By J Hutcherson (Sep 22, 2020) US Soccer Players - It's hardly a surprise that any discussion of the UEFA Super Cup plays down the concept and its seriousness. Since there's a Champions League and Europa League winner, why not play them off against each other at the start of the next European soccer season? Though it might seem like a glorified friendly, there's a logo, a trophy, and an attempt by UEFA to treat the competition as serious business.
Then there's the 2020 version. In the midst of a pandemic and a successful summer of European club soccer, UEFA wants more. Namely, they want the fans back in the stadiums. Thursday's Bayern Munich vs Sevilla game at Puskas Arena will go ahead with 30% of the venue's 67,000 seats available. It's a first step for UEFA, taken a month after the Champions League and Europa League played out in empty stadiums.
England announced this week that they wouldn't be going ahead with limited capacities in some stadiums. The infection rate worked against that plan as its done in areas all over the world. Some Major League Soccer teams can allow fans. Most can't. It's the same situation with the NFL while Major League Baseball plays on without fans and the NBA and the NHL close out their seasons in neutral site bubbles.
Whether or not UEFA is pressing for a normal that can't exist at the moment is the big picture question. European soccer's governing body may be asking it early and in an interesting circumstance. The Hungarian league isn't known for large crowds. This is about traveling support in this new era where travel itself has become something to seriously consider.
It's not just UEFA. Some German states are allowing fans to return. The Netherlands is operating under limited stadium capacities. Again, these are steps toward returning to normal that may or may not work. Whether or not organizers should even be trying is certainly worth asking.
When UEFA announced that they would allow fans to attend the Super Cup, they couched it as a test and a study. UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin stressed the obvious in that press release, saying, "we will not take risks with people's safety."
That's now hanging over all of European soccer every time an organization decides to open the doors. Letting fans in locally carries risk. A game that should draw traveling support from other countries multiplies those concerns.
Just like with the restart itself, at some point the business of soccer has no alternative but to try. The response to England pulling back on their plans to allow the return of fans is to focus on smaller clubs dependent on selling tickets. Without that revenue stream, there's no doubt that some will eventually fall into a financial crisis. That's not news, but it's the expectation that their situations might have changed had authorities pressed ahead.
That's the balance looming over not just soccer, but it resonates with something so easily identifiable with crowds. The faux-crowds created by a soundtrack shouldn't fool anybody. The game loses something crucial when it's played in isolation. There's no making that up with screens or cutouts. If anything, all that does is amplify the strangeness of the situation.
What UEFA may get on Thursday is that return to somewhat normal. Fans in attendance making their own noise. Two teams already playing league games that can't risk treating this as a warmup. A clear underdog trying to prove that they belong.
"It's a case of coming up against the best team in the world at the moment," Sevilla coach Julen Lopetegui said. "We know that we don't just want to roll over. We have a lot of respect and admiration for this team, but we are also a team who are very proud, ambitious and excited. We fully intend to approach the final with a desire to give a good showing of ourselves. It's not going to be easy but that is what we're obviously hoping for."
Part of what the return to play has accomplished is showing that the game can push forward. It's not the best version, but it counts. Bayern Munich's Champions League win doesn't deserve an explanation any more than its undefeated streak. The team proved over and over that it is playing the best soccer in Europe regardless of circumstance. Hanging eight goals on Schalke to open its Bundesliga schedule was an unnecessary reminder.
"We had a perfect season," Bayern Munich coach Hansi Flick said. "We won every game. Sure, it's difficult to defend a trophy, but we accept the challenge and it's one of our aims to get as far as possible in the Champions League; we take one step at a time. This is a great situation and we don't look further than the next match. We are preparing intensively, and we want to win every game."
J Hutcherson started covering soccer in 1999 and has worked as the general manager of the US National Soccer Team Players Association since 2002. Contact him at email@example.com.
More from J Hutcherson:
- Atlanta United regroups without Pity Martinez
- Waiting on the Leagues Cup
- FIFA, UEFA, and playing games during a pandemic
- Is there such a thing as an MLS contender?
Logo courtesy of UEFA