How the Bundesliga helped the Premier League restart | Sports| German football and major international sports news | DW | 16.06.2020
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How the Bundesliga helped the Premier League restart

It's been almost 100 days since a match took place in the world's richest football league. But, a month after the Bundesliga restart, the Premier League returns on Wednesday. So what have they learned from the Germans?

The Premier League is not accustomed to playing second fiddle to the Bundesliga. But for the past month it's had to, with the eyes of the footballing world turned to Germany since professional football returned on May 16.

The Bundesliga's return broke TV viewing records at home and abroad. But even Bayern Munich wrapping up an eighth-straight title on Tuesday won't keep the league where TV is king out of the world's gaze for long, with Aston Villa hosting Sheffield United and Arsenal playing Manchester City the following day.

Despite an early proposal to play certain matches in neutral venues, an option never really considered in Germany, Mikel Arteta's men will be traveling north for that match, likely in a plane, the recommended method of transportation in the Premier League during the coronavirus pandemic. Then on Sunday, Liverpool may get the chance to win their first Premier League title at the home of city rivals Everton, rather than in neutral Southampton, after local police determined that the safety concerns about playing at Goodison Part were minimal.

Difference in context

But other concerns linger. Despite the latest steps in a return to normality that's now included opening shops, allowing some outdoor interaction and encouraging people to return to work, the pandemic is still very much biting in the UK. Johns Hopkins University statistics show the country has the fifth most active cases globally, as of June 16, and the third highest death toll. 

Handshakes will be discouraged, even if Liverpool win the league (Reuters/P. Childs)

Handshakes will be discouraged, even if Liverpool win the league

In comparison, Germany was widely accepted to have had a much firmer grip on the infection rate when the Bundesliga restarted a month ago. Germany's death toll now stands at 8,814 while the UK has recorded 41,821 fatalities, despite a significantly smaller population.

Though the differences in controlling the virus are stark on a societal level, the Premier League has taken heart from the Bundesliga's success so far. A league spokesperson told DW only that their approach has been led by UK government guidance and medical protocols, but chief executive Richard Masters told the Daily Mirror last month that watching the Bundesliga had been instructive.

"The Germans are a couple of steps ahead of us obviously and we can learn from them and watch them and take confidence from their success," he said.

"I think starting the league, watching it being played out and seeing the quality of football and observing the package from behind closed doors, how it was broadcast, was really helpful for the Premier League and our other European leagues’ colleagues. That is helpful and it does add confidence that it can be achievable in this country."

Subtle differences

With top-level football in Italy and Spain also returning in the past week, the examples to follow are stacking up. But in its implementation of green, yellow and red zones and limit of about 300 people in the stadium, the Premier League has followed the Bundesliga's lead.

The insistence that "all players and staff must complete relevant checks for COVID-19 and report any symptoms [while] teams must travel to matches in sterile environments and apply social distancing whilst using transport" is also near-identical to those measures enforced in Germany. So too is the scrapping of handshakes, introduction of disinfecting measures and a series of other safety-related protocols. But there are still points of difference to be found.

One of those is in the wearing of face masks. Though the policy has been relaxed slightly over time, Bundesliga players were initially obliged to wear them at all times other than on the pitch, whereas Premier League players will not have to wear them arriving at stadiums, in dressing rooms or on the substitutes’ bench.

While Cologne's Birger Verstraete briefly raised his voice in dissent about the Bundesliga's return before his club "clarified" his words, some Premier League players have been more outspoken. Brighton striker Glenn Murray initially called the plans "absurd" while Chelsea's Willian also appeared fearful last month. 

"Honestly, from what I can see, a lot of players – the majority, I’d say – are uncomfortable with the idea of returning right now," he said.

Also, a number of black players, including Watford captain Troy Deeney and Chelsea midfielder N'Golo Kante were reluctant to return to training due to the disproportionate impact of the virus on those from ethnic minority backgrounds in the UK.

Chance of change?

But concerns seem to have largely died down, partly due to the slowing of the spread of the virus and partly because of success of the Bundesliga's return.

Perhaps the most lasting difference will be what happens when, or if, the seasons are completed. While DFL (German Football League) CEO Christian Seifert, whose organization run the Bundesliga, has said it is a "great honor" to have received "a lot of compliments from around the world" on their restart, he has also been keen to stress that the cracks it exposed in club financing, should be an opportunity to re-examine how top level football operates.

For the most part, that discussion is yet to arise in a league that operates a much more nakedly commercial model – although Southampton manager Ralph Hasenhüttl did tell German magazine kicker that he believed that "after this crisis, sustainable management will find more acceptance in the clubs," partly because "TV revenue will tend to fall."

The former Ingolstadt and RB Leipzig boss could have a point. Or perhaps he hasn't completely adjusted to life in the Premier League just yet.

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