The Silent Plague: What Caused Ilyich’s Disappearance?


This should have been the greatest season in Atlanta’s history. For the Blues-Blacks everything seemed to connect: Jan Piero Gasperini’s team kept winning and scoring, including a big campaign in the Champions League. In the center, stood a striker whose it was his peak season. Josip Ilicic has long been considered a potential, but in the 2019/20 season he exploded: the 32-year-old Slovenian recorded a record season with 15 league goals and 21 in all competitions. The highlight came in the round of 16 against Valencia, when Ilyic scored a goal in the first game at San Siro, and no less than a four-man rematch.

But there are those who say that it was precisely in this happy moment, when Atlanta reached the quarterfinals of the Champions League for the first time in its history – that is where the tragedy began.

Bergamo was one of the cities that caught the corona plague the hardest. In the province of Lombardy, where the city is located, no less than 16,000 deaths have been recorded from the virus, and close to 100,000 reported cases of corona to date. And that got as far as the Slovenian striker from Atlanta. Ilyich, who lived in Bergamo during the most difficult period of the outbreak of the virus, saw (literally) the bodies piled up in front of him. The Italian media claimed that he was experiencing “dark pain”, and claimed that he had suffered a severe psychological blow – even when he played, he was not really there. The ability, and especially the joy of the game, is gone.

Some even link this to the fact that he lost a close friend, Davide Astori, who played alongside him in the Fiorentina uniform. When he was rushed to the hospital with a lymph node infection in his throat, an incident he survived, he was quoted as saying, “What if I don’t see my family tomorrow?”. In the last game of the season in Italy, after Atalanta secured third place (and the ticket to the Champions League next season as well), the team players were photographed with the No. 72 shirt – which Ilyicic is wearing.

“It is very unlikely that he will travel to Lisbon with us,” he said of him Gasperini Ahead of the match against Paris Saint-Germain, he even described him as “as important to us as Dybala to Juventus, Immobilia to Lazio and Lukaku to Inter”. He went on to hope: “We hope he gets out of this, and will be with us next season.” However, according to a report in the German media, it is still not clear. The question of Ilyich’s return from his home in Slovenia to Italy, and to football in general, is in great and understandable doubt.

There is something about football coverage that forces us to look at the game from above – to treat players like soldiers on the chessboard. We place them in lineups, take them out and put them in early in the morning and in the evening, examining them only according to their achievements. And we do not always manage to remember that there are also people behind the shirt and the number and the ball. Can not stop, in the end hides a human being – who saw the world around him collapsing, and could not continue.

Tonight, Atlanta will rise to the most important game in the club’s history – with a chance to make history, and with all the reasons to win. For Bergamo, the city that experienced the hardest amount of deaths around the corona, and also for Ilyich – who can see a blessing in his labor, even if he is not on the field when the blue-and-blacks make history.


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