The Hard Tackle assesses the belated impact of Coronavirus in German football, ‘forcing’ the authority to suspend the two top divisions until the start of April.
After killing thousands of people, crumbling stock markets, forcing American late-night show hosts to expose themselves without an audience and, also notably, suspending Coachella, the Coronavirus has now come to devour the footballing world, it seems.
The fear of COVID-19 (you know it’s bad when you understand this expression), has forced Italy, France, Netherlands, UEFA and even England to suspend their sporting activities, a list which unfortunately or fortunately, includes football.
The DFL, however, were one of the few footballing bodies who were willing to let football continue, albeit behind closed doors, despite the massive spread of the disease. Here, at The Hard Tackle, we will be taking a look at Germany’s peculiar case of the Coronavirus and what it could mean to the Bundesliga.
Impact of Coronavirus in Germany
Italy has been the main perpetrator behind the spread of the Coronavirus in Europe and one of the virus’s main victims. The country’s death toll has already surged past 1,000 along with over 15,000 confirmed cases. Germany, fortunately, are in a much better/less bad shape, recording only over 3,000 cases.
But mind you, those are only reported cases. In a study made by Tomas Pueyo, it is suggested that the actual number of cases could be much higher, maybe around the fifty thousand mark.
According to the Robert Koch Institute, Germany has recorded five deaths due to COVID-19 so far, three of them coming from North-Rhine Westphalia, particularly in the Heinsberg district – the area most affected by the Coronavirus in Germany.
Heinsberg is not far from Borussia Park, which hosted the first-ever behind-closed-doors fixture in the Bundesliga earlier this week, when Borussia Monchengladbach welcomed arch-rivals 1.FC Koln.
While the match was played without the fans inside the stadium, supporters gathered in large numbers to cheer for Gladbach (the fact that it was a derby didn’t help), just outside the stadium. It created the very crowd which the officials tried to avoid, thus perpetuating the spread of the Coronavirus.
Big crowds outside Borussia-Park. The Rheinderby was supposed to take place without fans to help stop the spread of #COVID19. This shows that games behind closed doors are not working to stop mass gatherings. pic.twitter.com/PG95hNlQcy
— Manuel Veth (@ManuelVeth) March 11, 2020
Moreover, Luca Kilian became the first Bundesliga player to test positive for the Coronavirus yesterday. Aside from him, Bremen’s mayor, Andreas Bovenschulte, as well as FC Nurnberg defender Fabian Nurnberger, have tested positive for COVID-19. They are joined by Paderborn head coach Steffen Baumgart.
Inaction (and action)
Despite the massive outbreak of the Coronavirus in Germany, DFL’s initial reaction was to continue the Bundesliga. In fact, they might have even allowed supporters to enter the stadium had it not been for Federal Health Minister Jens Spahn recommending that all games should be played behind closed doors.
Speaking of Spahn, the 39-year-old channelled his inner Donald Trump when asked about the Coronavirus about a month ago in Davos. The Health Minister’s lack of comprehension regarding the spread of the virus pretty much fueled in criticism from a large number of football fans and even players, including Thiago Alcantara.
The Bayern Munich star criticised DFL’s decision to continue the Bundesliga, labelling it “crazy” and that “there are much more important priorities than sport”.
This is crazy. Please stop fooling around and land on reality. Let's be honest, there are much more important priorities than any sport.
— Thiago Alcantara (@Thiago6) March 13, 2020
And finally, on Friday afternoon, the DFL decided to suspend all Bundesliga and 2.Bundesliga games until the start of April. Prior to that, Borussia Dortmund, Borussia Monchengladbach and FC Schalke all cancelled their press conferences in order to minimise social interaction.
Meanwhile, Nurnberger testing positive for Coronavirus has forced FC Nurnberg to quarantine themselves for 14 days as a safety precaution.
Bundesliga’s contingency plan
Express.de have claimed that Bundesliga could drastically change next term, should the season get cancelled by DFL. Matchday 26 has already been postponed, and if they fail to end the campaign within the summer, there could be consequences for the clubs involved.
Rumours in Germany that the 2019/20 season could be ended after Matchday 26 without a national champion. Teams would qualify for Europe according to their standings. No teams would be relegated and the 20/21 season would be played with 22 teams with the last four to be relegated. https://t.co/iAbUrgBA7H
— Stefan Buczko (@StefanBuczko) March 12, 2020
Most notably, there will be no champion this season and teams would qualify for Europe according to their current league standings. That means Bayern Munich, Borussia Dortmund, RB Leipzig and Borussia Monchengladbach are in contention to qualify for the Champions League next season.
Similarly, there will be no relegation. Instead, the next edition of the Bundesliga could have 22 teams, with the bottom four clubs set to be relegated. The fifth bottom club will have to play the relegation playoff against the third-best team in 2.Bundesliga.
So basically, a chance for VfL Bochum to get promoted in 21/22 lol
— Stefan Buczko (@StefanBuczko) March 12, 2020
Who could benefit from the suspension?
With Bundesliga games suspended until the start of the next month, it could serve as a massive boost for Bayern Munich. The Bavarians are missing some of their key players, including Robert Lewandowski and Ivan Perisic. They should be able to recover by then, further strengthening a side who have arguably been the best performing team in Europe since the turn of the year.
On the flip side, however, Bayern will be the clear losers in the event of a potential season suspension.
And yes Dortmund fans, I’m talking to you. I know you’re thinking you were one Burki and Zagadou defensive error and a younger Piszczek away from winning the Bundesliga title this season. But do not kid yourselves.
On a positive note for the Black and Yellows, they could be blessed by the return of captain Marco Reus as well as midfielder Thomas Delaney. However, the same cannot be said for arch-rivals FC Schalke, who, should the season get suspended, will miss out on Champions League qualification.
This could be equally disappointing for 1.FC Koln, especially after making an incredible turnaround. But similarly, no relegation will provide Werder Bremen with another season to recuperate (from Coronavirus and their poor defence).
What’s next for the Bundesliga?
Bundesliga’s continuation will largely depend on how Germany manages to deal with the spread of the Coronavirus. The country has already pledged “unlimited cash” in order to avert the financial crisis that originated thanks to COVID-19.
Finance minister Olaf Scholz told reporters in Berlin, “This is the bazooka, and we will use it to do whatever it takes. No upper limit on the amount of loans KfW can issue.” Meanwhile, the German league said that it plans to hold a meeting with clubs during the international break to further discuss this issue.
But, given the open borders of EU countries, how the likes of Spain, France, Italy and the rest of Europe deal with the Coronavirus will be equally important. Fortunately, Spain has declared a state of emergency while Europe’s top five leagues have already been suspended. It could go a long way in stifling the spread of the virus.
Football is not that important.
— Gary Lineker (@GaryLineker) March 12, 2020
However, it is no doubt that football federations in Europe, especially the FA and DFL, as well as the federal governments, have been slow to react to the pandemic. And with the Coronavirus already impacting sporting events all around the globe, these are dark times for football fans as we prepare for a potential health crisis in the near future.