Berlin (AFP) – The German Bundesliga takes the spotlight on Saturday as the first top European league to resume during the coronavirus pandemic, with one coach admitting it feels like «flying blind».
After a two-month break, the German Football League (DFL) had to submit an extraordinarily detailed plan of measures to gain approval for the restart from Chancellor Angela Merkel and the 16 state leaders.
With leagues still suspended in England, Italy and Spain, and France having already decided to end its season, the Bundesliga this weekend will have the footballing world’s attention to itself.
Bundesliga CEO Christian Seifert has warned the matches, played behind closed doors, will «look and feel different».
The shouts of players will echo around the empty stands and goals will have to be celebrated with elbow or foot taps because players have been ordered to avoid hugs or handshakes.
Substitutes and coaches on the bench must wear protective masks.
Match fitness is a concern as teams only started training sessions for the whole squad last week having previously worked in small groups.
«I’m calling it ‘flying blind’,» Hertha Berlin coach Bruno Labbadia said.
«With so few days of preparation, it’s impossible to say where we stand.»
With no crowd noise to mask the odd swear word, RB Leipzig coach Julian Nagelsmann admitted he will have to curb his language.
«I will try to behave in a socially acceptable way in the (coaching) zone,» he said.
– ‘Greedy’ Bayern –
In Saturday’s stand-out game, Borussia Dortmund host Schalke in the 156th Ruhr derby.
For the first time in the fixture’s 95-year history it will be played without spectators, when 82,000 passionate fans would normally pack out Signal Iduna Park.
On Sunday, Union Berlin host leaders Bayern Munich, who are four points clear in their bid for an eighth straight title, at their compact Alten Foersterei stadium.
«When I see the emotions we have developed over the last few days, even in a training game, it shows our greed for regular competition,» Bayern forward Thomas Mueller wrote on LinkedIn.
Union will have to do without the boisterous home crowd who helped them beat previous leaders Dortmund, and Borussia Moenchengladbach, in east Berlin this season.
The clubs want to finish the nine remaining rounds of matches by June 30 in order to claim around 300 million euros ($324 million) in television money.
To curb the risk of infection, players and staff are being tested regularly and each club has been in a week-long quarantine.
– ‘Abide by the rules’ –
However, some have already broken the guidelines.
Augsburg’s new coach Heiko Herrlich has stood himself down for Saturday’s match at home to Wolfsburg after leaving the team hotel to buy toothpaste.
«I made a mistake,» Herrlich said. «I did not live up to my function as a role model for my team and the public.»
Likewise, ex-Chelsea striker Salomon Kalou, 34, was suspended by Hertha Berlin for shaking hands with team-mates.
Despite his profuse apology, the league and politicians slammed the Ivory Coast striker.
Bavaria’s state leader Markus Soeder warned that those who do not follow the regulations should expect consequences.
«If the health experts have given you these suggestions, if the league itself has worked out concepts at great expense, then you have to abide by these rules,» Soeder said Friday.
«And if you don’t follow them, in case there is any doubt, there will be ‘a red card’.»
The coronavirus has claimed over 7,800 lives in Germany, although the death rate is far lower than other major European countries.
A poll by broadcaster ARD showed 56 percent of the German public are opposed to the return of league football.
The onus is on the players to ensure Saturday’s restart is a success.
«Down to the last player, everyone knows to abide by the rules,» said Bayern chairman Karl-Heinz Rummenigge.