Are Bundesliga players at higher risk of injury on return?
May 13, 2020 | 4:29 PM
by DW

Berlin: "Players will be exhausted after 60 minutes. Five subs won't help. We can then expect serious fatigue and injuries."

Those words from Marc Lorenz, who plays for the second division side Karlsruhe, have highlighted another thorn in the thicket of issues surrounding the return of professional football in Germany.

While teams are now training in something approaching normal circumstances after two months without matches, that's only recently become the case. Before that, it was home gyms, and then small group sessions, nothing like the sort of regime professionals would undergo in the preseason.

"I don't think the players are optimally prepared," Professor Wilhelm Bloch, a sports doctor who works at the German Sports University in Cologne, told DW.

"We have to assume that not everyone has worked as well as possible in the small groups and in-home training. So their batteries will probably not be completely full, and problems could arise under high workloads such as those that occur in the match. It remains to be seen whether it will really be the 60th minute. But less than ideal conditioning simply means higher risks."

While several other players, and global player's union FIFPro, have expressed health-based misgivings about returning in the current circumstances, the threat of injury has, until now, taken a back seat. Injuries are a regular occurrence in the sport, but with some players' contracts ending in June, serious damage could cost players their livelihoods, particularly in the lower divisions. The DFB, Germany's football association, announced on Monday that the competitions it runs, including the Women's Bundesliga, the third division of the men's system and the German Cup, will all return in the coming weeks.

I fear injuries more than the virus'

Few other players have spoken publicly about injury worries. Still, Fabio Capello, an experienced coach who won it all in club football with AC Milan, Real Madrid, Roma and others and also managed England, said they were his biggest concern, with particular relation to a potential return for Serie A.

"Players are right to be worried about injuries. I fear injuries more than the virus," he told Italian outlet Corriere dello Sport.

"The risk of muscle injuries is already high in training. If they play three matches in a week, the physical recovery time between one game and another will be difficult."

Fixture pile up

The Bundesliga's current nine-matchday schedule includes two midweek rounds. Top-flight clubs still in the German Cup — Eintracht Frankfurt, Bayer Leverkusen and Bayern Munich — could have two more fixtures to fulfill, including the final on July 4. Frankfurt, who have a game in hand on most of the league, could face 12 matches in 49 days.

Sammy Margo, the first female physio to work in professional football in England, told press agency PA that working in home gyms would have done little to prepare the players for action. A lack of monitoring during football's hiatus could have negative consequences.

"Normally there are factors that can predict whether someone will be injured. Because everyone's been absent and the normal system hasn't been happening, a lot of the factors that are used to predict injury have been taken away. Who knows if those stats are being measured?" she said.

Though the injury risk does appear to be much higher now than it usually would at this time of the season, Professor Bloch sees the more obvious threat as even more damaging.

"Let us imagine the following purely hypothetical scenario," he said. "A player from Mainz unknowingly has an infection and tests negative, which is quite possible. The club plays against Bayern, and the Mainz player infects Robert Lewandowski. Lewandowski's illness is severe, and his lungs are badly damaged. As a result, his market value plummets. What do we do then? Those responsible in the Bundesliga should ask themselves whether they want to take such a risk or not."

It seems they do. The current plan is seen to be the best of a bad situation. But it clearly is not one without serious risks.

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