'Flying blind': German football returns and takes a step into the unknown

BERLIN: The German league became the center of attention on Saturday as the first European league to resume during coronavirus pandemic, with a coach admitting it feels like flying blind.

After a two-month break, the German soccer league (DFL) had to come up with an extraordinarily detailed plan of action to get the Chancellor's approval for the restart Angela Merkel and the 16 state leaders.

With the football league still at least a month away in England, Italy and Spain, and France has already decided to end its season, the Bundesliga The games this weekend will air worldwide.

Bundesliga CEO Christian Seifert has warned the matches, played in empty stadiums because of the risk of infection, will look and feel different.

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Players' screams will echo around the empty stands and goals should be celebrated with a tap on the elbow or foot because the 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 entire team last week, as they had previously worked in small groups.

I call it 'flying blind,' said Hertha Berlin coach Bruno Labbadia.

With so few days of preparation, it is impossible to say where we are standing.

Without the noise of the crowd to mask the bizarre swear word, RB Leipzig coach Julian Nagelsmann admitted he will have to curb his language.

I'll try to behave in a socially acceptable way in the (training) zone, he joked.

For both coaches and players, this weekend's matches will be played under exceptional circumstances.

In Saturday's key game, Borussia Dortmund host Schalke in the 156th Ruhr derby.

For the first time in the team's 95-year history, it will be behind closed doors, when 82,000 passionate fans would normally pack Dortmund's Signal Iduna Park.

On Sunday, the leaders of the FC Union headquarters Bayern Munich , who had a four-point lead at the top when matches were suspended in March, at their compact Alten Foersterei stadium in east Berlin.

The bustling local crowd helped Union beat past leaders Dortmund and Moenchengladbach there this season.

However, those fans will be absent when star-studded Bayern run out. And the reigning champions are hungry to close out the season with an eighth consecutive Bundesliga title.

When I see the emotions we've developed over the past few days, even in a training game, it shows our greed for regular competition, wrote Bayern forward Thomas Mueller on LinkedIn.

Not everyone is so enthusiastic.

In Germany the players are in a weak position, Union defender Neven Subotic told Deutschlandfunk radio.

They informed us after making all the decisions.

I don't want to get out of the responsibility, but there was no representative body of the players.

The clubs want to finish all nine rounds of games before June 30 to claim around 300 million euros ($ 324 million) in television money.

However, the fear is that an outbreak of the virus within the league may again halt the season.

To curb the risk of infection, players and staff are being regularly screened and each club has been under quarantine for a week prior to matches this weekend.

However, some have already broken the guidelines.

Augsburg's new coach Heiko Herrlich retired for Saturday's home game with Wolfsburg after breaking the quarantine by leaving the team hotel to buy toothpaste.

I made a mistake, Herrlich said. I did not fulfill my role as a role model for my team and the public.

Similarly, former Chelsea striker Salomon Kalou, 34, is suspended by Hertha Berlin for shaking hands with his teammates in a video he posted.

Despite his lavish apology, the league and politicians criticized the Ivory Coast striker for flaunting the rules.

The coronavirus has claimed 7,824 deaths in Germany, which still has 173,152 cases of the virus. The figures are far lower than other major European countries, partly because of rigorous testing at the onset of the pandemic.

A poll by broadcaster ARD showed that 56 percent of the German public opposes the return of league football during the pandemic.

Players have a responsibility to ensure that Saturday's restart is a success.

Every last player knows how to follow the rules, said Bayern president Karl-Heinz Rummenigge.

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