A pinprick of light in the dark or the ultimate expression of football’s arrogance and hubris?
Football is, tentatively, looking like it will return in Germany in a few weeks, with the more optimistic plans suggesting games could take place in the Bundesliga, behind closed doors, as early as May 9.
“The Bundesliga will be seen as a test balloon by the other major leagues,” said Rafa Honigstein on the Totally Football Show this week. “Germany are a little ahead of the curve, aside from football, but the situation in Italy and Spain is not comparable, and there is the fear that it will not work out. At which point, the symbolic failure will have a very negative knock-on effect for the other leagues.
“It could bring public pressure [in other leagues] to bring football back, but there’s also a danger that it could backfire quite badly.
“My guess is we will have football coming back in May. I think it’s more likely to be the 23rd rather than the 16th. The 16th is a realistic possibility, I don’t think the 9th is at this stage. Then we’re hugely reliant on two things: one, that the overall situation in Germany keeps improving and there’s no second ‘spike’, and two is to see that none of the players, staff or coaches test positive, because at that point it becomes very difficult to continue.”
Naturally things will have to be done a little differently, from the obvious fact that no supporters will be at the ground, to suggestions such as players washing their own kit in order to reduce the possibility of the coronavirus being passed on, and cardboard cutouts of fans placed in the ground, in lieu of actual spectators. Indeed, around 7,000 Borussia Monchengladbach fans have already ordered personalised cutouts so that they can be “there” when their team eventually does play again.
So how will it work? “It will work relatively normally,” said Rafa, “in the sense they would play home and away, not centralised games or some bio-dome or anything like that, but they will reduce the people involved to a bare minimum. No supporters goes without saying, but they will have a very strict regime as far as letting in about 300 people, max, in and around the stadium to make sure the games are delivered in a broadcastable format.
“There is still some debate about whether the players will be forced to wear masks, at which point this will not work, and of course there are huge concerns with how the testing regime would work if a player was to test positive just before a game. Would that then mean the whole team being sent off to quarantine? If yes, for how long? There are still some gaps in this concepts that makes it a bit shaky, in my view.
“I think it’s about trying to make the best of what is a very unsatisfactory situation. A lot of organised fans have said they don’t want those ‘ghost games’ to come back and they feel football without fans is nothing, and the fact that German football has to rush back in the hunt for some TV money that needs to be paid, is sort of an indictment of how football is run.”
How much support is there for the return of football, from outside the game?
“It keeps changing: there’s a lot of support, but there’s also a lot of backlash against the support. BILD jumped the gun a little bit last week when they had these headlines saying “football to return on May 9”, and Sky put out an ad saying “YEEESSSSS! FOOTBALL’S BACK”, so some politicians took a step back and said we still have to look at these medical concepts and hygienic concepts.
“We’re hearing suggestions – and this is not confirmed yet – that there’s a possibility on April 30 when the federal ministers, who decide on public health matters in Germany, reconvene that there might not even be a firm decision made, that they might postpone it a little bit longer. At which point that May 9 – which was always going to be an ambitious timeframe – becomes unfeasible.”
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