Borussia Dortmund CEO Hans-Joachim Watzke admits he feels under “tremendous” pressure as the Bundesliga look to show the Premier League that elite-level football can safely return this weekend. Dortmund help kick off the German top-flight’s return on Saturday afternoon, hosting arch-rivals Schalke in the Revierderby at the Westfalenstadion (2.30pm).
The usually highly-charged fixture will be less intense than usual in the absence of the 80,000 supporters usually packed into Dortmund’s home stadium.
But the match, uniquely, will be one of the most-watched matches of all season across the globe with the Bundesliga the first major European league to restart during the coronavirus pandemic.
France’s Ligue 1 has abandoned its campaign, as have the top tiers in Holland and Belgium, while Spain’s La Liga, Italy’s Serie A and England’s Premier League remain suspended.
Those leagues, in particular the latter – with the Premier League’s Project Restart plan mapping out a potential return to action in mid-June – will therefore be keeping a keen eye on the German league.
Dortmund are four points off league leaders Bayern Munich as they seek to end their rivals’ monopolisation of the divisions, the Bavarians claiming the last seven straight titles.
But despite what is on the line for Dortmund on the pitch, against a Schalke side managed by former Huddersfield boss David Wagner and who have not won any of their last seven league games, Watzke insists he feels the weight of responsibility as the Bundesliga looks to prove a shining example for the rest of Europe.
“[Liverpool manager and former Dortmund boss] Jurgen [Klopp] has texted me a few times that he will be watching TV at the weekend and everyone is happy that the game will start again,” Watzke told DAZN.
“In England in particular, clubs are clinging to the fact that the Premier League can also start again soon.
“We owe the fact that we are in such a position in Germany to the population, who behaved in such a disciplined manner.
“And the politicians who are very careful with the situation. That is the reason why Germany is one of the best countries in the world to have come through this crisis.
“Joy is rather the wrong expression. I feel relief, because we are continuing in a new normal with all our employees. I also feel a huge responsibility.
“This feeling is bigger than ever, and that gives me a certain amount of tension.
“On the one hand, the sporting aspect is that we also achieve our goals and in the best case still play for the championship.
“On the other hand, the question of whether we can meet the entire framework with all the requirements and the security concept as we all imagine it and how it is necessary.
“This pressure is really huge. It’s really tremendous.”
And former Dortmund captain Sebastian Kehl, now the club’s head of professional football who oversees their medical department as part of his role, admits this weekend’s match will be unusual.
Dortmund played in an empty stadium before European football was suspended, losing 2-0 to Paris Saint-Germain in the second leg of their Champions League last 16.
But this will be the first time they play at their own ground without any fans present.
“It will be the strangest derby in history,” Kehl told The Athletic.
“It won’t be the same without the noise and the emotions in the stands, for sure. We will all miss the usual atmosphere.
“But despite of all that, it’s still a chance to achieve something that’s dear to our fans.
“These next few weeks will be down to whoever can deal with this unusual situation best and manage to create a collective energy on the pitch without the help of the fans.
“The attitude will make the difference. Being the better team, football-wise, won’t be enough.
“You get the sense that players feel safe and trust in our staff and the concept.
“Football has to win back some of the credibility it has lost.
“We shouldn’t promise change without being reasonably certain that we can actually deliver on it.
“But what’s become obvious in this crisis is that football cannot exist without supporters and the backing from society on the whole.”