6. LOOKING FOR SOLUTIONS: Home-grown players

When a new virus surprises you, the most important thing is to buy time to understand what is happening in order to find solutions. Normally, good solutions are not immediate. In football, we are accustomed to the so-called FIFA virus. Players go to play with their national teams and come back clueless, tired, injured, or with some niggling discomfort. That FIFA virus usually lasts a day or two, and is often exploited by small teams to beat big teams. Let’s say that the FIFA virus is like a common cold, which is also caused by a virus. But the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus is not a FIFA virus. Your symptoms may be more severe and last longer than a cold. Furthermore, COVID-19 leaves sequelae in some patients. Something akin to a SARS-CoV-2 could be behind FC Barcelona’s elimination at the Champions quarter-final stage two years running. Despite achieving favourable results in both home legs, they went out following the second legs in Rome and Liverpool.

This coronavirus will last longer than expected because we still do not have good solutions. Normally, for the next season there are already three important things to fight against the coronavirus: (i) the activated immune system of the infected, (ii) vaccines, and (iii) drugs.

The most stable solution is our immune system, which is activated with vaccines, or in the presence of viruses or bacteria that are pathogenic (remember that there are also good bacteria that the immune system leaves alone). Having the immune system activated against SARS-CoV-2 would be like working in a club’s academy. It offers us stability in the medium or long term. Andrés Iniesta came from Albacete to Barcelona when he was 12 years old, and spent six years learning at La Masía until he debuted with Barcelona in 2002. Iniesta played 12 years at Barça and helped win thirty-six titles, in addition to scoring the goal of our lives in Johannesburg. Our adaptive immune system (with B lymphocytes that produce antibodies) and innate (with T lymphocytes that kill infected cells) also need their time to learn (not as much as Iniesta, rather days or weeks). They note the license plate and memorize the bad viruses, so that when they reappear to mess our bodies around, they stop them immediately.

Using drugs against SARS-CoV-2 would be like playing tag, chasing the opponent around the pitch. Without letting them receive the ball, we would stick to them like glue from the first minute to the 90th. There are retroviral drugs that slow down the vigour of different viruses (such as AIDS), but do not eliminate them permanently. Consequently, they must be taken as a lifelong medication. It’s something that’s tiring to contemplate, but perhaps by sticking to players so tightly can weaken the opposition, enabling you to score from a set-piece and win the game. Chloroquine* (a drug used against malaria) and other drugs with indications of being beneficial for COVID-19 are also discussed. The problem is that these drugs have to be given minutes like the newly-signed players. It takes time to carry out solid and conclusive clinical trials that require a large number of patients to be treated, either with the drug or with a placebo, comparing the results between the two treatments.

In addition to retroviral drugs, antibodies (made in a laboratory) that specifically bind to the receptor, called ACE2, could also be taken, which uses SARS-CoV-2 to enter some of our cells. In already infected patients, these antibodies would close the ACE2 door. However, it has been suggested that the SARS-CoV-2 could use a back door that was not known until now 5.

To fix ideas, if a retroviral drug is a zonal defence, the antibodies manufactured in the laboratory offer you man-to-man defences, like the Italian Claudio Gentile. In the 1982 World Cup, Gentile marked and neutralized big stars like Zico, Lato and Maradona. Italy won that World Cup. The marking of Maradona was especially intense. In that match played at Barcelona’s Sarriá Stadium), Gentile fouled Maradona 23 times. At the end of the game, Gentile was asked about his intense marking. Gentile, with his Sicilian blood still warm from the match, insisted: «Il calcio non è per le ballerine.» For him, football is not for dancers.  In summary: the academy and a glue-like defence are equally important. The elderly may have a harder time working in the academy because they have a weaker immune system, and it is possible that the vaccines do not suit them very well. However, they will always be able to benefit from drugs and If the rest of the population is vaccinated, this will slow down the spread of the virus.

It is never a bad time to remember that you have to invest in science. Investing in science for society is like for a club investing in scouts and diverse professionals (psychologists, physical therapists, physical trainers …) who give you access to knowledge. Knowledge makes you freer, less manipulable, and also stronger.

Surely your team has won, but you are not happy. You are not happy because they played poorly, won with an unfair penalty, or because the players have not played with the passion of wearing your club shirt demands. We cannot beat this coronavirus without deserving to. We will beat It well. By being supportive. By staying at home when requested by the authorities. By stopping working,  even if it costs us money. By encouraging and helping those around us. By being generous with our time. We will be fully happy again. Meanwhile, remember what the philosopher Kant said more than 200 years ago: «It is not so much about being happy as being worthy of happiness.”

We have a good opportunity to deserving to be happy. Goal by goal, match by match. We will win.

* In the following weeks, several clinical trials showed that chloroquine was ineffective against SARS-CoV-2 infections.