FEATURE | 2020 Champions League Final Revisited: Bayern Munich’s triumph during the pandemic

Football during the Covid-19 pandemic seems like a distant memory, yet it was just over three years ago when sporting events stopped and the world went into lockdown. In what was unprecedented times, the future of football looked uncertain with domestic leagues and international competitions ground to a halt, governing bodies uncertain whether they would resume, all whilst clubs risked losing out on millions if football didn’t restart with smaller clubs potentially having to fold due to loss of income.

On 15 March 2020, UEFA confirmed that all club competitions scheduled for the coming week were postponed, including the remaining Champions League and Europa League Round of 16 games, and all UEFA Youth League Quarter-Final games. That same week, UEFA invited representatives of its 55 member associations together with the boards of the European Club Association and the European Leagues and a representative of FIFPro, to a video conference to discuss European football’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic.

A week later, UEFA confirmed that the Champions League final, scheduled for May 2020, would be postponed alongside its remaining European competitions. Several meetings took place and to avoid further loss of income, voiding the 2019/20 Champions League wasn’t an option. UEFA and the collective European leagues were committed to completing the 2019/20 domestic and continental seasons and with that, the 2019/20 Champions League final.

On 9 July 2020, long after the season would typically conclude, UEFA announced the venues for the 2019/20 European club competitions, which would be played behind closed doors. Along with this, a UEFA Return to Play Protocol which set out the framework of sanitary and hygiene-related procedures that clubs and officials would have to follow.

Bayern Munich would play their Champions League Round of 16 Second-Leg clash against Chelsea at the Allianz Arena behind closed doors, a game they went on to win 4-1, and 7-1 on aggregate, setting up a Quarter-Final against Barcelona. The remaining fixtures would be played at Benfica’s Estadio da Luz or Sporting CP’s Estadio Jose Alvalade. Against Barcelona, Bayern Munich produced a masterclass, thumping their Spanish counterparts 8-2 with Alphonso Davies arguably playing his best game in a Bayern trikot.

Hansi Flick’s side would then brush aside Ligue 1 side Olympique Lyon, setting up a Champions League Final against Paris Saint-Germain, a team coached by Thomas Tuchel. Many thought that 2020 would be PSG’s year to win the illustrious Champions League, but Bayern remained resilient and did what they do best, showcase their winning mentality and win despite not being at their absolute, clinical, best.

Manuel Neuer was called upon to make an incredible double save to deny Neymar, and it was the Ligue 1 side that dominated possession and chances. But it was Bayern Munich that took the lead through Kingsley Coman, a former academy product of PSG, with the Frenchman scoring what proved to be the winner just before the hour mark. PSG would continue to probe but it would be Bayern who proved victorious, lifting their third Champions League.

But for all the action on the pitch, the 2020 Champions League Final will be remembered for what happened off it, in what certainly felt like a dystopian film.

In the build-up to the 2020 Champions League Final, players and staff would undertake regular testing whilst being placed in bubbles to lower the risk of infection. But in truth, Germany did an excellent job of combatting the virus within sport and returning to normality sooner than many could have predicted. This was due to the steps that were put in place.

“If a test comes back positive, it’s automatically reported to the health authorities,” said Professor Doctor Tim Meyer, the head of the Sports Medicine/Special Match Operations Task Force. “As a rule, the person concerned is isolated and it’s determined what contact has occurred. Measures are taken accordingly. This can also be isolation but it can also be other measures. That decision is taken solely by the health authorities.”

With domestic football in Germany returning before any other country, the Bundesliga was somewhat seen as a case study. Players would be placed in bubbles and it’s domestic leagues would be some of the first to have fans returning to stadiums.

Germany was one of the first countries to roll out its vaccination against Covid-19, and the Bundesliga played its part. Clubs would allow health authorities to use stadiums as vaccination centres in the early stages of the rollout. Football first returned behind closed doors but with incidence rates decreasing across Germany, 14 of its 16 states agreed on a capacity cap of 50% with a maximum number of spectators in stadiums set at 25,000.

Upon the return of football in Germany, personnel within the stadium was extremely limited. At Bayer Leverkusen, only 213 people were present and the stadium was divided into sections. Only a small minority of media were able to attend, mixed zone access was non-existent and press conferences would take place via Zoom. There would be no catering facilities and each media member had to provide a negative test and a proof of vaccination – and this was like the Champions League Final hygiene protocols.

Around Germany, testing centres were put in place and upon the return of football, spectators had to provide proof of a negative test and a vaccination against Covid-19. Jabs were available for fans heading to Schalke and Hamburg games in the 2. Bundesliga whilst Stuttgart followed a similar roll out. It worked and had it not have been for Germany’s health care authorities and DFL officials not putting a plan in place, the 2020 Champions League final may not have taken place at all. The return of the Bundesliga was seen as a working case study before others followed.

A report by Sheffield Hallam University, funded by the UK Research Institute (UKRI) and European Social Research Council (ESRC), found that the Premier League lost around £800m and combined with the English Football League – Championship to League Two, English clubs lost a total of £1bn in revenue with the industry set back two-and-a-half years because of the pandemic.

UEFA’s television contract for the Champions League is one of the largest in world sports with most of the money received paid out to clubs in TV revenue. Because of that, it was imperative that they found a way to finish the 2019/20 Champions League and Europa League season and had it have not been for the Bundesliga showing that the hygiene protocols can work within elite sports, then it’s quite possible that we could have lost several elite European clubs. Once again, the Bundesliga paved way for innovation during the Covid-19 pandemic, and both Bayern Munich and the 2020 Champions League final benefitted from it.

GGFN | Daniel Pinder

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