PLAYING football behind closed doors is normally a punishment.

But after the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic, the game is faced with the new normal of playing matches in empty stadiums.

And former Orlando Pirates striker Phumudzo Manenzhe believes teams that always have a big following at stadiums such as Kaizer Chiefs, Pirates, Mamelodi Sundowns and Bloemfontein Celtic could struggle to play behind closed doors.

The lanky striker who used to bang in goals during his playing days says this unfamiliar phenomenon will be beneficial to the so-called small teams.

“It’s during a very difficult time, the plan is to make sure everyone’s health is safe,” Manenzhe said.

“Teams that command good support are going to suffer now because they do not have their 12th man. You know when playing for the big teams, supporters push you to another level.”

He continued: “The playing fields will be level now that there won’t be supporters. It is going to be a big challenge to those players that are playing for teams that attract crowds to the stadium.”

The Bundesliga in Germany was the first major European league to resume matches without spectators and La Liga in Spain, Serie A in Italy and the Premier League in England also followed.

It will now happen in South Africa after the Minister of Sport, Arts and Culture Nathi Mthethwa has recommended the Premier Soccer League being played behind closed doors, due to Covid-19 fears.

This is part of social distancing guidelines designed to flatten the curve. It means that we won’t see fans at the stadiums any time soon and it’s not clear when fans will be allowed to attend games in the future.

In 2018 Soweto giants Chiefs tasted playing without fans. Chiefs played Polokwane City at an empty Moses Mabhida Stadium as part of the punishment for the ugly scenes which were witnessed when their fans invaded the pitch after losing to Free State Stars.

Pirates also had to play behind closed doors at the Orlando Stadium after being found guilty of a similar offence in their 6-0 loss to Mamelodi Sundowns in February 2017.

About 10 players have been confirmed positive by respective clubs. Manenzhe says players will need to be mentally strong when the league resumes.

He said: “As much as football is a contact sport, most of the things are more mental than physical. I think players will have to be strong mentally despite knowing that there have been other teammates who tested positive.”