Ronny Deila: “That’s going to be strange, awkward to play without it but it’s going to be a new experience.” (FrontRowSoccer.com Photo)
By Michael Lewis
Sooner or later, sports – and soccer – will return to entertain the public.
Most of us hope that it’s sooner, but the new normal, at least for the short term, could very well be stadiums minus fans due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
New York City FC head coach Ronny Deila said he was willing to play without fans, although he admitted it would be one strange environment.
“First of all, safety is the most important thing,” Deila said during a video conference call with media on Wednesday. “We can talk about sports and the culture, but to stay alive is the most important and for people to feel safe. So, I understand that if that’s how it is. We have to do the best of the situation.
“Of course, we play football because of the fans, a lot of the fans. We love the game, but it is something special when you have the fans there. So that’s going to be strange, awkward to play without it but it’s going to be a new experience. So, I understand everything. Hopefully, it’s going to get much better and then we can start playing with fans as quick as possible. If it doesn’t happen this year, then we have to do everything we can to give the TV viewers games, a lot of games, something to watch on television.”
The last MLS match was played on Sunday, March 8. Depending on when the go-ahead to play games is made, Major League Soccer could try to play all 34 matches per team and change the schedule drastically, cut the season down. Or, if the league comes back very late in the summer, a tournament-type structure could be used.
Deila said that he was ready for anything. He just wants his team to play the beautiful game.
“I think it’s important,” he said. “We love to play football and so we want to play. If that is what kind of tournament it is, that’s not so important. Just to get started playing and get the players on the pitch again. Also, it’s an economical thing. A lot of clubs and MLS are losing a lot of money because we’re not playing games. Everybody has to be very opened minded, also creative to find solutions now so we can start playing games so we can keep the clubs and MLS and the players going. That’s going to be important. I just want to get started when things are safe and in what way, i don’t know.
“I’m sure you’re going to have to be very creative to find things to play as many games possible during the season.”
The earliest MLS could return would be June 8, commissioner Don Garber told ESPN on Wednesday.
“I think it’s [the] experts in this world who are going to say what’s right or wrong,” Deila said. “I just have to trust the people who know what they’re talking about. Me, as everybody else wants to start as quick as possible. We want everybody to be safe. I leave that in their hands, and I’ll take care fo the football.”
Asked how long he would need to prepare players for a restart of the season, Deila replied, “If you’ve had an injury and off for eight weeks, it takes four weeks to get back half of the time. It depends how long they go. If they go for one and half months, we need three or four weeks to get going. Having said that, everybody’s in the same position. If we’re not match fit, the others won’t be match fit either. So, ok, then we have to see the best to play unfit. But you play into a rhythm.
“I don’t see that being a difference, when you’ve been 2 1/2 months away in November and December and half of January to what will happen now. If we get training during May, I think four or five weeks we should be ready to play games again.”
Deila stressed that it’s about staying healthy. At the present time, some of his players don’t want to leave their apartments or houses. So, it about getting back to normal again, or a new normal, whatever that will be.
“The players are very affected about this,” he said. “Some players don’t want to go out. They want to stay inside all the time. Some are ok to go out for a run. A lot of people are worried and scared and that we have to take seriously.”
But getting back onto the field again, will be good for the players’ psyche and everyone else’s as well.
“It is important when they come back again that all of the players feel safe when they go into work,” Deila said. “They don’t have to do something they don’t want to do because they’re scared. We have some fantastic people inside and around this club.
“Sports is very important to people. Not only at the top level, but also youth. To start people doing sports again, activities is very, very important for the people who’s not sick, but sitting a lot at home. When that can open, it can affect the mental minds of the whole population and that’s very important.”
But there was a caveat.
“It has to be safe,” the NYCFC coach said. “There are a lot of fans who love football, basketball or ice hockey or whatever it is, to get something back on television. Maybe not coming to watch, but to watch on television is something that will give more happiness to every supporter and people who love sport.”