Kelly Prepares For Big Return
Insight From Germany On Football’s Resumption
“If we can create a degree of normality in these very abnormal times, maybe we can give people a lift.”
And, with that sentiment, Robert Kelly – a late-1980s Wolves midfielder and 1990s Molineux coach – prepares to take his place on the touchline when professional football restarts in Europe this week.
The eyes of the sporting world will be on Germany as the Bundesliga resumes after a shutdown of ten weeks.
What happens there will inevitably be viewed as a potential model for the other major European leagues – England’s top four divisions, for a start – that haven’t been scrapped for the season.
Unlike here, there will be no use of neutral grounds in the Bundesliga. Kelly’s club Fortuna Dusseldorf, who drew 1-1 at Mainz on March 8 in their last game, are at home to bottom club Paderborn this Saturday (2.30pm UK time), then have a derby at Cologne the following weekend.
But it’s only the bricks and mortar that will be familiar to Fortuna’s players in five days’ time. Their wonderful 54,600-capacity Merkur Spiel-Arena will be empty apart from the 300 or so necessary officials in attendance.
Those present are sure to include TV personnel, with the football-starved wider world hungry for action. Check your red-button options because the demand for live screening of this and other games is going to be sky-high.
“When I came to Germany to link up again with Uwe Rosler in early February, I was in a new country, with a language I didn’t speak and with a club at the bottom of the table,” Kelly tells us.
“You can now add the coronavirus as another challenge, with all the different problems that is throwing at us.
“But I have to say the Bundesliga and the club have been very clear in their instructions. Nobody has written a book on this subject because we have never known it before but the Germans, as you would expect, have handled it well.
“We are told what we need to know, when we need to know it. They aren’t telling us everything in one go so we will forget it by the time the games come around.
“But there is clarity and uniformity – what is happening with us is being replicated with all the clubs. We know where we stand.”
And now for some of the facts and emergency protocols that English clubs and fans will be so interested in for when their turn comes….
Kelly tells us that Dusseldorf’s players have been arriving at training ready-changed since their first day back three weeks ago. They have then been travelling home to shower and eat while warm-ups and drills were initially conducted in twos, increasing steadily to four, six and so on to conform with social distancing.
After training yesterday, they headed in their cars for a hotel just outside Dusseldorf and will be in isolation there right up to Saturday’s game.
They suspect they will drive themselves to the match rather than be taken by coach and will be given instructions on how many of them should share a dressing room and showers.
“I assume we will be told a bit more each day,” Kelly added. “We had our first 11 v 11 work-out on Thursday but on a sort of blocking and intercepting basis, playing zonally.
“Players haven’t been crashing into each other but we will have to step it up this week and make it more realistic. We will also practise in the stadium to get used to playing there with no fans in.
“This is my first experience of a game behind closed doors, at least where there has been something on the result, and I am sure it’s a new thing for plenty of the players and staff.
“We need to be as prepared as we possibly can be. The league and club have sent out clear messages rather than comment on rumour and gossip but a lot is to be decided on the pitch between now and when the league season ends on June 27, so it’s a matter of getting our professional heads on and being ready to play.
“The players were each given training programmes when we first had to be isolated and we stayed in touch with them by Zoom. I have to say they have been really professional and trained well on their own.
“We all have perspective and know there’s a lot going on in the world but we also know that, in our jobs, we can do a lot to lift people and this is our time to start doing that again.”
All of the Fortuna camp were virus-tested this weekend for the fourth time and will be tested again on Friday. A reminder of how this remains an emerging story came when two players from Bundesliga 2 club Dynamo Dresden tested positive over the weekend.
For assistant manager Kelly and many others, this is going to be a unique week and one that will end in the national and even international gaze.
“I am one of the few for whom going into a sort of quarantine in a hotel means I will see more people,” he added. “I am living in an apartment here and missing my family who are back home.
“I am speaking to them regularly of course, hearing from Keith Downing twice a week and also chatting with my brother-in-law, Mick Halsall, and a football mate called Mark from Tettenhall.
“They are all very interested to hear how things are unfolding over here. We appreciate that other countries will be waiting to see what happens when our matches start.”
*Three clubs go down from the Bundesliga 1 and Fortuna currently have only Werder Bremen and Paderborn below them. The team who finish in the 16th spot that Dusseldorf currently occupy will be in a play-off, 15th-placed Mainz currently heading them by four points.