Notebook: Mainz 05 hit by COVID outbreak; underdogs near cup glory in Spain and France; Belgian inclusion push

While the eyes of the soccer world are on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and its fallout, domestic games and dealings in Europe continue and much of what has been happening will have understandably passed you by.

We catch you up with a few of those stories.

Mainz need Dortmund postponement

After 19 first team members tested positive for COVID-19, the Bundesliga outfit requested that their Sunday clash with Borussia Dortmund be rearranged. The European hopefuls had only a handful of players training on Friday who returned negative results and the request has since been granted.  

Why it matters: With everything going on in Ukraine at present, the pandemic has slipped off many people’s radars with measures being relaxed across many European countries. This is a reminder that COVID has not gone away and continues to hinder domestic German soccer.

BVB extend sponsorship deal

Sticking with Dortmund, the German giants have announced the extension of their long-standing sponsorship deal with domestic insures Signal Iduna until 2031. The deal is estimated to be worth $112.3 million with BVB bringing in around $100 million more in additional revenue through shirt sponsorship and kit manufacturer deals.

Why it matters: Bayern Munich are in a league of their own in Germany, but this sort of backing could enable Dortmund to challenge the Bavarians more seriously soon. Also, at a time where Dortmund’s bitter rivals Schalke 04 have seen their sponsorship deal with Gazprom compromised by Russia’s war on Ukraine, Die Borussen have the luxury of relative stability.

Frankfurt announce Kolo Muani

Still in the Bundesliga, Eintracht Frankfurt have announced the signing of Randal Kolo Muani from FC Nantes ahead of this summer. The German club have been interested in the 23-year-old for some time and his expiring contract offered them the perfect opportunity to snap him up and to continue Germany’s recent hoovering up of French talent.  

Why it matters: Kolo Muani was wanted by a string of Premier League and other European clubs so for him to choose Frankfurt is something of a coup for Die Adler and his development in Germany could be key to him being the next French talent to shine in the Bundesliga after Christopher Nkunku and Moussa Diaby’s recent explosions.

Mallorca land Grenier

Kolo Muani was not the only deal to be announced this week with RCD Mallorca also announcing the signing of Clement Grenier until the end of the season after a successful trial. The France international has been a free agent since leaving Stade Rennais and although injuries have impacted the 31-year-old’s career, he is still a technically gifted midfielder and could earn himself an additional 12 months of contract in Spain.  

Why it matters: Transfers this late in the season outside of the January window are rare and Grenier finding himself a new club is also good news given his ability has seen him play for the likes of Olympique Lyonnais and AS Roma in the past. If he can rediscover some of his form, American-owned Mallorca could have snapped up a gem as they bid to survive and build in LaLiga.

Betis, Valencia, Nantes and Nice make cup finals

Although it was sadly the end of the road for FC Versailles 78’s fairytale Coupe de France run this week, Nantes and OGC Nice’s meeting in the final will provide a classic touch given that neither have won major silverware since the early 2000s. Real Betis are also gunning for glory for the first time since 2004-05 against Valencia CF in another refreshing cup final matchup in the Copa del Rey.  

Why it matters: Call me old fashioned, but it is nice to not have the same giants of the game winning titles season after season and for the likes of these four to have made it to their respective domestic cup finals keeps things exciting and fresh. That Nantes overcame monied AS Monaco and Betis edged a thrilling 3-2 tie with Rayo Vallecano has already provided a bit of drama.

Waasland-Beveren lead Belgian inclusion push

Waasland-Beveren continue to set the pace when it comes to making Belgian soccer more diverse and inclusive and the community-oriented club are the first in the country to commit to a self-evaluation system as part of a unique collaboration with KLIQ which is designed to make their everyday environment more sexual and gender diverse as well as inclusive  

“Part of the role we play in our community is being an example for others,” CEO Antoine Gobin told CBS Sports. “We are the first Belgian club to take this step, and that is a testament to our commitment to making football more accessible to all. We owe it to our fans, our community and ourselves to continue to make positive changes — big and small — in the hope that others will follow.”

Professional Belgian soccer teams will wear rainbow colors as part of the Football For All campaign this weekend with a rainbow armband for each captain and rainbow corner flags while Waasland-Beveren will have the chairman of organization VZW Tiszo participating in the kick-off against Royal Excelsior Virton.

Why it matters: Soccer becoming more inclusive can only be good for the game and clubs like Waasland-Beveren getting the recognition they deserve could lead to the continent’s biggest clubs adopting similar stances if it catches on in Belgium.  

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