Football and its COVID Challenges.
We are in the endgame of league football in Europe with a few game weeks remaining in Spain, England, and Italy. France already discontinued the league during the lockdown and crowned Paris Saint Germain the champions of France. The resumption of football resulted in the much-anticipated League win of Liverpool. This was their first league title win ever since the Premier League commenced in the year 1992. Meanwhile, in Spain, it was Real Madrid who clinched the title after a tight race with Barcelona. The Italian league is still competitive but Juventus are inching closer and closer to the title and Maurizio Sarri is probably going to win his first top division league title at the age of 61.
While we continue to see familiar faces in the world of football, there is one aspect everyone is dearly missing. That is the presence of the fans inside the stadium. Fans have been hailed as the 12th man in a game and you could feel why. The behind-closed-doors football games have looked fairly dull and even though the players continue to play top-class football, you just cannot ignore the lack of fans. Different broadcasters have tried different means to counter the “atmosphere” problems. The Spanish league broadcasters used CGI fans to make the matches look more realistic. The season ticket holders of different clubs sent their face cuttings to their clubs to fill up some of the empty seats. The leagues have also incorporated fan noises from FIFA 20 during broadcasts for realism.
There were new guidelines introduced to minimize the potential spread of the COVID-19 virus among the staff and the players. We saw the players celebrating goals with fist bumps or hip bumps than the usual high-fives. However, with time, the players seem to be a little less cautious compared to the initial resumption days.
The players have also been advised to maintain social distancing when sitting on the bench and it was definitely a strange sight!
The balls are regularly being disinfected
While these guidelines were necessary for dealing with COVID, the players also required attention. Due to a lack of training for long periods, the players became very unfit. The returning of the league meant that the chance of injuries saw a spike. To ease this transition the leagues decided to allow 5 substitute changes per game, an increase from the previously used 3 substitutes changes per game. There is also the water break added in every half, around the 22nd and 66th-minute mark.
Clubs are facing a health crisis but also a financial crisis. We have seen clubs request players to take wage cuts as it was just not financially possible to keep paying the unbelievable wages. For example, Mesut Ozil, one of the highest earners in England earns around $350,000 per week. There are many such players who earn wages ranging from $200,000 per week to $300,000 per week. Clubs had to cut down on wages. From what we’ve come to know, the players voluntarily took a 30% wage cut barring a few exceptions. We are potentially looking at a knock-on effect in the football world. With less revenue, clubs will be forced to earn profits through player sales. This would result in the valuation of players going down a notch. No spectators inside the stadium would mean a halt in one crucial revenue stream.
We had a look at the grim side of things but here’s one possible positive outcome:
The young academy players will surely get more chances in the first team to impress. Clubs who spend millions in just buying young players from small clubs will have the opportunity to improve the facilities and coaching of their own academy. England is one of the biggest culprits in this aspect. On 20th July 2020, it was confirmed that Jude Bellingham will join Borussia Dortmund for £23m. Another exciting youth prospect refusing to join a top-level English club to join a club in Germany. Reason? Game time and development.
A SHOT FROM A FAN
It is not ideal. No amount of CGI or recorded noise can emulate the impact of fans inside the stadium. We all are aware of the term “Home Advantage” and how the support of fans can drive a team forward or scare a visiting team with the noise and flares. While I had mentioned earlier, that local footballers would benefit from the current financial crisis in the Football world, we still need an influx of outside talent to see a higher standard of football. While it is not just time to allow spectators inside stadiums, I will be looking forward to feeling the football atmosphere again as soon as realistically possible.
Bayer Leverkusen has accepted that Germany midfielder Kai Havertz, 21, has chosen to join Chelsea but the Bundesliga outfit wants to delay the transfer until the end of August. (Daily Star)
Ajax and Argentina left-back Nicolas Tagliafico, 27, is a potential transfer target for Manchester City this summer. (Sports Illustrated)
English midfielder Jude Bellingham, 17, has completed a medical at Borussia Dortmund before his proposed transfer from Birmingham but will finish the Championship season with the Blues. (Sky Sports)
Spanish midfielder Thiago Alcantara, 29, is confident of completing a move to Liverpool after he turned down a new contract with Bayern Munich. (Daily Mirror)
By Sudip Sadhukhan