Closed door games a balance between horror and necessity

Closed door games a balance between horror and necessity

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Eleven players on each side, two goals and a ball – theoretically you don't need much for a football game. But the reality of playing during the coronavirus crisis means the towering stands surrounding pitches in the Bundesliga and elsewhere will be empty.

For years fans have grumbled they are taken for granted, treated like a commodity or as if they aren't needed at all. Television, and the almighty riches it provided, was what mattered as competitions and kick-off times were designed to suit the broadcast schedule.

Now in Europe's major leagues, the plan is to resume matches – possibly as soon as next month during the global pandemic – without supporters. Clubs are undoubtedly mindful of fulfilling television contracts which, if broken, could drown the sport they once elevated above all others.

“To see an empty stadium makes me ill,” Argentine coaching legend Cesar Luis Menotti once said while Manchester United icon Eric Cantona claimed football without fans wasn't football at all.

“There is no passion, there is nothing,” he said.

Is it really so bad? It is still about goals, wins and points while thousands of fans will be able watch on television as they would have done a few weeks ago, before the world changed so dramatically.

Closed door home games are likely easier for those in the lower reaches of the table rather than those challenging at the top, according to Oliver Stoll, a sport psychology professor at the University of Halle-Wittenberg.

“The players from the clubs that are rather low down probably feel the pressure of expectation from their fans far more clearly than those players at top clubs,” he said. “And if there were basically no fans there, the lower clubs would be more likely to profit.”

This is not backed by data but seems “a plausible explanation,” the 57-year-old told German Press Agency (DPA).

Alfred Finnbogason, a striker with 14th-placed Bundesliga side Augsburg, believes the impact will hit equally. “It is the same for everyone,” he said with his team in the relegation battle.

“We now have to keep ourselves up on our own.”

Finnbogason, 31, speaks from experience having played closed door games for Iceland against Ukraine and Croatia, who were being punished for the racism of their fans.

Cologne coach Markus Gisdol was involved in the first, and to date only, Bundesliga game behind closed doors when his team visited Borussia Moenchengladbach just before the league was suspended.

The enforced calm in the stadium brings danger for players and coaches used to having their emotional words covered by the atmosphere.

And the same applies to tactical advice from the sidelines. “Everything is clear,” he said.

Coaches must give more instructions in the changing rooms before kick-off and at half-time while players must take extra care not to offend the ear of match officials.

“I'm relaxed,” said Bayer Leverkusen goalkeeper Lukas Hradecky, “But there are some others there who perhaps get more heated up during the game.”

If the Bundesliga does resume behind closed doors it is a compromise which will be accepted because there is no choice. Borussia Dortmund's Emre Can finds the idea “really bad,” but “as we will definitely have to fight with corona a lot longer, it is better to have closed doors games than no games at all.”

“It didn't really feel like the Bundesliga,” said Gladbach's Christoph Kramer. “But I've learned nothing is worse than not playing at all.”

And if not playing at all is bad for everyone in the short-term during the crisis, not playing at all in the aftermath because clubs have gone bankrupt would be even harder to take.

Kicker sports magazine said recently that up to 13 of the 36 German football league (DFL) clubs could have to file for bankruptcy by June if the money from television contracts is not secured due to the season being scrapped.

“Then the Bundesliga would at some stage be collateral damage of this corona crisis,” DFL chief Christian Seifert said.

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