Article 41 — European Football Post Corona Virus
Like all other industries in the world, the football industry is no different. France’s Ligue 1 has already been suspended indefinitely and the league title has been awarded to Paris Saint-Germain.
Germany’s Bundesliga re-started on the 16th of May 2020 with a lot of attention and a huge sigh of relief from the starved and desperate lovers of the beautiful game. As expected Bundesliga had an upsurge in television viewership as matches were played behind closed doors. They had new fans as well, fans who had never watched Bundesliga matches before or have probably watched matches occasionally.
Since the first round of matches, Bundesliga might have converted some of these new fans while some others would have dropped off after watching it for a week or two. New viewers to the Bundesliga would have missed out on the choreography and atmosphere created in the stands by the fans. Personally, I have never been a fan of the Bundesliga but I do keep myself updated with the scores and the latest league table every season.
One of the first things that stood out after the first week of Bundesliga action was Erling Haaland’s interview. It was funny and robotic at the same time. The image he has made of himself, a young lad, still a teenager scoring goals for fun, adapting seamlessly into German football for a bigger club than RB Salzburg and then answering interviews with just one-worded answers. All of this coupled with his expressions make him look out of this world, like a machine, The Terminator.
I did notice that before lockdown, there was a title race with 4–5 teams in with a shout of winning the Bundesliga which was exciting for the league after being dominated by Bayern Munich.
Sadly, after the resumption of matches, Bayern opened up a 7 point lead over nearest rivals Borussia Dortmund after a 1–0 win on the 27th May 2020. I hear Joshua Kimmich scored a sumptuous goal to win the game. At this stage, there looks to be only one winner for the Bundesliga and it is very likely to be the usual suspects, Bayern Munich. If they win this season, it would be their 29th league title overall and 8th in a row.
One of my pet peeves with modern football is the lack of romance in the leagues with the emergence of superhuman teams. It makes the league very boring and one-sided and I am not having a gripe at it because one of my teams is not a benefactor of this dominance. Manchester United have won the league three times in a row twice and Inter won their league four times in a row, in both cases, I got bored of the dominance and the absence of real strong challengers. These superhuman teams seem to not have a chink in their armour and come what may always end the season as champions, mostly as runaway leaders.
Before this season, Bayern has won it 7 seasons in a row, Juventus has won it 8 seasons in a row in Italy, Paris Saint-Germain has won it 7 out of the last 8 seasons including the one that has been abruptly ended and awarded to them and Manchester City have won the last 2 league titles in England with a very high total of 100 and 98 points. In the case of the English Premier League, last season’s runners-up Liverpool too finished with a very high points total of 97 points. The difference between 2nd and 3rd last season in England was a whopping 25 points! This season, Liverpool are ahead having played a game more by the same 25 points looking odds on favourites to win the league. Barcelona has won 4 out of the last 5 seasons in Spain.
However, we shall discuss the matter of superhuman teams in another article. Getting back to football in the immediate aftermath of the Corona Virus pandemic, La Liga would re-commence on the 11th June, the English Premier League would resume from the 17th June and Serie A would resume from the 20th June with Coppa Italia matches to be played a week before.
Going by what we have seen in Germany, it would be a surreal experience to watch football without fans. I experienced one match behind closed doors between LASK and Manchester United in the Europa League before the suspension of all leagues and competitions in Europe and it was a weird feeling. It is unreal to have some of the world’s leading leagues played in front of no-one. The fans make the atmosphere vibrant for the good and the bad and as a fan, I have always felt that in these circumstances, if football needs to be played without fans, then we are better off not playing at all.
The football schedule is also bound to get messy now. When would all the remaining matches including the domestic and continental cup competitions end? When would the upcoming season start? When would the transfer window be opened and closed? What would it’s effect be on the European Championships scheduled to be held next year in June? When would that take place? I don’t envy the position of those that got to answer these questions. It’s a race against time. Teams and players face playing matches every two to three days now to complete this season without eating too much into the original start date of the upcoming season.
Playing behind closed doors, players returning to full-fledged football training sessions after a long time spent in isolation in their homes and with the prospect of playing every two, three days mean it will be tough to predict what would happen from this point on when the La Liga, English Premier League and Serie A resumes. Essentially, it will be a season within a season, one before Corona Virus and one after. The English Premier League title is a mere formality now. Liverpool will win it unless they contrive to lose all their remaining matches which look impossible. For La Liga and Serie A, the title races are still tight for a change. Let’s hope they stay that way until the final day of the season and we have a change of guard in champions of the respective leagues. Football needs some freshness, some change and new challenges.
If you watch the Bundesliga matches, you would notice that the substitutes sit a distance apart from one another and everyone has a mask on. For celebrations, they are strongly advised to maintain a social distance from one another but it seems it would not be enforced after Hertha Berlin’s Dedryck Boyata kissed his team-mate Marko Grujic on his cheek. In the case of the celebrations, I am glad that common sense prevailed.
However, for the substitutes sitting a distance apart from one another, wearing face masks, it makes no sense. During the game, they are in constant contact with one another without a mask. They could be infected by the virus any time from training to pre-match to match and post-match because they are in constant contact with one another all the time. For some clubs, the tunnel can be tight as would the dressing rooms be. The players, managers, coaches and match officials are truly putting their health at risk with the numbers still high in these countries albeit showing signs of improvement.
I am in favour of suspending all leagues and competitions and restarting with the new season, not assigning the league title, no-one gets relegated or promoted. At the very least, there could be playoffs to decide European places. I understand the decision to restart competition is also largely due to TV rights and sponsorship amounts that are due to the clubs, leagues and continental competitions. Money is needed in the game, not just for the wealthy but to support the less well to do as well so this is an important component to consider in restarting the league. I wish everyone good luck and the best of health as the La Liga, English Premier League and Serie A re-starts this month. The same goes for the Bundesliga teams that are already playing.