La Liga faces heated debate as it prepares to resume
Barcelona coach Quique Setien and his squad resumed training on May 8. -- AFP
Barcelona - After closely observing as Bundesliga players acted as lab rats when their league became the first of the major European competitions to return last weekend, Spain, hard hit by the pandemic, will now take its turn.
Spanish media rejoiced on Sunday after the government said La Liga could resume, but restarting in June presents many challenges including summer heat, empty stadiums and health rules.
Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez announced on Saturday that football could return from its coronavirus lockdown in the week of June 8.
After closely observing as Bundesliga players acted as lab rats when their league became the first of the major European competitions to return last weekend, Spain, hard hit by the pandemic, will now take its turn.
La Liga has not yet specified when it will kick off or detailed the health protocols it will adopt, but is expected to do so within the next week, according to the Spanish press.
"La Liga is back," exclaimed the front page of Spain's best-selling daily Marca, which adorned its front page with a heart formed by the badges of the 20 Liga clubs. Madrid rival AS and Catalan newspaper Sport used the same headline.
Liga president Javier Tebas has been pushing for the league to resume on June 12, with the Seville derby between Real Betis and Sevilla as the curtain-raiser.
Tebas said on Saturday that he was "very happy" with the announcement, but added "We can't let our guard down".
The last 11 rounds of the season will be played behind closed doors at a time when most of the country can expect scorching heat.
At a meeting with La Liga over the weekend, the Spanish Football Players' Association (AFE), called for cooling breaks during games when temperatures are between 28 and 32 degrees Celsius (82 to 90 degrees Fahrenheit), and for training and matches to be postponed when temperatures rise above 32 degrees, which is common in the height of summer in much of Spain.
Temperatures during training in Valencia on Saturday reached 28 degrees.
La Liga has eagerly announced there would be "football every day" of the week, but the AFE has demanded that clubs be allowed a compulsory gap of at least 72 hours between matches and the Spanish Football Federation (RFEF) had already started a legal action to prevent that.
RFEF went to court at the start of the season and blocked La Liga, which wanted to maximise broadcast revenues, scheduling games on Monday. A final judgement is yet to be handed down.
Tebas estimated at the beginning of April that if La Liga did not resume broadcasting the losses would amount to a billion euros ($1.09 billion), compared with 300 million euros if it played without spectators.
Between now and the restart, the players, who switched from individual training to small group sessions on 18 May while continuing to observe strict health measures, will have almost three weeks to prepare.
The AFE demanded the players were given at least 15 to 20 days to get match fit.
"We want to return to the competition, but we have to go step by step to get back into shape," Levante winger and captain Jose Luis Morales told Marca on Saturday. "We won't have any games to test our fitness, we'll go straight into the competition."
The sentiment was echoed by Espanyol central defender Bernardo Espinosa.
"What we're most concerned about is what can happen physically, injuries," the Colombian told his club's website on Friday. "These two months have increased the risk of injury."
"That's what my team-mates are worried about the most. We need to regain muscle tone and function and reduce the risk, which has increased, not just because of the time we've been out of the game, but also because of the weird times we've been going through and the high temperatures."