Football is slowly and steadily finding its feet back across the world after coronavirus pandemic abruptly halted all sport in March. The German Bundesliga showed the way and top European footballing nations are now following the same blueprint to resume matches in their own respective countries.
Spanish LaLiga is set to resume from June 11 and according to former Barcelona footballer Jofre Mateu, players are more excited than cautious at the prospect of getting back on the pitch.
"We are all very excited and expecting good football... not just the supporters but players as well. I spoke with some players and coaches and they are very happy to restart the game," Mateu told IANS.
"When you are out of the game for such a long time you miss the game very much. But you have to follow (all the protocols) as health is the most important thing."
Football might well be returning to the stadiums in Spain but fans cannot as they will have to be content with following the action on television or OTT platforms. It's not only the supporters who will be missing out but the teams will also be playing in the absence of their 12th man.
"It is going to be extra difficult in the beginning. You are losing out on extra motivation because the crowd pushes you during matches. But I guess players will have to be more professional and focus more on the action," Mateu said.
Table-toppers Barcelona will look to hit the ground running when they travel to Mallorca for their first match after coronavirus stoppage. But more than on the field, fans will be concerned about the much-talked-about word of war between Messi and coach Quique Setien.
The Argentine had earlier stated that Barcelona cannot win the Champions League this season with the way they have been performing this year. To this, the coach had defended the team's playing style and stated Messi's words have cause a 'big debate'.
"I agree with Messi because I think Barcelona this season aren't playing as good as they can. But they are still at the top (of LaLiga) and have a chance against Napoli (in Champions League). I think Messi said this as a message for the squad that 'guys we need a little push'," Mateu, who also played for ATK and Goa FC in the Indian Super League, said.
Apart from football's return, there have been talks of another possible return that has the potential to make everyone stop and take notice. Since his move to Paris St. Germain from Barcelona in a 198 million pounds deal, Neymar has been reportedly wanting to reunite with Messi and Luis Suarez at Camp Nou.
"Some players will be very happy if he comes back because they are very good friends. When he left Barcelona it came as a shock for us, the supporters," Mateu said.
"He certainly isn't the same player anymore because of his age and also his off-field problems. So, it's not going to be easy for him.
"But as a player, there is probably no discussion that he is one of the best in the world. When Messi isn't there, then probably he can take his place."
The Brazilian still has two years left on his deal at Parc des Princes but he is reportedly looking for a way out. Mateu, however, believes Neymar's off-field antics sometimes overshadows his brilliance on the field and if given a chance, he would pick French World Cup winner Kylian Mbappe over the former Santos forward.
"I prefer Mbappe now. I think so because of his age and mentality, I think Mbappe is going to be the next top player in the world."