It’s Time for UEFA to Take Player Safety Seriously

From the Touchline

Usually, From the Touchline discusses topics from the perspective of the manager, whether breaking down aspects of a recent match or giving a perspective of the man roaming the touchline. This week, it was going to be a dissection of the masterclass put on by former BVB manager Jurgen Klopp against Manchester City and how his former club could learn from it, but Patrick wrote a piece that stands on its own in excellence on this topic. For this week, I will use this space to stand on a soapbox and criticise UEFA for an issue that for too long it has ignored.

As the Manchester City bus pulled into Anfield this week for the match, it was attacked. That word was not used by all media sources, but the fact remains fans used household objects to create weapons to intimidate players. The scene showed via Twitter looked like the stereotype of an Eastern European derby, rather than one of football’s most hallowed grounds. In fact, the contrast to the scene inside and outside the grounds was intense; one showed respect and the best of fandom while the other was sheer thuggery. Thankfully no players were hurt, but the team bus was ruined. To their credit, the players did not blame the result on the fans and the two coaches said the right things prior to the match about the incident.

For BVB fans, this situation brings back uncomfortable memories. The Liverpool incident occurred almost a year from the date when three small bombs were detonated under the team bus. In that incident, a good footballer was seriously injured and mentally is still recovering from the incident. UEFA had no courage and delayed the match 24 hours, and a still shaken Dortmund were run off the pitch by Monaco. Was the attack the reason for the result? Not entirely, but undoubtedly the incident impacted the players and club.

UEFA has been extremely lucky that two years in a row attacks on team buses have not more seriously hurt one of the sides in their prestigious tournament. The causes were different but the consequences could have been very similar. At some point, the governing body needs to take player and club safety seriously. While complete safety cannot be guaranteed to Champions League participants, common sense reforms in light of security violations can be implemented immediately. In instances where a team bus is attacked on the way to a match, UEFA should allow a delay of more than 24 hours for the affected club to recover. It would mess up schedules and media rights, but it is the right thing to do.

Similarly, if fans of an opposing club are the cause of the violence, UEFA should enforce its policy to move the match to a neutral venue. Fan violence would be dramatically decreased if the hardcore fans knew their actions could injure their club.

Finally, UEFA should charge hosting clubs with providing enhanced security for both clubs. Whether it is working with local authorities or paying for extra security guards, the safety of the participants should be a top priority.

UEFA is lucky to have avoided a serious situation with a team being attacked prior to a match; what was once seemingly implausible has now happened twice in 12 months. Now is the time to act before the next incident is more consequential.