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Every morning when Bayer Leverkusen players wake up in the requisitioned hotel for their 40-week quarantine, they have a list of six questions to answer. They have to tell the club how they slept, how they feel, if any of the telltale symptoms of the coronavirus have settled overnight.
Once they have answered satisfactorily, the players eat breakfast – alone – and head to the club’s training center. Before entering, their body temperature is assessed by a CT scan, in case someone has an undetected fever.
Once they pass this entrance exam, they head to the locker room: not the common one, the one they would normally use, but the one they share with only a few teammates. They don’t have to worry about showering afterwards. The instructions on this are also clear. They have to wash in their hotel room.
For all players, as for all those involved in the reopening of the Bundesliga this weekend, this is uncharted territory. It’s been 65 days since the Bundesliga went into hibernation, along with all the other major sports leagues on the planet. On Saturday at 3:30 p.m. local time, he plans to become the first major returning league, the first high-level competition in any sport in the coronavirus era.
Even now, even when the return is so close, it looks like a delicate and fragile thing, which could still be derailed at the very last moment by a series of positive tests, by an increase in the infection rate in Germany, by a change from the heart by the government. Those who have helped bring the league to this point know how difficult it has been to find a way when there is no map to use as a guide.
“It was a lot of work and a lot of unusual work,” said Leverkusen sports director Simon Rolfes. “We planned the start, then everything changes in three days, and the league gives new advice: the plans become more detailed, more precise. Planning, he said, started seriously four weeks ago. “But four weeks now is like a year or two,” he said.
The fact that the Bundesliga has managed to get closer – closer than its peers – is rooted, to some extent, in the goal of the league, its unified vision, its leadership.
Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, president of Bayern Munich, argued that the “good collaboration” between the teams had helped the league identify a “clear concept” for its return. Rolfes was quick to recognize the role that Christian Seifert, the Bundesliga’s general manager, had played in helping to find a solution. The players, meanwhile, are largely satisfied with the arrangements.
“We had one or two who are a little concerned,” said Rolfes. “It’s natural. But they feel safe here. Many of them are happy to be in Germany. They believe the club will take care of them. “
For some people – perhaps for many – who will feel mundane, almost venal, under the circumstances. Now, after all, it’s not necessarily time for the games. It is too early, too early for football to be played again, while a global pandemic is still raging, while the death toll continues to rise. There are many, including many fan groups organized in Germany, who believe that the Bundesliga came back with money as the sole motivation.
This is not, in all fairness, entirely false. “As an industry, we will have big financial problems not only this season but also in the coming seasons,” said Rummenigge. “The loss of ticketing, business partners, sponsors – this will have a huge impact, and perhaps the big clubs should be most concerned. The Bundesliga has undoubtedly been motivated by the desire to stop these losses as much as possible.
Coming back first, he turned a problem into an opportunity. The Bundesliga has for many years sought to end the primacy of the English Premier League in the world of football.
His clubs have opened offices around the world, trying to open new markets and improve their business performance. He has proven to be competent and innovative in the management of his broadcasting arrangements. (At one point, the Bundesliga received more than one low-profile reprimand from the Premier League, the most widely marketed product in history, for what the latter saw as unworthy attempts by the Bundesliga to publicize in Britain.)
Now he is so lucky. “There is an advantage in being the first to return,” said Rummenigge. The Bundesliga is not back as it would like, of course – there will be no fans in the stadiums, depriving the league of its atmosphere – but still: this weekend, and for a few weekends again, the eyes of the world are going to be on Germany.
As tempting as this story may be, it doesn’t quite tell the whole story. Yes, the Bundesliga thinks about money, but not by individual acquisition but by collective fear. As Rummenigge said: The hiatus made it inevitable that German football would face a crisis. Returning from the league is just a way of avoiding disaster.
But most importantly, the return of the Bundesliga is not so much a proof of the greed or good performance of German football as a testimony to a broader political reality. “We may be the first to start again because of our health care system,” said Rolfes. “We are grateful for the opportunity. “
Rummenigge credits much of the return of the Bundesliga to the door of the German government. “We have to thank our politicians,” he said. It’s only because of the decisions they made, in his mind, that the impact of the virus was limited and that football was even able to contemplate its return.
Germany, after all, has recorded a quarter of the deaths that Britain has, despite a larger population, and a tenth of the total in the United States. It was among the first European countries to start lifting the strict lock restrictions, and a certain version of normal life is at least visible in a way that is not, say, in Britain or the United States.
It’s worth taking this into account when setting up to watch top-level football for the first time in 65 days. You may think that the Bundesliga came back too early. Perhaps you are concerned that there are a multitude of infections and that the curtain may fall.
Or, maybe, you will feel that football and sports in general are possible in the age of coronaviruses. Instead of wondering if the Germans were too quick, it is worth asking why the governments elsewhere seemed so slow. Perhaps, instead of feeling that the Germans have not waited long enough, we should ask our politicians why we should wait so long.
Football fans are just people
Rooted in the endless and intractable debate about when, when and how football should return to places other than Germany is a kind of deeply ingrained and pernicious presumption, the kind that for some reason is allowed to build his nest in an otherwise just thought. the spirits. It’s the idea that football fans are a danger to themselves and to others.
The logic is this: in March, fans of Paris Saint-Germain and Valence Thousands gathered in front of the stadiums of their teams, where matches were held behind closed doors. This has been presented as proof that, wherever and wherever football is played, it is almost certain that fans of some or all of the teams will inevitably do the same, putting their lives, that of their family and of society as a whole, at risk.
In England, at least, everyone, from city mayors to police chiefs, has promoted a certain version of this idea. They didn’t mention the rather salient fact that the world has changed dramatically since the last time the teams played; that entire countries have grown accustomed to foreclosure; this social distance has, for most of us, entered into second nature.
More importantly, they seem to have forgotten that football fans are just people. A minority may believe that the rules do not apply to them, of course, just as a small minority do not seem to realize that the parks are closed or the beaches closed or that they are not authorized to carry out armed visits to government buildings.
But the majority? The majority are like you. The majority, in fact, are you. And, as this excellent Twitter feed from my former boss – in a previous life – clearly shows, this means that we really need to ask just one question. Would you do it
Bigger than “Tiger King”
The thing that best sums up what made “Tiger King” such a compelling vision is this: it was not until the end of the third episode before anyone mentioned the (unproven) allegation that a main character had fed her husband with a tiger. Few shows have as much content, as many layers, as they can afford to bury such an explosive lead.
No wonder, then, that “Tiger King” caused a sensation. Netflix figures suggest that some 64 million households, so far, have watched Joe Exotic’s journey from the big cat prison to the human prison. No wonder he took over the Zeitgeist. No wonder was, for a while, the sight that everyone seemed to be watching.
Except take a step back, and it wasn’t. Netflix has about 182 million subscribers, which means that two-thirds of its viewers are not yet fully aware that it is apparently good for entirely unqualified Americans to keep a bunch of tigers in the yard. There are 16 countries in which there are more than one million Netflix subscribers. Their combined population is somewhere north of two billion people.
The fact is that we tend to overestimate the “global” in the “global sensation”. When we say the world is looking at something or doing something or thinking something, we tend to mean our own little worlds – the people we know, the people we talk to, the people like us.
Dominic Raab, the British Foreign Minister, suggested last week that the return of the Premier League “would lift the spirits of the nation”. A few days later, a survey – carried out by YouGov – found that it was true for only one fifth of the country: 19% of those questioned said that the return of football would boost their morale, while 73% said that not .
This was taken, of course, as proof of the hypocrisy of the government, of its intention to use football to try to calm a country which is currently amassing the second world death toll by coronavirus. It has fueled the fire of those who accuse football in general, and the Premier League in particular, of inflating its importance.
And yet, in a world in which many of us are used to being able to invoke any entertainment we want at the touch of a button or swiping on a screen, a world in which nothing is as universal as it seems, an era of which monoculture is a distant memory, is this figure not remarkable?
It is, after all, not a fifth of a country that says they watch football, or a fifth of a country that says they enjoy football, but a fifth of a country that says that football means so much that it could help people cope with one of the darkest moments in living memory. It’s the kind of litter that even “Tiger King” couldn’t handle.
It’s not proof of the importance of football. It’s proof to the contrary.
A few late arrivals this week for book and film recommendations: David Simpson suggests “The Ball Is Round”, an “encyclopedic” work by David Goldblatt; and thanks to the priceless Candy lee for directing us to “These Glory Glory Days”, a 1983 film about four girls growing up as Tottenham fans.
And a question of Chris Ogden, Hawaii: “American football coaches spend extraordinary time studying match films. To what extent is this a practice in high-level world football, in particular in the main European and South American clubs? “
It’s now standard, really, and it’s probably been for at least two decades in England, and way beyond that (we’re late developers). As a guide, I suspect that most teams would be watching five or more games from an upcoming opponent, looking for everything from attack patterns to specific moves on set kicks. In fact, most clubs have at least a few staff members employed just for this purpose.
Thanks for all the correspondence this week. If there’s something urgent, I’m sure Twitter. If it can wait, email me at [email protected] The Set Piece menu is there for those of you who have an hour that must be filled with people who talk nonsense. And you can tell everyone you know how nice it is to receive an email every Friday here.