COVID-19 told through football (I): Viruses

Not all viruses and bacteria are bad. Many are essential for the balance of our organism and our ecosystems. However, there are a handful of viruses and bacteria that are pathogenic and they want to beat you. They know how to play this game and, if you’re not careful, they will paint your face. They have been playing derbies against us since we existed as a species. So long together that we already know most of their tactics. Thanks to our immune system, we use a solid 4-4-2 that is efficient in almost every game against these evil microscopic and submicroscopic beings.

In 1929, Alexander Fleming innovated in the strategy against bad bacteria using penicillin, which was like the 3-4-3 system that Johan Cruyff implemented against ugly football. Fleming observed that penicillin killed bacteria, and Cruyff found that 3-4-3 allowed a better attack, with wide wingers and attacking midfielders. Fleming and Cruyff made their discoveries in the way that the interesting things are discovered; by chance. Fleming left forgotten bacteria on a plate and, after a time, observed that fungi had grown on that plate, producing something that killed bacteria: penicillin. Penicillium notatum was the name of that mold (mold is a fungus). On any given day, Cruyff strode into the area and found that no one was there waiting for him. When the defenders detected his presence and tried to stop him, they left room for the wingers. So, Johan frequented those visits, often with the ball stuck to his foot, so that he and his teammates would score fluently in the opposite goal. Pep Guardiola would later improve that 3-4-3, as the use of antibiotics was improved and expanded.

The problem is that penicillin does nothing to viruses. Antibiotics do not harm viruses because they are nothing like bacteria. A bacteria is a cell with its own machinery to pass its genes to proteins, and such machinery is attacked by penicillin. But the virus is not a cell, and it lacks that machinery. A virus is a chunk of genetic material (DNA or RNA) covered with a few proteins making an envelope. Viruses cannot survive on their own. They need to enter other cells and borrow their tools to reproduce. A virus is so basic and as a consequence, it has almost no weak points. It is very difficult to attack him. Treating a viral infection with antibiotics is like playing 3-4-3 against a team that defends itself with five Uruguayan defenders and three defensive midfielders from Ghana, who do not complicate their existence, throwing balls to the center forward.

So, what could work against a bacterium, does not necessarily work to kill a virus. Remember Cruyff in the 1992 Wembley European Cup final. Barcelona went over Sampdoria and the famous antibiotic that Cruyff used was saying in the locker room ‘Go out and enjoy’.

In Athens, two years later, before Barcelona went out to play in the European Cup final against Milan, Cruyff told his players ‘You are better than them. You are going to win’. However, Fabio Capello’s Milan was a virus that did not let F. C. Barcelona breathe, with such suffocating pressure that he ended up winning 4-0. The 1992 Sampdoria was a bacteria. Milan in 1994 was a virus.

Sampdoria y milan

In short, the bacteria is more complex and we can put more sticks on its wheels. A defender that does not return to his position, risky ball exits, a goalkeeper who does not pass the ball with precision… Bacteria have vulnerabilities. However, a virus is simpler and therefore more difficult to attack tactically. A virus is the Greece of Charisteas that won the 2004 European Championship in Portugal.

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