Football fans around the world have been hearing good news in the last few weeks. Germany’s Bundesliga has resumed its season suspended in March due to the ongoing pandemic – the matches are played behind closed doors, though, with players and officials under constant supervision. And to add insult to injury, the players are not allowed to celebrate with handshakes – not to mention hugs.
The Bundesliga returning to Spin Sports and TV screens is a step in the right direction for football fans. The rest of the national leagues will follow the Germans’ lead soon. But will this be the same football we’ve been used to before the pandemic?
Old man’s football
According to Bayern Munich star Thomas Mueller, playing at an empty stadium, without fans, without the usual celebrations, felt very different at first. “It felt a bit like the atmosphere you get for old man’s football, 7 pm, under floodlights”, he told AFP Sports. His bewilderment was, in turn, short-lived, with the focus on the ball soon capturing the players’ attention.
Borussia Dortmund’s coach and chief executive Hans-Joachim Watzke called returning to the playfield “surreal” after his team won 4-0 against local rivals Schalke. “There is something surreal about it. In the two hours before the match, you receive text messages from all over the world, people who tell you that they are going to watch the match on TV, and then you drive through your city and there is absolutely nothing happening. You have to get used to it.”
Football will never be the same
“I don’t think football, just like life in general, will ever be the same,” Barcelona forward Leo Messi told El País in an interview. “Football and sport, in general, will surely be affected. From an economic point of view, because there are companies that are related to the world of sport that perhaps are going to have a more sensitive situation after the coronavirus. Also, from a professional performance point of view, because of the return to training, to competitions and to what was done normally before, now it is going to have to be done again but in a progressive way. It will be a strange situation for us athletes and for anyone who has to change their usual work dynamics.”
Getting back on track
European football is slowly getting back on track as we speak. After the Bundesliga, several other national leagues are reopening their stadiums: La Liga officially returns with the Seville derby on June 11, followed by the English Premier League on June 17 with Manchester City vs. Arsenal and Aston Villa vs Sheffield, and Serie A on June 20 with Torino-Parma and Verona-Cagliari. The following weeks will be filled with matches almost non-stop – the leagues will do whatever they can to make up for the lost time. As you might expect, “ghost games” will be the new norm: for the time being, fans will only be able to follow their favorite teams’ matches on television. But, as The Independent football writer Miguel Delaney put it, it’s better than no football at all.