Commentary

EPL must learn from Bundesliga if Project Restart is to succeed

Project Restart is following Das Reboot. The English Premier League's plan to begin again is heavily influenced by the Bundesliga and the German top flight's successful resumption last weekend gave English football encouragement.

"It does add confidence that it can be achievable in this country," Premier League chief executive Richard Masters said on Monday.

The German blueprint offered detail - socially distanced substitutes in masks, players either celebrating alone or reminded of their responsibilities when they did not - as well as an insight into a strange new world.

The sight and sound of empty stands at some of Europe's biggest grounds is a reason the Premier League is contemplating CGI fans and audio effects. It is a television product and the eerie lack of atmosphere was the major downside of the German games.

The other lessons were largely positive. On the pitch, there was plenty of quality and some terrific goals; Borussia Dortmund's Erling Braut Haaland, Julian Brandt and Raphael Guerreiro showed their class in the curtain-raiser against Schalke.

If it was understandable some teams eased their way into games, others were able to fly out of the blocks: Monchengladbach's happy return brought two goals in the first seven minutes.

Fears that players would not be fit enough were allayed: Bayer Leverkusen ran 124.2km, up more than four on their seasonal average, even if some other sides covered less ground than usual.

That Bundesliga coaches had five to six weeks to prepare could add fuel to the Premier League fire that a June 12 restart is too soon to regain sharpness.

Those English clubs who complained about the possible use of neutral venues may note there was little home advantage in Germany, with five away wins and three draws in nine games.

The importance of sport during a pandemic has been questioned, just as football has been criticised for greed in coming back.

Yet the reception suggested that Jurgen Klopp's view that "football seems the most important of the least important things" is shared, both in his homeland and abroad.

After two months without top-level live sport, the Bundesliga was welcomed to fill a vacuum.

It got more than double its usual viewing figures in Germany, more than three times as many as normal in the United States and about five times more than the average Bundesliga game in England.

The attention-seeking Premier League will have taken note and, while a survey found that only 19 per cent of Britons' morale would improve with its return, that is still 13 million people.

Those English clubs who complained about the possible use of neutral venues may note there was little home advantage in Germany, with five away wins and three draws in nine games.

One concern is that coronavirus has hit the UK harder and Germany, which has had under a quarter of the number of deaths, has recovered quicker. But two weeks ago, their top two divisions had 10 positive tests out of 1,724.

The Premier League's six from 748 is only a slightly higher percentage, even if second-division Dynamo Dresden had a game postponed.

The Premier League is not planning on calling off matches if a club has one positive test.

The Bundesliga has shown guidelines must be upheld. Two managers who had broken quarantine for different reasons - Union Berlin's Urs Fischer after a family bereavement, Augsburg's Heiko Herrlich to buy toothpaste - missed their side's matches because they had not yet twice tested negative.

German clubs have taken a tough stance on players who ignored social distancing, with Hertha Berlin even suspending Salomon Kalou from training and playing. Perhaps their English equivalents will have to discipline offenders more than they have so far.

German fans, by and large, have observed the restrictions. A reason why British police wanted neutral venues is so supporters would not congregate, which could be a particular issue for Liverpool when they win the title.

German clubs' followers have remained at home. Manchester United have already appealed to their fans to stay away. Their rivals will follow suit.

For supporters, as well as the league, Germany represents the role model.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 22, 2020, with the headline 'EPL must learn from Bundesliga if Project Restart is to succeed'. Print Edition | Subscribe