Bundesliga resumption will test German football's resilience and public's trust
Upcoming matches are set to be viewed by some of the biggest television audiences after a two-month lockdown
One of the enduring labels in international football is one that gets attached most often to Germany. They are, it is said, a great ‘tournament team.’ It’s the explanation offered whenever, after a summer graced by more stylish sides, it is the Germans who end up with the trophy.
Great ‘tournament teams’ prepare meticulously, pace themselves, and have a sound Plan B and Plan C. The idea that German football is expert at all that has been built over decades, and it survived a poor 2018 World Cup, when Jogi Low’s squad were swiftly deposed as world champions, their tournament savvy temporarily undone by complacency.
In the coming weeks, the excellence of German football under something very like tournament conditions will be examined as never before.
The bold decision of the Bundesliga to restart, after more than two months of shutdown because of the coronavirus pandemic, has been made plausible by rigorous, careful preparation, and a flexible Plan B.
From Saturday, the country’s best footballers will feel as if they are in a tournament situation rather than the usual league routine. Safety measures that have been approved to make football again acceptable to public health authorities means squads will be housed off from normal life, and in many cases, from their homes.
They will play with none of the usual ‘home’ advantage, given that all matches must take place behind closed doors.
If the 2019-20 season, which restarts this weekend, is completed without threat to public health, and with its sporting integrity largely preserved, Germany will be applauded worldwide, for its resourcefulness, its foresight, and for being proactive. Much as German teams are when they triumph at World Cups. Germany’s Project Restart will be held up as a model, a lesson for others in how to cope with an unfamiliar environment and conquer it.
The risks are very real, as the German league, the DFL, were reminded three days after it received the green light for the behind-closed-doors restart. Two members of the Dynamo Dresden staff tested positive for coronavirus. The entire squad at Dynamo, who are bottom of the second division, have been quarantined, on advice from the regional health authority in Saxony.
The infected individuals are believed to be asymptomatic, but, with the quarantine, both Dresden’s next two scheduled matches must be postponed.
“I was always clear that this could happen,” said Christian Seifert, chief-executive of the DFL, “but it is not, at this stage, a reason to put the whole season in doubt.”
The DFL’s protocols, backed by an independent medical team and by government, include frequent testing, but, importantly, no requirement that an entire squad go into quarantine if someone on the staff tests positive.
That individual will be quarantined, but colleagues need not be sent home – unless, as in Dynamo Dresden’s case, the regional health authority advises it.
If successful, the restart and completion of the Bundesliga would protect the economy of the German game against the huge losses of revenue – estimated at up to €1bn (Dh3.9bn) – that abandoning the season would entail.
Besides the immediate financial motivation, there is the positioning of German football on the worldwide broadcast stage. These six or seven weeks of Bundesliga action will be watched by the smallest crowds in its history, but by some of the biggest television audiences, with matches like Saturday’s Borussia Dortmund versus Schalke 04 welcome viewing around the world after months with no live, elite football to watch.
Low, the national team’s head coach, will witness some tournament advantage, too. Most of his squad are with Bundesliga clubs, and if those players complete their season by early July, as the DFL plan, they should have a more balanced summer of rest and pre-season practice than their equivalents in other elite leagues, like Spain, England and Italy, which are still discussing a restart. That may count for Germany at next summer’s European championship.
For Bayern Munich, who lead a tight race for the title, and RB Leipzig a freed-up July would also allow careful preparation for the later, postponed rounds of the 2019-20 Champions League, which Uefa hope to stage in August.
As for the country, a Germany which has contained Covid-19 infection and fatalities more effectively than most of its neighbours, there is an important example to set. “We should not expect the rest of the season to be trouble free,” said Hans-Joachim Watzke, chief-executive of Dortmund. “But the fact we are testing players, and showing the results, shows we will be transparent.”
At stake is far more than goals or points. At stake is public trust.
Updated: May 12, 2020 07:59 AM