Marc ter Stegen is a goalkeeper for FC Barcelona, who he joined from Borussia Monchengladbach in 2014. He has won 15 trophies in his career so far. He is a popular figure among the fans, and he has a special affection for the city of Barcelona. For the past two months, he has been in lockdown, accompanied by his wife and newborn baby. During this period, the Barca players agreed to reduce their salaries. He also represents the German National team, who made a sizeable donation to help fight the pandemic in his homeland.
Writing from his home, he shares his experiences and feelings of life under quarantine as LaLiga prepares to return to training ahead of a possible June restart.
When the outbreak began
We were travelling to Napoli at the end of February to play a Champions League game when things began to happen. There had already been coronavirus cases in the north of Italy and we had our temperatures taken when we arrived in the country: We were all OK. In general, the mood was still that the pandemic we find ourselves in now was quite far away. Little did we know, it was right on our doorstep.
The virus was uncontrollable. It soon arrived in Spain. People got scared, but nobody expected a situation like the one we are experiencing now.
Two weeks later, on March 7, we played Real Sociedad at Camp Nou. The following week, La Liga was suspended. Nobody expected it to happen that fast, but the league made the right decision to stop playing football. There were already people dying.
We carried on training as normal until March 13, but once the second leg of our last-16 tie against Napoli was suspended, we were sent home following a meeting with the club's medical team and an epidemiologist. They explained the severity of the situation and the measures we should take, including the value of social distancing. The important thing was for everyone to stay safe.
Our first thought was: How can we help? We know football is not just football; it's everything that surrounds it. So many people work in or around the game and earn their money because there is a match in Barcelona. Football is not the most important thing in life, but it has an important role in the economy and in society. What was obvious to us was that the pandemic would leave people fighting for their existence.
We wanted to help as close to home as possible. Barca has a special meaning for all of us, and as players, we wanted to do something good for the club. The same was true with Germany. I think Barca and the national team made good decisions. I am happy there was never a discussion about if we help, just a question about how. That makes me very proud.
It's not just about money, either. Footballers have millions of followers. With well-chosen messages, we can help to create awareness. One example: I accepted a challenge from Liverpool goalkeeper Alisson Becker to post a video washing my hands properly to decrease the chances of catching and spreading the virus. Once I saw his video, I wanted to know more. I'd honestly never thought about it before. That can influence people -- it influenced me!
Living under lockdown in Spain
Spain has been hit particularly hard. We weren't allowed to leave the house for almost eight weeks, with restrictions now finally beginning to be lifted, but you can't look at things from a negative point of view. These circumstances make us value the things that are really important.
For me, that's meant being able to throw myself into fatherhood. My son Ben is 4 months old. My wife, Dani, would wake up with him in the night most of the time when I had training or a game the next day. She was definitely lacking more sleep than me! But in lockdown, it's been different. We can alternate.
Ben is super easy. It's great. He's growing so fast, and it's so nice to be with him. You are able see so many things when you are with him every day. He's very active with his hands, feet and eyes, following and reacting to everything. It's funny because just as we're keeping an eye on him, it's like he's keeping an eye on us. When he is sleeping during the day, it becomes a game of quickly checking the emails and messages you need to reply to. I must admit, I can be disorganised when it comes to sending replies. And if Ben's asking for attention, I try to be with him as much as possible.
As well as reading books and rewatching La Casa de Papel ("Money Heist," on Netflix) for a second time (my wife hadn't seen it!), cooking is taking up a lot of my time. My wife and I are making fresh food and looking for new recipes every day. We have made some really nice meals, like a lentil dal we cooked the other day. Whoa! That was amazing. Maybe a bit heavy, but it was really good.
We have fresh fruit and vegetables delivered every Thursday, so that's a day we look forward to -- although washing all the food and putting it away is a lot of work! The quality is amazing, and I like the closeness we have with the suppliers, who recommend what's new and what's in season. We are not eating much meat and fish at the moment. I wouldn't say we're vegan or vegetarian, but I could count on one hand the times we've eaten meat or fish in the last six months.
I am trying to keep myself updated, too. In Germany, the situation is completely different, and their decisions are not the same. It's interesting. I think it's necessary to be informed about what is happening.
It's getting better in Spain. The mortality rate has peaked, and now it's going down. I hope that trend continues. I hope people respect the restrictions of each of the four phases that have been established in the country so we can return to normality soon.
We have definitely learned a lot about ourselves. There are many negatives, but this situation has also taught us things that maybe we will now reflect on. People realise how well-connected the world is, and that maybe it's not normal to fly from one point to another all the time. It's a luxury. Maybe we didn't appreciate that as we should.
I am curious to see how people behave with each other when the restrictions are lifted, too. Will they shake hands? Will they try to avoid direct contact? Maybe they will at the beginning, but in the long-term? I am not a fan of shaking hands. I can also be respectful and nice to people by saying hello and looking at them. In Spain, for example, it's very normal to kiss each other on each cheek as a greeting. People are very close to each other when they communicate. Maybe this will change. I don't know. Nobody knows how life will be post-coronavirus, but I am curious to find out.
The thing I miss the most is the spontaneity to move around as you want to. If you want to go to the beach, go. If you want to go to the city, go. It was so normal before that you didn't realise. We went to see the pediatrician last week for Ben's vaccine and it felt like freedom.
Staying connected with Barca teammates
During the first week it didn't feel that difficult to step back and relax, but as time has gone on, it's been different and difficult for everyone. At Barcelona, we've stayed connected with occasional team meetings via Zoom. We discussed some things and caught up with each other, but it's difficult to be in contact regularly. We are not in touch every day to see how we're doing. This is also family time for all of us -- something we don't often get a lot of -- and we respect each other's space.
There's more contact with some teammates; with others there's less. It's nice to be in that rhythm of playing games and being in the circle of our locker room -- you miss that. It's a family. You spend so much time together.
We finally began individual training back at the training ground on Friday. It's great to be back at work. Everyone expects to finish the season but, of course, we depend on the government's instructions. We will do everything possible to respect and follow them. I am looking forward to playing games again. When they call, I will be there, although it might take some preparation to return to match fitness. You can't compare the individual work we've been doing at home with the specific work on the pitch, but give me the ball and I will try to make the best of the situation!
I have done my best to stay in shape, be healthy and be ready for the day we had to go back to training. I followed the programme given to me by Barca. I was also inspired by former Barca goalkeeper Jose Pinto to take up skipping rope again, while my wife and I have been in the home gym every day. It's good to have someone accompanying you. It makes it easier and keeps you motivated.
Occasionally I did get that feeling I needed the ball at my feet -- without it, I go crazy! Whenever that happened, I went to the garden to keep the ball up for a while. I just wanted to have that feeling.
Working out has helped to disconnect from the situation we're experiencing. It's two hours of the day when you're just doing sport, and even though you're working hard, you're charging your batteries. It's good for you mentally.
Of course, I also miss football. People have always laughed when I have told them I have no idea about football. This is because I don't watch a lot of football, only when there are big games on or when there's a match that's of interest to me because I have a friend involved. But I really miss the smell of the grass.
I would like to be back on the pitch playing football, doing what we love the most and fighting for what we have to fight for. We are in the final stage of the season and it's a shame it has all stopped. But at the moment, football isn't a priority. We have to respect the restrictions. We are not an exception. Nobody is.
If we respect and follow the instructions given by the government, we'll be back to normality shortly.