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Exclusive | Lutz Pfannenstiel on a potential Bundesliga restart: “It’s simply unrealistic to play like it’s business as usual.”

With Dutch, Belgian and now French leagues suspended the whole footballing world waits with baited breath over the one league that could restart soon; the Bundesliga. Last week, Deutsche Fußball Liga (DFL) had come to an agreement on how to get games back in action and the final piece of putting it into play is a final decision from Germany’s politicians.

With the picture to come clearer on April 30, Jasmine Baba caught up with Sporting director of Fortuna Dusseldorf, Lutz Pfannenstiel to get an idea how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected them.

Lutz, whatever comes out of this Thursday’s meeting, how are you feeling about the Bundesliga coming back?

“Firstly, we don’t know for sure yet when the Bundesliga will come back. The only thing we, the clubs, can do, is to be ready for the day when the politicians give us the green light. We need to be prepared for a short notice between an announcement and the restart date too, but we are definitely very positive about the situation, because the plans from the DFL are very well thought out and I think it covers everything to be able to play.”

Obviously, the pandemic has thrown up several issues logistically, how has it affected training your players?

“We started off at home doing individual training where every player was monitored by the coaching staff and our footballers had equipment like spinning bikes delivered to their homes. We kept on top of players’ fitness using new tracking technologies that are available to us, but also, we used platforms such as Microsoft Teams, so we could visualise what they do.

Over the last three weeks we were able to train in groups of two, and increase that further to three and four. Now, we have been able to increase the groups to eight, but there’s still very strict regulations in place. For example, there are special training rotations in place; one group comes in at 9:30am, the next group comes in at 10:00, the next one at 10:30 and etc. So, in the end its three different groups working on three different pitches and the training session of each group is completely separate from each other.

On every pitch there is a different type of programme; pitch one is for the warming-up and the athletic part, the second pitch holds different passing exercises and the third pitch is used for the technical and tactical part.”

That’s probably easier than coping at an operational level and as a football club. What are the challenges have the club faced there? 

“At a board level, it’s challenging, because we sent most of our workers to work from home. I spend most of my time observing the training sessions, but the board members and I also have a lot of Microsoft Teams and Zoom meetings. 

Businesswise, every club has to work hard to keep their liquidity. The Bundesliga depends a lot on television revenue, and it’s that would be the same for teams in other top-flight leagues. That is our biggest income. You can imagine that a restart in May and finishing the season is very important to keep the business running without serious financial implications.

Even if that means playing games without the fans?

“There is no other choice than playing games behind closed doors. Everybody loves to play in front of 50,000 fans with an electric atmosphere and especially in home games as it can give you an advantage but considering this is a pandemic we’re in, it’s simply unrealistic to play like it’s business as usual.

We know it’s not possible, so we must try to make the best out of it. It is something we must get used to. During our ore season camps we play games against teams from elsewhere in Europe with only 200-300 people watching. Yes, it feels a bit strange, but it is something that we will deal with.

I strongly believe that a restart of the league has also an emotional impact. Lots of people are sitting frustrated at home, worried about their jobs. Football connects people and it will give fans a very emotional feeling to see the game they love back on the screen. I’d rather have Bundesliga behind closed doors but having millions of people watching all over the world on television to get their minds on something positive, than not having any football at all.”

By Jasmine Baba.

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