Reinvigorated by Cristiano Ronaldo’s arrival, Italian football is alive and well but for emerging 20-year-old Australian utility Gabriel Cleur, Virtus Entella’s promising season has been forced into an unforeseen flatline.
Riding two Coppa Italia victories and a 3-1 win to start the Serie C season, Entella were on course for a swift return to the Serie B.
Fast-forward one month and the Biancocelesti are still yet to taste defeat.
The only problem is - they haven’t played since.
After Serie B sides Bari, Avellino and Cesena all went bankrupt ahead of the 2018-19 season, the latter’s isolated 15-point penalty was soon called into question by the Italian National Olympic Committee (Coni).
Contrary to a verdict enforced by the Italian Football Federation (FIGC), Coni believe Cesena’s deduction should have been applied to last season’s points total - a result that would have seen Entella avoid relegation from the second division.
As of a result of such findings, Coni told the Genoa-based club to conclude their commitment to the Serie C, with a view to an instant promotion to the second tier.
But another problem arose - FIGC make those decisions.
A date between the two governing bodies at a regional administrative court on October 23 now holds the key to Entella’s future and a solution to a predicament Cleur best described as “chaotic”.
“We’re basically doing three months of pre-season,” Cleur told The World Game.
“We already played two games of the Coppa Italia, then we played one official match of the Serie C season and then two days later they (Coni) contacted the club and took us out of the season.”
Born to an Anglo-Indian father and Italian mother, Cleur signed a four-year deal with Virtus Entella at the beginning of the season, after coming through the ranks as both a right-back and midfielder with the club’s Primavera squad.
A Marconi and Western Sydney Wanderers junior, the youngster earned his maiden Serie B appearance in a 4-1 win at home to Cittadella last year.
But despite leaving his family behind in pursuit of his football career, nothing could prepare him or his teammates for Entella’s current predicament.
“It hasn’t just been physically hard, but mentally as well,” he said.
“We are trying to keep our intensity but not burn out and that’s really hard, even for a coach to manage.
“To go day in and day out doing the same thing without playing games – mentally, it just drains you.
“We look up to the experienced players - we always ask them for advice but they’ve been shocked at how this has all turned out.
“It’s kind of scary to see these experienced players react to something that’s never happened in their career.
“(Them) not knowing what to do, not knowing how to act, and for them to train this much (with double sessions) because they are older players, it takes a toll on their body.
“When we do get resubmitted into either the Serie C or B we have to play catch-up games, so that could be months or even until the rest of the season where we’ll have to play games on Wednesdays and Saturdays.”
Despite the difficult schedule looming on the horizon, the versatile Australian – who harbours hopes of Socceroos recognition – remains eager to prove himself should manager Roberto Boscaglia call his name.
“My goal is to play first-team games; I need to get some more experience under my belt,” he said.
“It’s important for me to play because I’ve already missed out on the first two months of the season.
“But one hundred per cent, my main goal is to get into the national team.
“I’m just waiting for the call-up, even if it’s with the Under-23s or 21s, I just have to be patient.”
Cleur also sought counsel from former Italy international Antonio Cassano, who recently retired from football last weekend, after spending the week with the club.
“Having played at Real Madrid and Roma, he’s a big player,” Cleur said of Cassano.
“He lives around here and he’s very close to the team. He’s been following this since it’s happened and he’s spoken about it as well, discussing how disorganised things are and that nobody wants to take responsibility.
“He wants us to go to Serie B. He said we deserve to be there and are the right team for it, but at the end of the day, it’s not up to him to decide.”
As it stands, Entella have one official match scheduled through the rest of the year: a Coppa Italia clash with cross-town rivals and Serie A side Genoa on December 5 and - for all their uncertainty - it’s one they aim to make the most of.
“For a younger player, it gives you a bit of fire and excitement to play against these clubs with packed stadiums and world class players because you want to be there one day,” Cleur said.
“A lot of our older players have already played Serie A football in their careers so they are a bit calmer in these situations.
“But for us younger players, we enjoy this experience; it drives us.”