Germany

Getty Images

Bundesliga future still up in the air amid virus outbreak

Leave a comment

BERLIN — With soccer teams in Germany resuming training in small groups this week, there is optimism among some that the Bundesliga will be able to resume in May.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights

Such hopes appear slim, however, with the coronavirus outbreak still not under control.

“It is clear that wherever people come into close contact with each other, at major events such as soccer games, or in clubs, it will take a long time before normality returns,” Health Minister Jens Spahn said in an interview with the daily Handelsblatt on Thursday.

The country’s top two divisions have been suspended through April. The last match was played on March 11.

The 36 clubs from the two divisions agreed on March 31 that they want to complete the season by the end of June, almost certainly without fans present and with a minimal workforce in a bid to prevent any further outbreaks of the virus. But any decisions to return are not for the clubs to make, forcing them to adopt a wait-and-see approach.

“So far there have been a lot of considerations and thoughts, but no concrete plans for the resumption of Bundesliga games,” Union Berlin spokesman Christian Arbeit told The Associated Press on Thursday.

Germany was the last of the five major leagues in Europe to suspend play. The decision was forced on soccer officials as some players contracted the virus before the 26th round could begin.

That round had been due to go ahead without fans in stadiums. However, in the only German game played without supporters on March 11, hundreds assembled outside the stadium for the derby match between Borussia Monchengladbach and Cologne, defeating the purpose of stopping large gatherings of people.

State politicians and health officials will determine when, how and even if the Bundesliga can resume to complete the rest of the season.

Germany has registered more than 113,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and attributed almost 2,350 deaths to the disease.

The country has shut schools, bars, most shops and banned gatherings of more than two people in public with the restrictions through at least April 19.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel warned on Thursday that the situation is “fragile” and that “we could very, very quickly destroy what we have achieved.”

Merkel is due to discuss the way forward with governors of the country’s 16 states next Wednesday, but officials so far have been reluctant to discuss details of a possible exit strategy. They have made clear that any return to normality will be gradual and phased.

“Developments in the weeks ahead will be shaped by external factors such as the spread of the virus and the political response,” the German soccer league said in a statement.

There are 163 games to be played in the top two divisions to complete the season. The clubs are to meet again to discuss the situation on April 17.

“All of those who make predictions about a possible start of games are charlatans. All charlatans,” former Bayern Munich president Uli Hoenes told Kicker magazine on March 26. “Nobody knows exactly how long it will take.”

Report: Germany line up Liverpool boss Klopp

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Jurgen Klopp will be a man in demand for a very long time and a report claims that Germany want him to become their new boss.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights

The current Liverpool manager signed a new contract at the Merseyside club in 2019 which runs until 2024 but has openly admitted on several occasions that he doesn’t plan to coach for the next few decades.

Per the report from the Daily Mirror, Klopp, 52, is said to be Germany’s ideal successor to Joachim Low and the former Mainz and Borussia Dortmund manager is keen on making the move to international management when he feels like the time is right to move on from Liverpool.  

He’s previously said he thinks Liverpool will be his last job in the club game and although there’s no indication he will leave the Reds anytime soon, there’s a growing sense that Klopp will be Germany’s main target in the summer of 2022 after Low’s current deal runs out.

Klopp’s previous Liverpool deal was due to run out in 2022 but he extended that by two years in December and is contracted to the Reds until 2024 and there is no break clause or release clause in that deal.

Liverpool have won the UEFA Champions League, UEFA Super Cup and Club World Cup over the last 12 months and currently sit 25 points clear atop the Premier League table with nine games to go as they close in on their first league title in over 30 years.

Klopp’s methods and personality are perhaps better suited to the club game than the international level as his charisma rubs off on his players day-to-day. Liverpool would of course like him to be their Sir Alex Ferguson or Arsene Wenger, staying at the club for over 20 years, but Klopp has always been very open that he doesn’t plan on doing that.

Low has spent the past 14 years in charge of Germany and led them to the 2014 World Cup title, the semifinals of the 2010 World Cup and the final of the European Championships in 2008. After a rough 2018 World Cup where the defending champs were knocked out in the group stage, Low rebuilt his national team and they breezed throughout qualifying for EURO 2020 which has now been pushed to the summer of 2021. He is still expected to coach Die Mannschaft through the 2022 World Cup in Qatar to complete an incredible 16-year spell in charge of the national team.

Klopp would obviously be Germany’s first-choice candidate and if he fancies leaving Liverpool in the summer of 2023, it looks like the stars could be aligning for him to head straight to the national team job. He rose to national prominence in Germany as a TV pundit during the 2006 World Cup and Klopp could well see out his managerial career by leading Germany.

Plastic cutouts to replace live fans for German club

Getty Images
Leave a comment

BERLIN — A German club’s supporters are planning to replace real-life fans with plastic ones when the Bundesliga resumes – and raise some money for a child’s medical treatment in the process.

[ MORE: Bundesliga schedule  ] 

Borussia Monchengladbach supporters have come up with a novel way to support their team, even though they probably won’t be allowed to attend games for a while longer because of the coronavirus outbreak.

One Gladbach supporters group is giving members the chance to create life-size plastic figures that will be placed in the stadium in their places when – and if – the Bundesliga is able to complete its season.

“We don’t have any concrete expectations but it should be a couple of thousand fans anyway,” the FPMG club’s liaison officer Thomas “Tower” Weinmann told The Associated Press.

For 19 euros ($21) each supporter can have their portrait taken and reprinted on hard weatherproof plastic cutouts. From each sale, 2 euros ($2.20) will go toward a fundraising campaign for a boy named Ben to receive treatment for spinal muscular atrophy. Another portion of the money raised will go toward supporting seven workers in the fan club whose jobs are under threat with no soccer being played.

“The rest is pure manufacturing and processing costs. With this we’re also helping two small companies in Monchengladbach that had to close their shops,” FPMG says on its website. “So no profit will be made, and when the ‘war is won’ and we can all go back to the stadium, everyone can take their portrait in plastic as a souvenir of a memorable time.”

Bundesliga giants donate funds to struggling clubs

Getty Images
Leave a comment

The four Bundesliga clubs who qualified for the UEFA Champions League this season have donated over $22 million to help clubs struggling across Germany’s top two divisions due to the coronavirus pandemic.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

Bayern Munich, Borussia Dortmund, Bayer Leverkusen and RB Leipzig have each donated $5.5 million to help clubs in the Bundesliga and 2. Bundesliga impacted by the league suspension in response to the outbreak of COVID-19 in Germany and across Europe.

How the ‘solidarity payment’ — which consists of the four wealthiest clubs in Germany foregoing their combined share of undistributed broadcast revenue of $13.6 million plus $8.2 million of their own cash — will be distributed will be decided by the DFL Presidium.

“The aim of the campaign is to provide financial support for hardship cases triggered by the corona crisis. We have always said that we will show solidarity if clubs are at fault because of this exceptional situation, which they can no longer manage alone.”

Christian Seifert, spokesman of the DFL Presidium, added: “This campaign underlines that solidarity in the Bundesliga and 2nd Bundesliga is not a lip service. The DFL Presidium is very grateful to the four Champions League participants in terms of the community of all clubs.”

Latest coronavirus connections to soccer:

Lower-division clubs among hardest hit by pandemic

Photo by Tom Dulat/Getty Images
Leave a comment

MADRID — A Spanish third-division soccer team had just started selling a special membership package for the decisive portion of the season, hoping to bring in some extra income.

Another was counting on the boost from revenue on the back of ticket sales for the upcoming derby against a regional rival, one of its biggest matches of the season.

They were not expecting the coronavirus outbreak, nor to see soccer come to a halt.

The suspension of competitions across the globe has taken a toll on top teams everywhere, but it will be for the smaller clubs that the financial impact may cause the most damage.

While the stoppage has already forced some teams in the major leagues to cut players’ salaries, the effect of the crisis on lower-division clubs may be even more dire, lasting longer and possibly leading to financial collapse.

“Every team in the third division will suffer serious consequences,” Franco Caselli, president of Spanish third-division club Burgos, told The Associated Press. “Some more than others, depending on their economic situation.”

In most countries, there are no lucrative television broadcast deals for teams outside the first and second divisions. Their income comes mostly from ticket sales, small sponsors, team merchandising, season memberships and youth academy memberships – most of which have been affected by the suspension of games.

Caselli said Burgos, one of the bigger clubs in Spain’s third division, is doing well financially and should be able to withstand the crisis, but not without losses.

“We had put on sale a special membership package for the last matches of the league, and more than 1,000 had already been sold,” he said. “That was a 20 percent increase in new memberships at this stage, so the losses will be important.”

Mérida, also in Spain’s third tier, was looking to pack its 14,600-capacity stadium for the derby against Badajoz just before it was suspended because of the outbreak, jeopardizing one of its biggest revenue sources of the season.

Fourth-division club Sant Andreu, which plays in a Barcelona neighborhood at a small stadium where players’ errant shots can go over the stands and onto the nearby streets, estimated a 30 percent deficit from the current stoppage of play.

“We are facing the unknown,” Manuel Camino, president and owner of the club, told the AP. “We don’t know how long this will last.”

Camino said he also doesn’t fear for the club’s future, but others elsewhere were not so optimistic.

Italian third-division club Casertana was one of several lower-league teams to announce it can no longer pay players’ wages.

Casertana President Giuseppe D’Agostino said the financial strain on his cheese company – which specializes in buffalo mozzarella – combined with the lack of matches, became too much to handle.

“Unfortunately, the state of emergency created by the coronavirus represented an enormous blow to all commercial enterprises … and did not spare my company,” D’Agostino said. “That has made it impossible to respect (a) deadline for players’ wages.”

English clubs also struggled to withstand the crisis. Fifth-tier Barnet had to place all non-playing staff on notice in “emergency measures to preserve the club.”

“We have to consider the impact that COVID-19 will have in the immediate and long-term future,” the club said in a statement.

Club chairman Tony Kleanthous said it was his “responsibility to ensure Barnet FC continues to survive and remains financially stable and therefore, I have had to make difficult decisions.”

In Spain, the Spanish soccer federation, which oversees the lower divisions, said it has been able to guarantee the money destined to smaller clubs thanks in part to the extra revenue it generated by taking the Spanish Super Cup to Saudi Arabia.

“We have guaranteed 100 percent of the help this year and also for next year,” federation President Luis Rubiales said.

Top-division teams in Europe had already shown signs of struggle, with some in Germany making salary cuts. Players for German title challenger Borussia Mönchengladbach this week approached the club with an offer to take reduced salaries, while Scottish club Hearts asked all of its players and other full-time employees to accept a 50 percent pay cut or contract termination.

Clubs in Switzerland and France also took measures to try to reduce the losses caused by the pandemic, which has infected more than 275,000 people and killed more than 11,400 worldwide.

Bundesliga CEO Christian Seifert said recently that he hoped the leagues could resume as soon as possible, even if the matches are played in empty stadiums.

“If someone says they’re ruling out ghost games (empty stadium games), then they don’t need to think any more about whether we’ll be playing with 18 or 20 pro clubs,” he said, referring to the debate about promotion and relegation for next season. “Because then we won’t have 20 pro clubs anymore.”

For most people, the virus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia. The vast majority of people recover.