since my conversation with Coach Wood on Tuesday. The news coming out of the country has been described as apocalyptic, with hospitals fully overwhelmed and triaging patients at the door. The mildly ill are sent home, the most severe cases written off out of necessity.

In the middle of the chaos, Coach Wood and his team are still trying to stay ready for a season that has been suspended indefinitely.

“Everyone is frustrated and disappointed. That is normal.” the coach confesses “Football over here is a little different than in the States or Canada. The guys play for the love of the game, no one is making a lot of money playing or coaching. This is their family, their friends, their brothers, and that is an important facet to their lives. Everyone has been training, looking forward to the season, and now it is all on hold and nobody know the end game. So it is, like I said, frustrating, but I think we all realize that it is only a game and that there is a bigger, more important picture that we all can see.”

That bigger picture became even clearer for the Italian football community early last week when one of their founding members, Paolo “Big Ram” Crosti, succumbed to the virus.

“Needless to say, he touched a lot of people lives and his passing is a direct dagger to the heart of Italian Football.” said Coach Wood. “The most devasting thing was, he got sick, was hospitalize on Thursday and was gone on Sunday. That quick, this virus is no joke. His memory, all things that he did and the people that he influenced, we will deeply miss him. “

Even with that level of threat omnipresent, the Seamen are trying to maintain some sense of normalcy.

“We film all our practices and upload them to Hudl so our guys can go back and watch our earlier practices and last season’s games. Between all the coaches we have labeled everything and made the corrections so we have that resource for the guys.” Coach Wood explained. ” We have asked them to do the best that they can to maintain their fitness at home. We have a video meeting once a week set up by our President, Marco Mutti, to update them on any news that may have changed.”

“Everyone is dealing with this crisis and the groups that stay on top of things, keep each other informed and try to keep a positive outlook are going to be the groups that will be ready if and when the situation changes.”

As an American caught in the eye of the hurricane, Coach Wood and his staff are planning to hunker down until the crisis is finally over. However, with their housing as part of a contract for a season that may never happen, nothing is certain.

“As of right now, we are all taking things day to day. If the club decides that it is best for us to go, then we will take the measures to do that. I hope that the light at the end of the tunnel is getting closer.”

Being sent home would likely mean flying through New York, the newest global hotspot, if travel was even authorized. Coach Wood feels he’s probably safer stuck in his Milan apartment.

Even in the middle of a global pandemic, the coach is still focused on inspiring the troops and recording a new victory.

“I want to give a special thanks to all the Doctors, Nurses, Hospital personnel, Paramedics, EMT’s and those working in the grocery stores and pharmacies for putting yourselves on the frontlines to help the rest of us get through these dangerous times. You are appreciated! The opponent now is the coronavirus and there will be no bigger victory than that one. Stay safe, be careful in your interactions and “do your job” to help slow this thing down.”


J.C. Abbott is a student at the University of British Columbia and amateur football coach in Vancouver, Canada. A CFL writer for 3DownNation, his love of travel has been the root of his fascination with the global game.