Legendary footballer Gary Lineker on his sport returning: 'You cannot play football and social distance'

Christiane speaks with soccer legend Gary Lineker about how the beautiful game could return in the age of coronavirus.

Posted: May 17, 2020 11:01 AM
Updated: May 17, 2020 11:01 AM

While he is known for his goalscoring exploits on the pitch -- serving England and the likes of Tottenham and Barcelona with distinction -- and off it, becoming a top-notch broadcaster, the former footballer Gary Lineker famously once came up with one of the most oft-used quotes about his sport: "Football is a simple game. Twenty-two men chase a ball for 90 minutes and at the end, the Germans always win."

Lineker may need to update the quote again, in light of the German Bundesliga becoming the first of Europe's major football leagues to resume play this weekend: 'Football is a simple game. Twenty-two men chase a ball for 90 minutes and at the end, the Germans always return first.'

In reality, the now 59-year-old Lineker has told CNN's Christiane Amanpour the day before the Bundesliga starts up again that he is "nervously excited," pointing out that Germany is "setting the tone for everybody else. I think every league in Europe that wants to try and finish the season that was obviously interrupted, is looking at Germany to see how it goes.

"The Germans have been pretty much very clever during this thing. Their testing is brilliant and they're ahead of everybody else in Europe really. So it'll be interesting to see how it pans out, but what happens if three or four players test positive and everybody else in the squad has to isolate? Then you've got a problem."

According to the latest figures, the country has 175,233 confirmed cases of Covid-19 with 7,897 deaths, but Germany's Football Association (DFB) has worked closely with league organizers (DFL) and trust that the strict safety protocols in place will protect those involved.

As a striker, Lineker scored hundreds of goals for his clubs and country, but took celebrating in front of fans for granted. One of the conditions for the Bundesliga kicking off again is that the matches will be behind closed doors, which lends itself to the question of whether football is truly football without supporters in the stands.

"Well, it is not quite the same," starts the man whose 48 goals for England place him only behind Wayne Rooney and Bobby Charlton on England's all-time scoring list, to say nothing of winning the Golden Boot for top scorer during the 1986 World Cup in Mexico.

"I imagine after a few games they'll get used to it. But even watching football on television ... is very much different if you've not got the crowd. ... It will be a bit more like training in many ways, but more important than training."

Ahead of the resumption to the season, which comes after a two-month break in Germany, perennial powerhouse Bayern Munich holds a four-point lead with nine games to go, with the Bavarians hoping to win the title for an eighth straight time. But the likes of Borussia Dortmund, RB Leipzig and Borussia Monchengladbach are within six points of the champions, with Dortmund able to reduce the gap to a solitary point with victory on Saturday at home to Schalke.

Lineker is hoping that viewers find the new normal in Germany "acceptable" because "in fairness it would be good to finish out the season." But the striker-turned-broadcaster does acknowledge that there "seems to be a little bit of a rush to do it because they (the leagues) want to start next season on time.

"But I don't see that rush because the likelihood is ... it's going to go on for some time, so the chances of next season being interrupted are pretty high I would imagine."

As Lineker well knows, Germany was often ahead of England when it came to success on the field, and the Bundesliga has beaten the English Premier League to a swifter return to action during the coronavirus pandemic.

There is still no certainty that the EPL will resume, despite reports suggesting that the so-called 'Project Restart' may begin next month to complete the 92 fixtures left to play in the world's most popular league. The 20 teams are set to meet again on Monday and every side arguably has an agenda, whether it is Liverpool, who is within touching distance of a first Premier League title, with a surely insurmountable 25-point lead, or one of the sides battling against relegation.

"My suggestion is take your time with this one," Lineker said. "Yes, finish it because I think that's the fairest thing to do, and then let's judge from there on. But obviously with the coronavirus, with Covid-19, it's very fluid. We don't know what's going to happen tomorrow, let alone in four weeks' time, so let's be patient. Let's see but we're all keeping our fingers crossed -- and I think it's OK to suggest that you've missed football."

Lineker also maintains that when it comes to the patterns of play, such as tackling, or teammates standing next to each other when defending a free kick, "you cannot play football and social distance."

And while he understands "why the (UK) government wants it back, I understand why football wants it back, I understand why supporters want it back, I want it back. But it's got to be under the right circumstances, at the right time, when it's safe to do so, and that's the most important thing."

Indiana Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 608519

Reported Deaths: 9693
CountyCasesDeaths
Marion840461335
Lake45349684
Allen32803548
Hamilton29394315
St. Joseph27380381
Elkhart24404345
Vanderburgh19411249
Tippecanoe17970138
Johnson15069295
Porter14783169
Hendricks14401248
Madison10965221
Vigo10726181
Clark10677144
Monroe9383110
Delaware9116134
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Kosciusko806983
Warrick672999
Hancock6697104
Bartholomew6484100
Floyd6428110
Wayne6136162
Grant5991115
Dubois555579
Boone551168
Morgan541295
Henry507864
Marshall503984
Cass483263
Dearborn479845
Noble473059
Jackson425047
Shelby417581
Lawrence391079
Clinton373043
Gibson370359
Harrison348144
DeKalb347164
Montgomery345754
Knox335639
Miami321444
Steuben313745
Whitley307326
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Ripley298445
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Scott225339
Clay222532
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Washington186423
Fountain184027
Starke175443
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Carroll158015
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Perry154229
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Newton90921
Brown88035
Benton86610
Crawford7999
Martin73713
Warren6817
Switzerland6615
Union6287
Ohio4907
Unassigned0376

Ohio Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 859841

Reported Deaths: 10680
CountyCasesDeaths
Franklin101171707
Cuyahoga855711125
Hamilton64017448
Montgomery43107418
Summit34836761
Lucas31350625
Butler30973232
Stark25786435
Warren19671140
Lorain19017223
Mahoning17321338
Lake16080154
Clermont15926111
Delaware1438878
Licking13204137
Trumbull12809316
Fairfield1279381
Greene12055137
Medina11591168
Clark10942265
Wood10348158
Allen9897126
Portage9296109
Miami916873
Richland9139118
Marion7459113
Tuscarawas7381182
Columbiana7327124
Pickaway726150
Wayne7034171
Muskingum703141
Erie6152129
Hancock552390
Ross548998
Scioto539164
Geauga508455
Darke470292
Ashtabula453073
Lawrence452654
Union451828
Sandusky436662
Mercer433589
Seneca430166
Huron428741
Auglaize422264
Shelby421222
Jefferson419269
Belmont416840
Washington388740
Athens38009
Putnam374975
Madison355129
Knox352622
Ashland344938
Fulton338443
Defiance330086
Crawford322374
Preble320637
Brown312921
Logan307332
Ottawa293943
Clinton290143
Williams278667
Highland275118
Jackson263845
Guernsey254125
Champaign252028
Fayette236530
Morrow23234
Perry231318
Holmes225474
Henry218749
Hardin213033
Coshocton205622
Van Wert202245
Gallia196726
Wyandot196051
Pike176217
Adams176115
Hocking172024
Carroll155616
Paulding144321
Noble120540
Meigs108624
Monroe100732
Harrison89121
Morgan83130
Vinton70213
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