LaLiga: Lack of fans is going to be compensated by desire of returning to field, says former Sevilla striker Frederic Kanoute
Former Sevilla striker Frederic Kanoute discusses racism in football as LaLiga resumes after a three-month long break forced by COVID-19 with the Seville derby in an empty stadium.
Athletic Bilbao player Iñaki Williams was subjected to racist abuse by Espanyol fans in January. The forward, having been substituted, told his teammates and skipper Iker Muniain that he heard monkey chants. The game was not stopped or abandoned, there were no public announcements. Referees were informed at full time but since they hadn't heard the chants, which were later confirmed by TV footage, the abuse was not included in their official report. The league and Espanyol, however, did investigate and 12 fans - including nine season-ticket holders - were banned.
"No black player or any player ever wants to hear that," Williams told the Athletic website after the game. "It's completely out of order, people should go to matches to enjoy themselves, to support their team; football is a team sport and should be played in a friendly atmosphere. It's a sad day because of these incidents which have no place in football."
This is not an isolated incident in Spanish football or even for Williams. In 2016, Sporting Gijon were ordered to partially close their stadium for one LaLiga game after Williams was subjected to racial abuse.
With 'Black Lives Matter' protests gathering steam ever since the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, the discussion for football to act has picked up, again, too. Players in Bundesliga took the knee and Eintracht Frankfurt sported 'Black Lives Matter' shirts to express their solidarity.
While well-intended, campaigns alone won't be enough, believes former Sevilla striker Frederic Kanoute. He urged society to look inward if it were to address the issue and for football to act strongly against guilty clubs and fans.
"When I'm asked about racism generally I'd say that it's much more than football. If we think that we're going to tackle racism, because we make a couple of campaigns in football, we're completely wrong. I think it's throughout the societies. Everyone has to take a good look in the mirror and tackle in his own society, all kinds of racism and discrimination. And I think it will take much more than just like a few protests, a few hashtags and so on," he said while speaking to reporters from London.
At a time when racism is being normalised, I salute this initiative from @pfa
— Fred Oumar KANOUTÉ (@FredericKanoute) April 18, 2019
"I will support and encourage LaLiga to tackle all forms of discrimination and racism. But definitely it's never enough. There is still a lot of racism and there is overt and covert racism. The overt racism maybe is not so much there anymore, but the covert racism is the big part of the iceberg. So we have to keep working a lot and hopefully this is a turning point right now with what happened in the USA that everybody's going to wake up. And yeah, I pray that it's a wake-up call for everybody."
"I would say that (racism in) football is just the tip of the iceberg. But we have to go deeper than that. I'm not going to single out LaLiga or another league. It is throughout the world and as a society, we all have to look in the mirror and make more of an effort to tackle it in our societies. And of course, if our field of responsibility is football, we have to tackle it also in football," he added.
If we had taken more severe steps and measures long time ago, we wouldn't be in this situation anymore. To tackle this problem (racism), we will have to see some real sanctions being applied.
When asked how the authorities should deal with racism, he said: "The sanctions have to be longer for the clubs that are supporting or covering this kind of behaviour. The clubs that are not taking any steps to tackle their own fans, they should be punished. On a personal level, any individual that is caught having made some racial slurs or racist abuse should be banned. I'm not in a position to say how long etc. because I haven't studied this long enough. I think if we had taken more severe steps and measures long time ago, we wouldn't be in this situation anymore. To tackle this problem, we will have to see some real sanctions being applied."
LaLiga season gets going on Thursday following a long pause due to the COVID-19 pandemic when Sevilla take on Real Betis without fans. The situation would be a challenge for everyone involved with players competing without fan support and after just over four weeks of training. During the lockdown in Spain, footballers were forced into playing in their backyards to stay fit. Now, they could be playing 90 minutes of football twice a week.
"Obviously, there is a risk. I'm sure the clubs have established a whole program during confinements and since they returned, they have a special program to avoid any risk of injuries and now that they're going to start playing, they will have to implement and coordinate with the coaches, physios and doctors to know how many minutes they suggest the players should play, especially the first few games to avoid any risk of injuries," believes Kanoute who banged in 131 goals for Sevilla in 284 games, "This period is not only going to be a challenge in terms of playing without fans but also internally in terms of the reorganisation of the clubs of how they prepare for games. It is going to be a challenge for everybody within the clubs, whether it is the technical stuff or the medical stuff."
Interestingly, this won't be the first Seville derby to be played in an empty stadium. In 2006-07 Copa del Rey, Juande Ramos, then Sevilla, and former Betis, manager, was struck with a bottle and the game was suspended. The remaining 34 minutes were played three weeks later at Getafe's Coliseum Alfonso Pérez. Kanoute scored the solitary goal in that second leg before the interruption.
There would be an empty stadium on Thursday, too, but not due to fan misbehaviour. The thud of the ball will be well heard, as will be the sound of the ball (possibly) hitting the back of the net. For the players, it would require mental strength to stay motivated. Kanoute believes it will affect the players but not as much as it is being made out to be.
"It's going to affect them a little bit but I don't think it's going to affect them so much. First of all, they are professional footballers. So the level of performance is going to be the same. Obviously there is always a little mental effect on that because you like to have your fans. Now we see that the games are a little bit more leveled because the home team is not winning so much."
"I think the performance is going to be top because the lack of fans is going to be compensated by the level of desire and motivation of coming back to the field. The players have been waiting for this moment for so long, they're going to give their very best on the pitch."
Kanoute expects a more level playing field without the fans. In five matchdays since football restarted in Germany, the number of away wins are more than the home wins, contrary to the first 25 games in the season. "It's going to be a bit more level. So we can't even complain that it's going to be boring or whatever because I think it's going to be very interesting to see that there is no home advantage anymore. We're going to see many, many games that are more leveled. And it's going to be very interesting for the fans at home as well to watch and analyse the game differently with another perspective. There are a lot of positives to take from this experience," said the Malian.
To counter the quick turnaround from training to competitive matches and the frequent games, FIFA have temporarily allowed five substitutes to cut down on possible injuries. The former Spurs and West Ham player thinks it's a clever move but could benefit the biggies in Real Madrid and Barcelona.
"It's good. It's clever. Players are going to need more rotation and avoid injuries. It's a win-win situation: fans are going to enjoy more and the players are going to be less injured. It's going to give more possibility for the coaches for reorganisation knowing that you can allow five players."
"We're going to watch football in a different way now because there's going to be a lot of impact and the knock on effect in terms of the strategy, in terms of the preparation, in terms of more rotation."
Kanoute used the 2006-07 season as an example to illustrate the importance of rotating the players and how depth in the squad can lead to better results.
"We have to be honest that big teams have bigger squads anyway. Bigger squad means not 16 players, but 25 top players that can rotate and it doesn't change much about the performance. Of course, this is an advantage, especially in this time, where it is going to require a lot of rotation."
"I remember even in my playing days, when we were close to winning the league in 2006-07, in the end, we just got a little bit tired because we were doing less rotation and we had to play the Europa League and the King's Cup. It was difficult at the end because we couldn't maintain the same rhythm. So, we had to give up the league. And the likes of Real Madrid and Barcelona, they can carry on playing with the same class of players more or less throughout the year because they have bigger squads. But it doesn't mean that it's always a precise science. That's what is beautiful about football is that it's always possible. I hope they're going to be challenged for the last few games and I hope Sevilla is going to tickle them a little bit, but I think they will have a slight advantage," concluded Kanoute.
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