At Schalke 04 since the summer of 2016, Benjamin Stambouli, 29, the former Parisian defender, has become, over the seasons, one of the managers of the locker room, of those whose voices carry. Faced with the suspension of the Bundesliga, linked to the coronavirus epidemic, he and his partners proposed a salary reduction. He goes back to the genesis of this choice and also sweeps up a very anxiety-provoking news.
The Covid-19 pandemic is severely impacting the economy of football clubs. At Schalke 04, did you spontaneously accept a reduction in salary?
BENJAMIN STAMBOULI. In reality, the players decided, all together, to take the lead by proposing to the leaders to lower salaries. Schalke carries values of solidarity somewhat comparable to that of Lens in France with its supporters from the mining world. We wanted to follow in this vein. We had, in a way, to be worthy of the history of the club.
How was this proposal formalized?
We did not know in what proportions this reduction was intended to keep the club alive. The leaders suggested a fairly simple financial package. It also applies to all club administrators who receive more than € 10,000. This consists of cutting our salary by a certain amount and part of it will be returned to us at the resumption of the championship, but only if it does not take place behind closed doors. The rest, we give it to the club. The same goes for match bonuses. They are divided by three. And in the end, we will perceive at best two-thirds.
This measure also tends to spread in Germany, but also in other countries …
Many clubs will not be able to save it to stay afloat. No one likes to lose money, but we are proud to have lowered our wages on our own without waiting to be contacted by the employer. The footballer is privileged compared to those for whom a reduction in salary will have a much more significant impact on their budget of the month and their purchasing power.
When did you measure the scale of this health crisis?
Quite early, because a friend of mine works with China and he told me about it. So I was a little prepared for it, because it was unfortunately not conceivable to see Europe and the other continents spared by this pandemic compared to the movement of people. Then, when President Macron decides to address the country twice, in the space of four days, you become fully aware of the seriousness of the situation. When he repeats several times that we are at war you say to yourself: this is hot. The situation is dramatic for many people and it necessarily affects me.
Your former Parisian teammate Angel Di Maria recently admitted to living with confinement with difficulty. What about you?
In Germany the rules of containment are a little different. At first, the possibility was given to Schalke players to go to the training center to take advantage in particular of the weight room. Then it was recommended to stay at home. We then received a treadmill and an exercise bike to work. Jogging outside is also allowed. Personally, as I am in the recovery phase (Editor’s note: after a broken bone in the foot on October 28), I keep coming to the club in the morning for treatment. We are maximum two per time slot with a dedicated physiotherapist.
Is it important for morale to still have this latitude to be more or less free to move around?
This necessarily helps. Here in Düsseldorf, where I live with my fiancée, there are no queues outside the shops or crowded shelves. Most of the shops, apart from those of basic necessities, are however closed. I go out with gloves to do my shopping. I don’t have a mask, however, because people certainly need it much more. I’m just a little more careful. I’m not going to stick with someone without giving in to paranoia.
How do you explain that Germany is one of the great European countries to pay, for the time being, the least heavy tribute to this pandemic?
I tried to find out, because it also challenged me. I am not a doctor to give a conclusive answer. Some have talked about the lifestyle. In France, as in Italy, there are more hugs to greet each other. Here, we also practice massive tests with capacities of 500,000 screenings per week I believe. Since the beginning of March, the infected Germans have been isolated. The transmission chain may have been slowed down. It seems effective in any case, because there are fewer deaths.
Were you surprised to see Dortmund, after Wolfsburg and Augsburg, resume training on March 30 in groups of 2 players?
Not really. At Schalke, I belong to a group of five referent players. We had a meeting with the leaders where, in particular, the possibility of taking over in small groups was discussed. In Germany, this requires a special permit issued by the region. In North Rhine-Westphalia, this is the case for professional clubs. Nothing has yet been decided. Discussions are continuing with management.
Do you think you will come out stronger from this ordeal?
Honestly yes. And not just athletes. It applies to everyone. At the end of confinement, we will necessarily have a different perception of life. We will be more aware of the luxury of having health, to come and go freely. We will better appreciate this sum of small pleasures of everyday life such as, for example, being on a terrace to have coffee with friends.
Can you imagine what your first day after confinement might look like?
I prefer to live day by day. After, I happen to project myself in a few weeks with a meeting at home, in a packed stadium, where the supporters can communicate with the players, embrace after a goal … There I can finally say to myself: this nightmare is behind us.
On March 11, just before the competition stopped, Paris, your old club, had risen to the quarter-final of the Champions League for the first time in 4 years. It can be a good year ?
Each year this club carries out a significant recruitment, by bringing together a maximum of skills, for this specific purpose. This work will end up paying off. There are so many great clubs united by this same goal. It’s all about details. Sometimes you also need a little help from fate. Paris has the right to believe in it anyway.