Clubs from LaLiga Santander and LaLiga SmartBank, the top two divisions in Spanish football, are returning to training this week following approval from the Spanish Ministry of Health and medical tests carried out by club staff. The return of competitive football is a step closer, and many figures from around the game are excited at the prospect of the ball starting to roll again and have spoken out in support.
Barcelona midfielder Ivan Rakitić and Real Madrid duo Sergio Ramos and Lucas Vázquez are just a few of the several high-profile players to have voiced their support for the return.
“I think it is time for those of us who are involved in football to take a step forward,” Rakitić explained in an interview with Spanish newspaper MARCA. “Socially, we must take a step, to be able to entertain people with what they like and help people stop thinking all about viruses and disease.”
Real Madrid captain Sergio Ramos this week made clear his desire to return to playing speaking with Real Madrid TV: “We must listen to the instructions from the Spanish Ministry of Health. I can’t wait to get back playing and competing. To play in LaLiga, the Champions League, and for the competitions to be finished… as long as there is no risk of contagion.”
Teammate Lucas Vázquez echoed that point about football being able to take people’s minds off the tragedy associated with the coronavirus. As he told The Guardian: “If we can play, with the right safety measures, we’d all love to complete the season. It would be good for people, for society. For two hours you’re not just thinking only about this. Football brings happiness.”
This opinion is also held in the coaching community. As Villarreal head coach Javi Calleja told El Periódico Mediterráneo: “Football can give people hope that this will finish soon, and it means people will be able to have some happiness and entertainment in their homes.”
Those at more modest clubs are also keen for football to make a comeback, in many cases because of the same pressing financial realities that are also facing workers in other industries that have been affected across Spain and the rest of the world. “We don’t all earn millions,” said Dani Barrio of LaLiga SmartBank side Real Zaragoza, during a discussion on social media. “I come from playing in the third tier and am playing to put bread on the table for the next five to six years.”
Cádiz CF defender Juan Cala made a similar point during an appearance on COPE radio. “I’m in favour of returning because it’s the most logical thing,” he said. “We may come from a better or worse family, but we all need to work to put bread on the table and for the economy to make a comeback. Football isn’t just about the professional players, as there are lots of others who live from it.”
Professional football in Spain has been shown to account for 1.37% of the country’s entire GDP, according to an independent study carried out by PwC. This point was raised by Elche CF CEO Patricia Rodríguez Barrios as she tackled the issue in a social media post. “The football industry is often put down by other industries and workers, who think that we’re all privileged millionaires who only work on the day of a match,” she said. “No special treatment has been asked for. We’re only asking to be treated the same as other industries and to be allowed to work.”
Other club directors have also called for football to be allowed to return. “My first concern is health, which is the most important, but I’m also concerned about the economic stability of the clubs,” Sevilla FC sporting director Monchitold national TV broadcaster TVE. “I think we need to finish the league season and I don’t think there is any club not wanting it played,” added Villarreal CF president Fernando Roig on COPE.
LaLiga is overseeing a carefully calculated protocol to ensure that football can return and that the 2019/20 season can be completed. As LaLiga president Javier Tebas has explained: “People’s health is paramount, so we have a comprehensive protocol to safeguard the health of everyone involved as we work to restart LaLiga. Circumstances are unprecedented, but we hope to start playing again in June and finish our 2019/20 season this summer. The return of football is a sign that society is progressing towards the new normal. It will also bring back an element of life that people in Spain and around the world know and love.”