Rabbi Matondo: Wales winger on ‘strange but safe’ return of Bundesliga

Bundesliga as safe as it can be - Matondo

Germany's Bundesliga became the first major European league to return following the coronavirus pandemic last weekend, resuming with Borussia Dortmund's 4-0 win over rivals Schalke behind closed doors. Rabbi Matondo came on as a substitute for Schalke and, here, the Wales winger gives BBC Sport Wales the player's perspective on football's surreal return.

Football without fans feels so strange. It's far from ideal but at least we've got some football and we can entertain everyone watching at home.

We had to stay in a hotel for the whole week before the game, so we did everything there in terms of breakfast and our preparations.

There were two coaches which took us to Dortmund, and we were all spread out on the coaches because of social distancing rules.

It was quiet and we were all sat apart with our headphones on, which was unusual because usually we'd all be talking about the game.

We were motivated because it was a derby - even if the result didn't show that - but it was weird at first, the whole experience when you got to the stadium, which was pretty much empty.

Normally in the tunnel you stand next to the other team, but this time Dortmund went out first and then we came out separately.

That was weird. It was like playing in the park with your mates!

It felt like the tension just wasn't there because normally you're looking your opponents in the eye in the tunnel and you're motivated.

But just to walk on the pitch and see them already there was weird.

The Schalke-Dortmund derbies usually have a great atmosphere and you play football to be involved in these kind of moments.

So it was disappointing not to have the fans there but, for me, I think it's also important that the people staying at home are entertained.

I'm glad we could get the Bundesliga started again to give the fans something, even though it's not ideal that they couldn't be there with us.

Social distancing on the bench

The Schalke substitutes were all separated by two metres
Rabbi Matondo (second left) and Schalke's other substitutes maintain a two-metre gap on the bench

Having to keep socially distant on the bench was probably the weirdest part of all.

Normally on the bench you're all sat next to each other talking about the game or discussing what you're going to do when you come on, always assessing.

But this time it was like you were watching the game alone.

People had to change their ways and it's kind of hard because normally if you want to talk to someone you can just call them over, but this was different.

Getting on to the pitch was a strange feeling.

We're all used to having fans watching us and, once the game starts, you adapt but it is strange.

Normally, the warm-up before a derby is when the atmosphere is most intense, when the fans first see you and start cheering or booing.

You really had to lift yourself because the motivation might have gone warming up without fans, so you have to motivate yourself. That was probably the toughest part.

Fans play a big part in football, especially in games like this.

You adapt to some extent but you can't totally adapt because you've experienced what the fans bring to the game.

The Bundesliga is known for its fans. They're always top.

For now, at least they've got some form of football back and hopefully they'll be back at the grounds soon.

It will be nice to be back home this weekend, even if we don't have our fans with us. Sunday's game against Augsburg is a great chance for us to bounce back.

Feeling safe thanks to Germany's cautious approach

Dortmund players observed social distancing protocol as they celebrated Haaland's goal
Dortmund players observed social distancing protocol as they celebrated Erling Braut Haaland's opening goal

I feel like football's return in Germany has been safe. Everything's been done with caution.

There's been a lot of thought gone into every part of the process, detail to the point.

We still have our own changing rooms at training, we're all wearing masks and everything is done really professionally, as it's meant to be.

I feel like it's as safe as it can be and, at the moment, I feel like everything's going perfectly in terms of the health guidelines.

In Germany, shops and other places are starting to open again and, although things won't be normal for a long time, it does feel like things are getting back in the groove again.

I think Germany's going in the right direction and hopefully that continues.

I've got some friends out here, like my Wales team-mate Ethan Ampadu at RB Leipzig and Jadon Sancho, who I played against last weekend.

I spoke to Jadon, who I used to play with at Manchester City, after the game and it was good to catch up.

Ethan and I speak on a week-to-week basis, so I've been keeping in touch with the boys out in Germany and my friends back home.

For us as footballers, the attention the Bundesliga has been getting is an opportunity for us to showcase ourselves and the league to the world.

We've got to make the moment last and hopefully entertain everyone at home.

Germany can be an example to other countries

The Dortmund players saluted the empty stands at the final whistle
Dortmund's players applauded their absent fans at the final whistle

My friends back home are getting frustrated now. When I tell them how the situation is in Germany, they tell me how they wish the same was true in Wales and the rest of the UK.

It's frustrating but I keep telling them to stay positive, turn the negatives into positives.

In Troy Deeney's case, he said he has a son who has breathing difficulties, so obviously in his case I understand.

Some of my team-mates were worried at the start because they have sons and daughters, so they didn't want to be going out and bringing the virus back to them.

They had to make sure everything was done professionally and, to be fair, Schalke and the Bundesliga made it feel secure for them to return to football.

They've done a great job over here in Germany and hopefully they can do the same in the UK, so people with those concerns can feel safer.

You are aware that the rest of the world is watching because we're the first league back.

Hopefully other leagues can take a bit from us and they can get back to some kind of routine.

It's obviously very tough but, if the return is managed properly, it can be done.

This is the new normal unfortunately.

But it could be worse - at least there is some football and hopefully we can keep entertaining and ensure people enjoy some of their summer.

Rabbi Matondo was speaking to BBC Sport Wales' Dafydd Pritchard.

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