LaLiga is back: football, we love you

Football is back, and it almost feels like this is the beginning of a new season, rather than the resumption of the current one. The latter is the case, of course, and we’ve been keeping you up-to-date on LaLiga’s ‘project restart’ day in, day out, but sometimes your emotions can play tricks on you.

As LaLiga returns, it all feels a bit strange...

These are extraordinary times, after all. We had just watched Atlético Madrid dump Liverpool out of the Champions League in impressive fashion, and suddenly the lights were turned out. A three-month hiatus filled with the horror and anguish of the coronavirus pandemic has, in truth, felt even longer than that. Football now returns amid the heat of summer, but we’re still warming up: we haven’t had pre-season, or transfer-market splashes, or friendlies to watch as we enjoy our summer hols, or the thrill of buying our club’s new shirt… We haven’t had any of those rituals. So it all feels a bit strange…

But that doesn’t matter, because LaLiga is back. After 90 days in quarantine, the Spanish championship returns for its denouement over the 11 matchdays that remain. And in addition to the lack of new signings, friendlies and recently-released kits, we won’t have the passion brought by the supporters in the stands - an absence which will be felt particularly keenly on Thursday night, when fierce crosstown rivals Sevilla and Real Betis get the campaign back underway with the Gran Derbi. It would certainly be impossible to record an edition of the legendary Spanish highlights show El Día Después (The Day After), which always sought to turn the camera back onto the fans. In this iteration of the beautiful game, there aren’t any.

The silence of these past three months, broken only by LaLiga president Javier Tebas, Spanish FA chief Luis Rubiales and players’ union boss David Aganzo, will now be followed by the silence of empty stadiums. The Camp Nou without supporters, Real Madrid playing at their training ground, or Levante at the La Nucía stadium are circumstances which, while they can’t be helped, are difficult to come to terms with. We’ll be able to add canned crowd noise on our television sets, but it won’t be the same. Despite the lack of transfer activity, though, we will be able to enjoy the return of the likes of Luis Suárez, Eden Hazard and Marco Asensio, who are back from injury and feel almost like new signings. It’s not the same, of course. It’s merely the next best thing as we prepare for a fixture list whose games will be coming thick and fast, by the way.

We'll miss the TV presence of the late, great Michael Robinson

Michael Robinson, who passed away in April and leaves a void greater even than that felt in the empty stands, won’t be a part of the TV coverage. Indeed, as we come out of this long period of confinement, one of the first things we do is look around us to see what is left of the footballing community we last had around us. And we see that not only is Robinson no longer with us, but we have also had to say our last goodbyes to Radomir Antic, Lorenzo Sanz, Goyo Benito, Marcelo Campanal, José Luis Capón, Joaquín Peiró, Miguel Jones, Ico Aguilar, Trinche Carlovich… We’ll even be without Ronaldinho: the Brazilian is locked up in custody in Paraguay. Absence upon absence upon absence.

But, as we were saying, LaLiga is back. What shape will Lionel Messi be in? For players like Asensio, Suárez and Hazard, it feels like a second chance at the 2019/20 season. And what of Atlético? If they can repeat the form they showed at Anfield, they’ll be a force to strike fear into their opponents’ hearts, but how will Diego Simeone’s men manage without the boost their fans give them? Will Real Sociedad and Getafe still be as strong? Who will benefit the most from the law change allowing five substitutions? Who will suffer the most injuries in a packed fixture schedule? Will there be any Covid-19 scares? Will the break in play have helped or hindered Real Mallorca, Leganés and Espanyol’s bid to climb out of the bottom three?

Finally, football is here again. And now that the likes of Tebas and Rubiales will be occupying fewer column inches, it’s time to express our gratitude to them, particularly the former, for their efforts to get the league back up and running. They have done so chiefly because there’s a lot of money at stake, but that’s fine. The return of football is good news. The Viana Pact deserved its place on the front page, but only the once. Now it’s time for other protagonists, because when Tebas and Rubiales are a frequent presence on the front pages, it means that something - and usually something bad - is going on.

We'll remember the many, many people who were taken from us

So we’re finally able to dedicate our front pages to the footballers once more. And they’ll be playing, not doing press-ups, or running with their pets, or messing about on TikTok and the likes. We’ll devote our front pages to the people who make us happy, and we’re going to do so because we love the game. Because, now that LaLiga is returning, our hearts - and all the emotions that they make us feel - can take over from our heads. We don’t want to hear any more about suspensions, timeframes, phases, de-escalation, safety measures or protocols. We want to get lost in the labyrinth of football once again.

Everything published under the banner of AS will be a declaration of love. That's the pledge that's at the heart of the campaign we have just launched to mark the return of LaLiga: “Deporte, te amo” (“Sport, I love you”). We want to shake off the shackles of fear, leave the thermometers to one side for a moment, and yell at the top our lungs - albeit with our masks on, and making sure we maintain the required distance: “Football, I love you.” In the absence of fans, let that message fill each and every stadium, along with the painful memory of the many, many people who have been taken from us. This is for them.