What Did We Learn From The Bundesliga?

Football fans all around the world will have eagerly tuned into the Bundesliga at the weekend, keen to see their first taste of top-level football for months. Many will have chosen a team to follow, desperate to feel a connection to the football that was taking place in front of them. Overall the weekend can be declared a success, with matches offering enough value and entertainment to mean that plenty of those that watched will tune back in the next time they get a chance to do so. I’m quite sure that Premier League chiefs will have been watching, wondering what the various take-aways are for when the English top-flight makes an attempt to return to action under Project Restart. On a basic level, I think pumping crowd noise either into the stadium or over the broadcast will be important to give a sense of ‘normality’, for example. Personally I didn’t mind the empty stadia as it just felt like an FA Cup game between Wigan and Blackpool.

Some people will have much more specific responses, of course. I totally get that it’s not everyone’s cup of tea. I was pleased to watch a decent bit of competitive football with players and clubs that I recognised involved, but I can’t say I felt engaged in any way. Then again, I really only care about Liverpool and I can very much imagine being more involved if and when the Reds are back in action. Whilst it might not be for some people, the sport as a whole has to face the reality that if we don’t get some form of football back up and running soon then there’s a very real possibility that some clubs will end up going to the wall. Football without fans might be nothing, as the saying goes, but it’s infinitely better than no football at all. There are things that the English game can learn from what the Germans have done, hopefully perfecting things so that the complaints are limited as much as possible. Here’s what I learnt from the weekend:

It Will Take A While For Intensity To Return

If you’re amongst the millions of people who have been obeying lockdown and the social distancing rules that have been put in place, I’d like you to imagine for a moment that tomorrow you’re thrust into the middle of a crowd of people. If you’re anything like me then it will have felt a bit weird even to imagine it. Little wonder, then, that the Bundesliga games lacked the sort of intensity that we have been used to from top-level football in the past. Whether consciously or sub-consciously, the players aren’t going to want to throw themselves into tackles, challenges and other moments of physical contact without at least a milliseconds thought on the weirdness of it all. Equally, their muscles aren’t yet used to the levels of intensity that they’d have been performing at prior to the enforced break. That has been shown in the fact that there were as many as eight muscular injuries during the matches.

There’s a reason the matches felt a bit like pre-season games, which is that to all intents and purposes they are pre-season games. The clubs that know how to prepare for pre-season the best will be able to hit the ground running faster than those that don’t. That’s an advantage of the mindset of the coaches as much as it is about a club’s playing staff’s abilities. A manager like Jürgen Klopp will always be better placed to look to the science to see what he can learn about physical fitness than someone such as Roy Hodgson, for example. Once the season is back into the swing of things in Germany, I think we’ll see that intensity pick up. I also think we’d start to see players more willing to engage in the physical side of the battle once they’ve got used to the weirdness of their situation. It is weird, there’s no doubt about that. Yet it’s not so weird that we should throw the baby out with the bathwater and abandon the project altogether.

Fans Can Be Trusted

I got into a heated debate with, weirdly, Tottenham Hotspur supporters over the weekend after I dared to ask for evidence for one of them suggesting that Liverpool supporters would be ‘highly likely’ to congregate outside Anfield if we were about to win the Premier League. The answers I got back from them all were steeped in decades of stereotypes, with one even suggesting that ‘decades of that sort of behaviour‘ was proof enough. Even ignoring the fact that these deeply damaging stereotypes of Liverpool fans have been proven wrong again and again, why on earth would people head to Anfield during a global pandemic when they know full-well that they’re more likely to be banned from the ground for doing so than they are to see any of the players or staff members? That’s on top of the fact that the pubs will be closed, so there won’t even be anywhere to watch the match if they choose to go to the ground.

Whilst the derby between Borussia Dortmund and Schalke obviously doesn’t compare to the chance for Liverpool to win the first title in 30 years, it is still a partisan affair. That no one turned up to the ground to offer their support is telling about how much trust football fans should be given. Do I think one or two might head to Anfield? Of course, but that’s because people will stand on a railway platform to spot certain trains going past so there’s no accounting for certain people. What I don’t think will happen is the arrival of thousands of fans in such numbers so as to mean that using neutral venues will be a necessity. It’s odd how the same people that will be desperate to condemn supporters for celebrating a title win will almost certain have been doing street parties and congas for VE Day. I’m confident in my assertion that very few, if any, Liverpool fans will head to the ground where the title will be won because football supporters aren’t the idiots they’re often treated as.

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