Clubs gear up for Bundesliga restart in nine days' time
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Bundesliga clubs were racing Thursday to get ready for the restart of the season in nine days' time, amid concerns about whether the players will stick to the strict hygiene guidelines implemented to ensure the campaign is completed.
Twenty-four hours after Chancellor Angela Merkel's government gave the German Football League (DFL) the green light to return, the league said it will resume the season on Saturday, May 16.
The Bundesliga will be the first top European league to restart matches since the outbreak of the coronavirus forced lockdown measures to be imposed across the continent.
However, Christian Seifert, CEO of the DFL, warned clubs they are "on probation".
"I expect everyone to live up to their responsibilities," he added.
The pick of the first matches sees second-placed Borussia Dortmund host arch-rivals Schalke in the Ruhr derby at Signal Iduna Park.
Instead of being roared on by an 81,000 crowd, it will be in a near-empty stadium with a maximum number of 300 people, including both teams, allowed at each game.
"The games will look and feel different," Seifert admitted.
All games will be played without spectators, but broadcaster Sky has said it will air matches live on Sky Sports News, a free channel.
Politicians wanted matches shown on free-to-air TV to help prevent fans gathering to watch matches at a place with a Sky subscription.
France has already ended the Ligue 1 season, with football in England, Spain and Italy still suspended and Seifert says Germany could pave the way for other nations.
"This concept can be a blueprint for everyone," he added.
However, clubs are under pressure to get their players ready.
In the run-up to the restart, all teams must go into a one-week quarantine training camp.
Until Merkel gave the go-ahead, clubs had still been training in small groups.
Defending champions Bayern Munich, who were four points clear when the league was halted in mid-March, will move their stars into a hotel on Saturday to prepare.
Bayern travel to Berlin on Sunday, May 17, to face FC Union, where previous leaders Dortmund and Moenchengladbach have both lost this season.
On Thursday, Dortmund held their first full team training in seven weeks after "a constructive conversation with the local health authority".
Borussia Moenchengladbach also resumed team training, despite announcing Thursday that one of their backroom staff had "a very weak" positive test of the coronavirus and had been quarantined.
The Bundesliga wants to complete the last nine rounds of matches before June 30 to secure around 300 million euros ($325 million) in television money.
- 'Starting from zero' -
However, it is a step into the unknown.
"One must not forget, we are now in a situation that we do not know," admitted Bayern Munich chairman Karl-Heinz Rummenigge.
"We're all starting a bit from zero. One cannot rule out that there are one or two surprises."
The worry is that an outbreak of the coronavirus in the league could again halt the resumed season, this time for good.
There were 10 positive cases from 1,724 tests of players and staff at the top 36 clubs in the first wave of testing and two more in the second.
Referees are also being tested.
The onus is on the players to follow the hygiene guidelines, including avoiding contact at all times.
Hertha Berlin striker Salomon Kalou, 34, was suspended earlier this week by his club for posting a video on social media where he shook hands with team-mates.
Kalou issued an apology, but politicians pointed to the Ivory Coast forward as an example of how not to behave during a pandemic which has so far claimed over 7,000 lives in Germany.
To drum home the point, German daily Bild translated "Follow The Rules!" into 28 languages for the 278 foreign players in the league.
- 'A warning' -
"I was horrified," Dortmund CEO Hans-Joachim Watzke told Bild when asked about the Kalou video.
"I will tell our players again that we have a big responsibility.
"Hertha did the right thing. Such individual cases have to be sanctioned harshly."
A similar message will be the mantra at Bayern.
"I hope that the Kalou video remains an isolated case and we have received a bit of warning with it," added Rummenigge.
© 2020 AFP