Ex-Hearts defender Kevin McKenna reveals how German football's restart will work as Kaiserslautern players wash their own kit

Coronavirus tests and disinfecting equipment key to plan

By Barry Anderson
Thursday, 14th May 2020, 7:35 am
Former Hearts defender Kevin McKenna is assistant coach at Kaiserslautern.
Former Hearts defender Kevin McKenna is assistant coach at Kaiserslautern.

Germany's ambitious plan to resume football amid the coronavirus pandemic is ready to go. It stipulates testing players and coaches every three days, disinfecting all equipment, teams arriving fully stripped for matches, plus everyone going straight home afterwards to wash their own kit. There will be no fans inside stadiums.

The eyes of Europe are on the Bundesliga, which restarts on Saturday, and the divisions below. Even non-football people are intrigued about whether the stereotypical German efficiency can navigate a way for football to continue during a global health crisis.

The country's top two divisions have huge television contracts to adhere to and that is driving the restart. Around €750m of broadcasting, ticketing and sponsorship revenue could be lost if the 2019/20 campaign is not completed. Suggestions are that could bankrupt around a dozen clubs across the Bundesliga and 2.Bundesliga.

In the third tier, the 3.Liga, there is the more fundamental desire to continue a sport they love, although not everyone is completely in agreement. The former Hearts defender Kevin McKenna is assistant coach at Kaiserslautern and admits to some uncertainty about how the restart will pan out.

"We are due to play next weekend so we are starting testing now," the Canadian, who played more than 100 matches for Hearts between 2001 and 2005, says. "You have to take a second test three days after the first. They take a swob up through your nose and in the back of your throat. Each test takes four minutes.

"Players in the leagues above have to go into a hotel and stay but teams in the third division don't have as much cash so I'm not sure how it will work yet. The leagues above us will play every three days and I think we will be the same.

"There are still a lot of questions to be answered and you won't be able to satisfy everyone. There are people who want to play and others who don't want to play. Part of me has thought there are more people speaking against it than for it, but they want to push it through and play the season to the end.

"I think Germany is one of the safer countries in Europe. There is a really good health system, which has helped a lot."

More than 100,000 tests a day across Germany have helped make football's resumption possible. The schedule to complete the campaign will be relentless, however. "We are going to play 11 games in about four weeks," continues McKenna.

"They are saying you can play Saturday at 10am, then Monday night or Tuesday morning. It doesn't matter what time the games are because fans won't be there. It's a new experience and we don't know how it's all going to pan out in the end.

"We are training in small groups of four and have been for a few weeks now. We're not allowed tackling and we're not allowed body contact but we have found a way to train.

"You are out on the pitch for five or six hours a day just doing one training session. You are repeating things because you need to train differently."

You must also think differently. If Scottish football is to follow suit at some stage, taking lessons from Germany may be beneficial. Matchday preparation will be totally alien for every footballer for the foreseeable future.

"The games are supposed to happen as normal once the whistle goes, but the build up will be very different," says McKenna, now 40. "They are talking about players getting changed in the hotel and going straight onto the pitch to warm up and then start the game.

"Subs will be sitting in the stand two metres apart but will still go onto the pitch and play normally. I personally don't understand it myself. Maybe it's just to keep the risk down. Now we are allowed five substitutions because there will be such high intensity with games every three days.

"You don't shower at the ground any more, it's like being a kid again on a Sunday. You show up in your kit, you play and then you go home and shower there. In our case, we will shower back at the hotel.

"The players keep their own training kit and wash it themselves. They arrive for training in the kit and go straight home afterwards to wash everything. The training equipment is all being disinfected."

Kaiserslautern are one of many reputable German clubs striving to return to prominence from the third division. Among the others are 1860 Munich, Hansa Rostock, MSV Duisburg and KFC Uerdingen [formally Bayer Uerdingen].

Yet McKenna and his colleagues have not campaigned hard to get back playing. "Our league are looking to get some help from the German football federation. I don't know how much help they will get. The testing alone is going to cost a lot of money.

"They had a vote a few weeks back where eight teams were against a restart, ten were for it and two were in neither camp." It seems controversial voting is not exclusive to Scottish football, where infighting over how to end the season has ripped through the game since matches were suspended in March.

"As a club, we are sitting on the fence. We are not bothered which way it goes," adds McKenna. "We were one of those two clubs in neither camp. We just want everything to go smoothly. I think people are forgetting the bigger picture, which is that we are fighting a major illness right now. The most important thing is the world gets healthy.

"You don't see the impact of this. The doctors and nurses in the hospitals are doing a great job but we don't see it because we aren't around it. Yeah, you see less people on the road, you aren't allowed to go shopping, there is social distancing, but you only really see this on the news.

"The sad thing is it's really all about the money, which is pretty sad for me. You're not talking about the football any more. It's people positioning themselves to get a financial gain. I can't tell you what the best decision is or how to satisfy most people.

"Football is massive in this country, just as it is in Scotland and across the UK. I don't know if you guys are thinking about restarting yet? Is it all up in the air?"

Best not to ask, Kevin.

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