In the final part of our interview series speaking with the players about lockdown life and football without fans, we catch up with Italian international defender Emerson Palmieri.
This weekend when Leeds United visit SW6, Stamford Bridge will open the doors to fans for the first time in 272 days. It will, of course, be a partial reopening with just 2,000 supporters permitted under the UK Government’s three-tier system of restrictions. Click here for more information.
Nevertheless, the sight and sound of Chelsea supporters inside the ground will be a welcome one for the players, who have endured 39 long weeks and 12 home matches without the backing of a home crowd.
Before then, we discussed what life has been like in empty stadiums and at the reorganised training ground with Emerson, who revealed how he got through the first lockdown and how much he is missing spending time with his team-mates as a group…
What have you missed most about ‘normal’ football during this behind-closed-doors period? What’s the weirdest thing about now?
What I miss the most is the atmosphere. For us players, to play without fans is very strange because football is all about passion. Without the atmosphere, the games are almost like training sessions so it has been difficult for us.
Is it easier to play away from home without fans?
I like to play away against the fans because it’s a great part of football with the tough atmospheres. In the last few months, whether you play at home or away has felt the same, which is not a good feeling.
Is it weird being able to hear the manager and coaches more than normal?
This part is better because it helps with the communication. You can speak with the manager or with your team-mates easily so it’s good in this way.
Read: Jorginho opening up on behind closed doors
Strangest dressing room set-up at the moment?
We are all used to spending hours together so to be in separate dressing rooms, in the stadiums and at Cobham, has been difficult for us. Of course, we know with the virus we need to take all these precautions but it’s not been an easy period this season and at the end of last season as well.
What is different at Cobham compared with usual?
I miss being around my team-mates, being in the dressing room all together and joking as one group. I think everyone misses this because here we are like a family and we enjoy being together.
How tough was it to keep fit during the first lockdown without usual training?
It was not easy. We had to train at home for almost a whole month, without your team-mates, your friends and also the staff. I did a lot of work on the exercise bike and a bit of running outside as well. I used to go out in the evening when people were not so much out on the streets. We didn’t have the pitch or the ball so we had to try other things.
Did the lockdown period make you think about life without football?
For the first week, I was just at home by myself and then I spent some time with my brother in Brazil. It was good to go back home and be with my family during this time. I played on the PlayStation a lot but after some time I started to go a bit crazy without going to the training ground or having games to play. I really can’t imagine my life without football.
Lots of hidden talents emerged during lockdown so did you learn anything new or have any surprising hobbies to help you get through?
I’m better at the PlayStation now for sure! I played on FIFA, Call of Duty and sometimes Fortnite. I also carried on learning English so it gave me some time to get better at this as well.
Who had the worst ‘lockdown look’ when you returned to Cobham?
I would say Jorginho for sure because of the beard and the curly hair – it was not nice! Maybe Giroud and Kepa as well.