The Show Must Go On... but UEFA Has to Learn To Draw the Line
Laudrup, widely known as one of the greatest Danish players, hit out at UEFA’s handling of Saturday’s situation.
The horrific scenes surrounding Christian Eriksen’s worrying collapse at the Parken Stadium on Saturday, 12 June, in Copenhagen aren’t easy to shake off. While that’s a thought for the fan, spare one for the two teams involved, especially the Danes, a few of whom broke down uncontrollably as they formed a ring around their teammate and the medics.
And then consider this – both teams, visibly very disturbed by the events that had occurred, were back on the field of play less than two hours later, with UEFA saying in a statement on Twitter that they had requested for the game to be restarted.
Should UEFA, a governing body of the game who claim to be on the side of the sport, have entertained such a request? What were UEFA’s options to the teams, who were visibly mentally quite a distance away from the football, possibly the least important thing at the time?
The UEFA announcement, expectedly, was met with immediate outrage among fans and experts across the globe and Denmark head coach Kasper Hjulmand, who was all praise for the strength his players showed, didn’t hold back, saying that it is not possible to play in such a situation.
Denmark captain Simon Kjær, a close friend of Eriksen’s, had to be taken off after the restart. “Simon was deeply, deeply affected,” the coach said. “Deeply affected. He was in doubt whether he could continue and gave it a shot, but it could not be done.”
While one struggles to piece together the comments perfectly to complete the puzzle, the seeming lack of empathy on behalf of the organisers of the ‘party’ stands out – it is the side of the coin no one wants to see, especially after the show of humanity and loyalty that resonated around the globe.
What Was UEFA’s Stand Amidst the Emergency?
According to the Denmark coach, UEFA offered them the option of not playing that day (Saturday) and coming back on Sunday at 2pm local time to finish the remainder of the game – less than 24 hours after the players had gone through some of the most shattering and heart-wrenching moments in their professional careers.
The third option is reported to be that Denmark forfeit with a 3-0.
“There was no pressure from UEFA to play tonight,” the coach was quoted as saying by The Guardian. “We knew we had two options. The players couldn’t imagine not being able to sleep tonight and then having to get on the bus and come in again tomorrow. Honestly, it was best to get it over with. Of course, you can’t play a game with such feelings and what we tried to do was incredible.”
The hosts were clearly not impressed with the situation but toed the line and Kasper Schmeichel led the team out amid loud applause from close to 16,000, who up until now, along with many other fans, had waited anxiously to hear about the most loved Danish footballer since the legendary Jon Dahl Tomasson.
Thankfully, by that time it had been established without doubt that Eriksen had regained consciousness and had spoken to his teammates, even asking them if they were okay. Typically, Eriksen!
UEFA Cop Flak from Former Greats
"It's a ridiculous decision by UEFA, they should have tried to work out a different scenario and shown a little bit of compassion, and they didn't," Peter Schmeichel, whose son Kasper was in goal for Denmark when the incident occurred, told the BBC.
"Something terrible like that happens and UEFA gives the players an option to go out and play the game or come back at 1200 on Sunday. What kind of option is that? There is no way that game should have been played last night. Not one player on that pitch was in the right mindset to be playing a game of football," he said.
His opinions were echoed by Michael Laudrup, widely considered to be one of the greatest players ever to play for Denmark.
"When such things happen, you are in the throes of your emotions, and you do not have the capacity and oversight to make important decisions. There must be someone who says, 'now we're going to do this, and now we stop here'," he told Denmark's TV3.
"They were given a choice that is not a choice – play tonight or play tomorrow at 12. I think that I'm sorry, but that is not a choice," Laudrup said.
For Denmark, it is the unenviable task of playing the World Number 1 Belgium, who hardly stepped out of third gear on the opening night, even leaving the likes of Kevin de Bruyne out while Eden Hazard came off the bench.
The Danes have decided to take their time as they prepare for the match and are clear about not hesitating in case they need professional help.
While Kjaer and Hjulmand prepare the side for their next game, one can only hope that UEFA on their part step up with support in any which way the players might need after showing a lack of compassion in handling a traumatic situation.
And not just Finland and Denmark players, the incident left Belgium’s Romelu Lukaku shook up and even Netherlands’ Daley Blind, with the latter even contemplating skipping his opening game on Sunday night.
Remember Dortmund 2017?
A few years ago, in April 2017, a crucial phase in the highly watched UEFA Champions League, the organisers yet again chose ease of conducting the matchday over how the players felt after a traumatic incident.
As the Borussia Dortmund team made their way from the hotel to the Signal-Iduna-Park on 11 April for their game against Monaco in the Champions League, three explosive devices were set off near the team bus.
A little over an hour later, UEFA postponed the game to the next day even though one of the players, Marc Bartra, was injured and the bus damaged as well.
Monaco beat Dortmund 3-2 the next day and coach Thomas Tuchel criticised UEFA: "The dates are set and we just have to function," Tuchel complained. "We felt like we were being treated as if a beer can had been thrown at our bus."
"We were informed by text message that UEFA had made this decision," Tuchel had said after the game. "The date was imposed upon us. There was a feeling of helplessness. What we think didn't interest anybody. We weren't asked about playing the game."
Some of the players also spoke out. "UEFA needs to understand that we are not animals," central defender Sokratis Papastathopoulos said, "We are people who have families and children at home."
UEFA responded to Tuchel's criticism saying, "The decision that the match should be played on Wednesday was made in consultation with all of those involved. We were also in contact with those involved on Wednesday, and at no point did we receive any indication that the match should not go ahead,"
Do Football Authorities Need to Rethink Their Approach?
This is not the first time the powers that be, who normally are seen in comfortable swanky presidential suites and boardrooms, in football have taken a decision that has not gone down too well with those involved directly with matters on the field of play.
Germany’s Toni Kroos, in 2020, said that players are like puppets in the hands of UEFA and FIFA, when discussing the UEFA Nations League and the possibility of the European Super League – plans for which fell through in less than 72 hours.
Over in the Copa America, Brazil played a Venezuelan team on Sunday that had been hit so badly by COVID-19 (13 cases) that they needed to fly in replacements in the eleventh hour.
And add to that the recent talk about Saudi Arabia FA asking for the World Cup to be staged every 2 years instead of 4 along with FIFA’s plans of increasing the size of the tournament itself.
Nothing, absolutely nothing, points to relaxation in the already demanding calendar, made furthermore hectic due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Can more games and money take precedence over the players’ health, especially given that a professional footballer can rarely play for two decades and more at the highest level?
At Copenhagen, Eriksen’s hometown, would finding another date for the game for UEFA have been so difficult in a 2-week long group stage at the European Championship?
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