The True Value of Gold

July 23, 2021


“Daniel Alves has seen it all, done it all. He has won league titles in three countries, picked up nine cups, conquered Europe with his club and South America with his country. He has 41 major honors to his name, officially making him the most decorated player in history. But still, when André Jardine asked him to take on one last job, his eyes lit up. Jardine, the manager of Brazil’s Olympic men’s soccer team, had framed his pitch smartly. ….”
NY Times
W – Dani Alves


Breaking down England’s penalty heartbreak: At 10.49pm, Maguire slashes penalty home. At 10.54pm, everything changes

July 12, 2021


“It’s brutal sometimes, football. One by one, the players went to Bukayo Saka. They told him it would be OK, that they were proud of him, and that he should be proud of himself, too. They told him there was no blame and, even as they were saying it, they must have known their words made little difference. Maybe, in time, Saka will come to understand that, yes, he ought to be proud he played with such distinction during Euro 2020 that he was trusted, at the age of 19, to be part of the penalty shootout which decided the final between England and Italy. For now, though, what can anyone say to console a player who has suffered this kind of professional trauma? …”
The Athletic
NY Times: How Italy Beat England to Win Euro 2020 (Video)
Leaving Euro 2020 – Brian Phillips
BBC: ‘Out of despair, Italy have brought joy to a nation’
NY Times: After Defeat, England’s Black Soccer Players Face a Racist Outburst
Marcus Rashford mural vandalised after England lose Euro 2020 final
Guardian: England battle for survival instead of control as deep-lying issue resurfaces – Jonathan Wilson
W – UEFA Euro 2020 Final
NY Times: In the Big Euro 2020 Game, I Knew the England I Was Rooting For


Brazil’s Top Clubs Are Planning a Breakaway League

July 9, 2021


Flamengo has been playing on without some of its best players, who were called up by their national teams for the Copa América.
“Whenever Rodolfo Landin has turned on his television over the past few weeks to watch matches from this summer’s Copa América, he has done so with mixed emotions. As the president of Brazil’s most-popular club team, Flamengo, Landin has felt pride in seeing five members of his roster line up for their national teams in the tournament. But he also has watched with increasing frustration because Flamengo has had to make do for a month without those same five key players in the Brazilian championship. …”
NY Times


Italy suffer for shootout win in emotional and authentic tournament tussle

July 7, 2021


Federico Chiesa
“That train just keeps on running. On a gripping night under the gloom of high-summer London skies it looked for a while as though Roberto Mancini’s Italy might have hit a dead stretch of track. At Wembley Italy were dominated for the opening hour. Then they were dominated for the final half hour. They suffered, and ran, and suffered a little more. It was, once again, exhausting and also uplifting, the controlled intensity of a team playing right at the edge of its emotions. And of course this semi-final went to penalties. This was always going to penalties. As we moved into extra time, as this became a game of lunges and twists, screaming muscles, heaving lungs, this was going to penalties. And somehow, Italy, outplayed at times by a peppy, tactically smart Spain, were always winning them when we got there. …”
Guardian
NY Times: Italy Bars the Door and Keeps the Party Going
Guardian: Italy into Euro 2020 final after Jorginho penalty settles shootout against Spain
ESPN: Italy beat Spain by reverting to type as Morata’s regression defines La Roja’s Euro 2020 elimination (Video)
UEFA: Italy 1-1 Spain. (4-2 p) (Video)


No Semifinalist Is an Island

July 6, 2021


“Kalvin Phillips came home, for the first time, as a fully fledged England international with four jerseys as souvenirs. He had asked his new teammates to autograph one, destined to be framed and mounted on a wall at home. Two others were reserved for his mother and grandmother, as tokens of gratitude for years of support. The final one he earmarked as a gift for the man who, he felt, deserved the bulk of the credit. A couple of years earlier, Phillips had been a promising but inconsistent midfielder in the Championship, England’s second-tier league. Now, despite having not yet played a minute in the Premier League, he had been called into a gathering of the country’s finest players. Without the intervention of Marcelo Bielsa, the Leeds United manager, Phillips said, none of it ‘would really have been possible.’ …”
NY Times


Lorenzo Insigne’s stunning goal a defining moment for the new Italy

July 2, 2021


“If we needed one moment to sum up Italy’s transformation over the past four years, it arrived in the 44th minute at the Allianz Arena. Lorenzo Insigne’s goal was a thing of beauty, cutting in from the left and curling the ball from the edge of the area into the far corner of the net with such precision that Thibaut Courtois had no chance. The forward had started his run from the halfway line. This was Insigne distilled, a goal that he has scored countless times down the years. The finish might not always be so flawless, but the ambitious dribble, the move inside and the right-footed shot across goal have been foundation stones of a career. You could accuse him of being too predictable, but like Arjen Robben in his prime, Insigne has learned that it does not matter if defenders know what dance you’re doing if they still cannot match your steps. …”
Guardian
NY Times: Belgium’s Golden Team Searches for a Silver Lining
ESPN (Video)


England step into strange new light as fear turns to joy in win over Germany

June 29, 2021


“Well, that was unexpected. On a grey, boisterous, increasingly wild night at Wembley Stadium England’s footballers did something new. When it comes to these grand, operatic international tournaments England shrink. England are fearful. At best England flutter, briefly, before being broken on the wheel. Except not this time. Instead Gareth Southgate’s fine young team produced a performance of slow-burn fire to beat Germany – yes, really – 2-0 and progress to the quarter finals of Euro 2020. …”
Guardian (Video)
Guardian: Gareth Southgate praises ‘immense’ England but warns against complacency
NY Times: England Overcomes Germany, and Its Demons
BBC – England 2-0 Germany: ‘England must reach final to make Germany win one of their greatest’


Belgium 1-0 Portugal: Ronaldo draws a blank, Hazards come to the fore, Pepe loses his cool (again)

June 28, 2021


Thorgan Hazard
“Cristiano Ronaldo had the all-time men’s international goal scoring record and the Euro 2020 quarter-finals in his sights, but he hadn’t reckoned on a stubborn and resilient Belgium side, who defended solidly and provided the game’s most outstanding moment of technical quality. Here, The Athletic’s Liam Twomey and Tim Spiers pick through the major talking points… The stage was set for Cristiano Ronaldo. His team, his tournament, his Euros, his next goal record… but for once, he failed to take the spotlight. … But while the elder Hazard brother’s improved rhythm should be cause for optimism among Belgium supporters, he wasn’t the hero of this particular night. Thorgan shattered Portugal’s ultra-cautious game plan from 25 yards with one magnificent swish of his boot late in the first half. …”
Belgium 1-0 Portugal: Ronaldo draws a blank, Hazards come to the fore, Pepe loses his cool (again)
Guardian: Thorgan Hazard strike sinks Portugal and puts Belgium in quarter-finals
Guardian: Cristiano Ronaldo exits but does not have the look of a man whose race is run – Jonathan Wilson
NY Times: Relief for Belgium Comes at Ronaldo’s Expense


The Case for a 32-Team Euros

June 26, 2021


Portugal found a way through to the round of 16.
“Thomas Vermaelen’s header hit the ground first and then rose before colliding with the post near the corner where it meets the crossbar. As the ball spun out, sideways toward the middle of the goal, Lukas Hradecky, the Finland goalkeeper, was still turning around. It was all happening in the blink of an eye. Instinctively, Hradecky reached out a hand to try to swat the ball away. In that instant, on his fingertips, a substantial portion of Euro 2020 hung. Had Hradecky been able to claw the ball away from his goal, away from danger, Finland might have been able to hang on, to keep a vaguely interested Belgium at bay, to qualify for the knockout stages of the first major tournament it has ever reached. Denmark, playing simultaneously in Copenhagen, might have been sent home. …”
NY Times


The Euro 2020 Group Stage Is Over: Here’s What We Learned

June 24, 2021


“With a couple of minutes to play in Budapest, the French midfielder Adrien Rabiot looked squarely at Sergio Oliveira, his Portuguese opponent, and advised him to back away. Like everyone else in the stadium, Rabiot had heard the news. The group stage of Euro 2020 was effectively over. Both France and Portugal were through to the knockout rounds. There was no need to run or to chase or to press. Now was the time for watching the clock. It had not, for either team, been a straightforward evening. The game had oscillated — Portugal led, then France, then Portugal struck back — and so had their fates, dependent to some extent on the outcome of the group’s other game, between Germany and Hungary in Munich. At one point or another, each of the four teams had believed they were going through. …”
NY Times


Denmark Advances at Euro 2020, Winning Where Eriksen Fell

June 21, 2021


“Denmark’s players gathered in a circle on the field at the Parken Stadium in Copenhagen and stared intently at a staff member’s phone. They must have known, by then, that they had qualified for the last 16 of the European Championship, but they wanted to be sure. They wanted to see the score confirmed, officially. The Danes had come into their final group game on Monday needing the dice to roll in their favor to make it through. They required a win against Russia on home soil, and for Belgium to beat Finland in St. Petersburg. That they had a chance at all, though — that their coach, Kasper Hjulmand, could tell his players that this was the start, not the end, of their tournament — was remarkable in itself. …”
NY Times
SI: Denmark Through to Euros’ Last 16 as Simultaneous Drama Caps Emotional Group Stage


At Euro 2020, a Reminder That Good Can Be Great

June 19, 2021


Italy: unbeaten, but not unbeatable.
“Let’s start with a little intellectual exercise. A purely hypothetical, entirely subjective, ultimately inconclusive one, admittedly, but still: Now that each of the presumed contenders to win the European Championship has shown at least some of its hand, how competitive would any of them be if they were to be parachuted, as they are, into the Champions League? Instinctively, it feels as if France, at least, would do pretty well. A front line of Antoine Griezmann, Karim Benzema and Kylian Mbappé bears comparison to any attacking trident in the club game. …”
NY Times


France Doesn’t Stray From Its Championship Formula In Beating Germany to Open Euros

June 15, 2021


“There is something slightly odd about this France side, in that the scores of its games so rarely reflect what has just happened. No team seems quite so often to hammer an opponent by a single goal. Germany may have won the shot count and the possession battle in Tuesday’s 1–0 triumph for Les Bleus in the teams’ first match of what’s the competition’s most difficult group. But this was rarely a game Germany looked like winning, with it never quite able to put France under pressure and always appearing vulnerable to the counter. Ultimately, an own goal from Mats Hummels, who had scored the winner at the right end when Germany beat France in the 2014 World Cup quarterfinals, was enough, but Adrien Rabiot hit a post, Karim Benzema had a goal ruled out for a tight offside and Kylian Mbappé did as well, albeit for a slightly more obvious infraction. …” SI – Jonathan Wilson (Video), Guardian: Paul Pogba full of bite and craft even after Antonio Rüdiger tries a nibble, Joachim Löw’s Legacy (Video, June 12 2021), NY Times: France, So Deep and So Dominant, Finds One Goal Is Plenty


Euro 2020: Italy Beats Turkey, 3-0, in Opener in Rome

June 12, 2021


“… Italy’s 3-0 win against Turkey in the tournament’s opening game does not guarantee anything; this is still a young team, a work in progress, one that perhaps lacks the star power of France, England and Portugal, among others. Italy came in to Euro 2020 with momentum, but it was always somewhat fragile: an early setback could easily have undone three years of good work. Instead, of course, that momentum will have been redoubled by swatting a decent — if somewhat callow — Turkish team aside. And more broadly, it gave the competition as a whole what it needed: an entertaining, attractive opener, one that will hopefully serve to set the tone for the remainder of the group stage. …” NY Times (Video)


U.S. 3, Mexico 2: All the Plot Twists

June 9, 2021


Weston McKennie
“You will not find the word Concacaffy in any dictionary, but any soccer fan in North America knows what it means and how to use it in a sentence. It can explain anything from a terrible field to a terrible call to terrible behavior, and the word works just as well as an anguished cry or accompanied by a shrug of the shoulders. Can’t believe that foul wasn’t a red card? That’s so Concacaffy. Field surrounded by a 20-foot moat? That’s so Concacaffy. Were there really just 11 minutes of stoppage time after a 15-minute overtime? Sooooo Concacaffy. Even before the United States men’s national team beat Mexico, 3-2, on Sunday night to win the Concacaf Nations League final on Sunday, the word has been tossed around quite a bit. For fans of the two teams — the twin poles of North American soccer dominance and hand-wringing — the whole night was thrilling and frustrating and exhilarating and maddening. …” NY Times (Video), W – 2021 CONCACAF Nations League Finals, Overtime Goal From Christian Pulisic and Heroic Penalty Kick Save (Video), YouTube: USA vs Mexico 3-2 Highlights All Goals CNL Finals, USA vs. Mexico: Extended Highlights | Concacaf Nations League Final | CBS Sports Golazo


How Euro 2020 Was Saved

June 8, 2021


“If Aleksander Ceferin has any say on the matter, there will never be another European soccer championship like the one that starts this week. And that decision has nothing to do with the coronavirus. Ceferin, the president of European soccer’s governing body, quickly listed the headaches that came with organizing this summer’s championship. Matches in 11 countries, originally 13, meant finding 11 cities and 11 stadiums capable of hosting them. It meant creating teams to run each site and arranging for dozens of hotels to house everyone who would go. But it also meant navigating legal jurisdictions and linguistic boundaries, tax laws and big politics as well as soccer politics, currency values and visa rules. And that was before the coronavirus made it all exponentially harder. …” NY Times, NY Times – Euro 2020: Schedule, How to Watch and More, UEFA Euro 2020 match schedule


Euro 2020: England and Spain Drop Big Names; France Adds One

June 4, 2021


“Liverpool’s Trent Alexander-Arnold was one of four right backs included in England’s final 26-man roster for this summer’s European Championship as Manager Gareth Southgate trimmed his roster hours before the tournament deadline. But after one exhibition game, he was out again. Alexander-Arnold, a late inclusion in England’s team, withdrew on Thursday, a day after sustaining a thigh injury in a friendly match against Austria. England and Liverpool confirmed that the young defender was out. … Instead, all four players made the team — at least initially. England is in a group with Croatia, Scotland and the Czech Republic. If it reaches the final, it could play as many as six matches at Wembley Stadium in London. …” NY Times, W – UEFA Euro 2020, Euro 2020 squads: Every confirmed team for the 2021 tournament, Guardian – Euro 2020: your complete guide to all 622 players


The Super League Thought It Had a Silent Partner: FIFA

May 22, 2021


“Tucked away in the pages and pages of financial and legal jargon that constitute the founding contract of the Super League, the failed project that last month briefly threatened the century-old structures and economics of European soccer, were references to one ‘essential’ requirement. The condition was deemed so important that organizers agreed that the breakaway plan could not succeed without satisfying it and yet was so secret that it was given a code name even in contracts shared among the founders. Those documents, copies of which were reviewed by The New York Times, refer to the need for the Super League founders to strike an agreement with an entity obliquely labeled W01 but easily identifiable as FIFA, soccer’s global governing body. …” NY Times


When the Goals Come Out of Nowhere

May 5, 2021


“Giorgos Giakoumakis had never scored goals. Not in great numbers, anyway. He had played 22 games, spread across three seasons, before he finally managed a single one for his first club, a team of modest ambitions and close horizons called Platanias, based on his home island, Crete. In the early stages of his career, he broke into double figures for a single campaign only once, mustering 11 goals in his final season at Platanias. It appeared, at the time, to be his breakthrough. That summer, he moved to A.E.K. Athens, one of the three powers that dominate the Greek capital. …”NY Times (Video), W – Giorgos Giakoumakis, YouTube: Georgios Giakoumakis DESTROYING Great Players


How the Super League Fell Apart

April 22, 2021


“For 48 hours, soccer stood on the brink. Fans took to the streets. Players broke into open revolt. Chaos stalked the game’s corridors of power, unleashing a shock wave that resonated around the world, from Manchester to Manila, Barcelona to Beijing, and Liverpool to Los Angeles. That internationalism is what has turned European soccer, over the last 30 years, into a global obsession. The elite teams of western Europe are stocked with stars drawn from Africa, South America and all points in between. They draw fans not just from England, Italy and Spain, but China, India and Australia in numbers large enough to tempt broadcasters across the planet to pay hundreds of millions of dollars for the rights to show their games. …”
NY Times
W – The Super League
CBS – European Super League collapse explained: What’s next? Real Madrid, Barcelona quiet; Premier League clubs out (Audio)
BBC – European Super League: All six Premier League teams withdraw from competition (Video)
YouTube: All six English clubs confirm plans to exit European Super League


Capitalist Greed Created the European Super League

April 21, 2021


Roberto Firmino of Liverpool shoots while under pressure from Éder Militão of Real Madrid during the UEFA Champions League quarter-final second-leg match on April 14, 2021 in Liverpool, England.
“Yesterday, once again, the prospect of a breakaway European Super League (ESL) reared its head. The proposal — to carve out a continental competition in which fifteen of the game’s elite clubs could never be relegated — was met with widespread dismay by those who love the game. Despite a year that has shown just how vital fans are for the ‘spectacle’ of football, it was the match-going fans that once again were of least concern. Instead, if the plans go ahead, the future of football will be shaped by television and advertising — an entertainment industry that the top clubs estimate will deliver them £300 million per year, far outstripping their current domestic and Champions League revenues. It’s important to point out that the Super League isn’t an anomaly. …” Jacobin, European Super League explained: the contracts, plots and threats that shook football to its core, Guardian: The greed of the European Super League has been decades in the making, Guardian – ‘It’s war’: what the papers say about the European Super League, NY Times: Super League Appears to Collapse as City Walks Away


Europe Plunders Paris for Talent, and P.S.G. Pays the Price

April 7, 2021



“Paris St.-Germain could not, in the end, have sped Tanguy Nianzou along much quicker than it did. He was captain of the club’s under-19 side when he was only 16. He was called up to the first team at 17, training alongside Neymar and Kylian Mbappé and the rest, and soon made his debut. He even started a game in the Champions League. And still, despite all those opportunities, he left. Nianzou had just turned 18 when, on July 1 last year, he was presented as a Bayern Munich player. P.S.G. did not even have the solace of being able to pocket a premium fee for a player it had nurtured. Nianzou’s contract was expiring. He walked out of his hometown club for nothing. …” NY Times


Arrests Shake Up a Soccer Scene in Serbia Ruled by Gangsters and ‘Gravediggers’

March 20, 2021


“BELGRADE — Shortly after arresting a man suspected of leading a criminal gang last month in connection with a series of killings involving beheadings and torture, Serbian police officers raided what they believe was the band’s secret lair: a bunkerlike room in the bowels of a stadium used by Partizan Belgrade, a storied soccer team in the Serbian capital. The room, located in a defunct restaurant under the stands, has been sealed off as a crime scene after investigators hunting for evidence of ties between soccer hooligans and organized crime found weapons there. The wall outside is daubed in white and black paint with the name that the Partizan fans use for themselves: ‘the Gravediggers.’ The name is well deserved. Serbian soccer fans, at least those who in prepandemic days used to cram into the rowdy south stands of Partizan’s stadium and the equally anarchic north side of the arena used by its Belgrade archrivals, Red Star, have long had a reputation for extraordinary violence. …” NY Times, W – Grobari, Hard men, gravediggers, and the breakup of Yugoslavia: Inside The Eternal Derby, the war for Serbia’s capital city – April 2020, Love of the game: meet the Belgrade football fans making Partizan art (August 2017) ***Stadium Riots in Serbia, The Dangerous World of Serbian Soccer Ultras

Graffiti of Smiths frontman Morrissey in Partizan Belgrade colours, by the Gravedigger’s Trash Romanticism fan group.


For Liverpool, Everton Loss Is a Shock to Klopp’s System

February 24, 2021


“It is every week, now, that Liverpool seems to lose another little piece of itself. An unbeaten home record that stretched back more than three years disappeared in January, spirited away by Burnley. The sense of Anfield as a fortress collapsed soon after, stormed in short order by Brighton and then by Manchester City. The golden afterglow of the long-awaited Premier League crown that arrived last summer has been dimming for some time, but it darkened for good last week, with Jürgen Klopp conceding the Premier League title while still in the bitter grip of winter. …” NY Times, BBC: Liverpool 0 – 2 Everton, YouTube: Liverpool v. Everton | PREMIER LEAGUE HIGHLIGHTS, Liverpool forced into unseen revamp as Jurgen Klopp makes backroom changes (Video), W – Merseyside derby


Soccer Isn’t Blameless in Its Culture of Abuse

February 15, 2021


“This time, it was Yan Dhanda. A few days ago, it was Axel Tuanzebe and Anthony Martial. Before that, it had been Alex Jankewitz and Romaine Sawyers. It happened to Lauren James, and to her brother, Reece, too. So pernicious, so constant is soccer’s problem with racist abuse that it is, at times, hard to keep up. Almost all of these cases echo what Dhanda experienced on Wednesday night: The names and the details can be changed, but the themes are the same. That evening, the 22-year-old Dhanda played for his team, Swansea City, in an F.A. Cup match against Manchester City. Swansea lost, 3-1. After the game, Dhanda checked his Instagram account. And there, waiting for him, was a racist, abusive private message. …” NY Times (Video)


Old Rivals, New Ideas and Why Some Clubs Are Reluctant to Try

February 10, 2021


Is it possible Rangers and Celtic are too tangled up in their rivalry for their own good?
Nobody wants to say it is over. Steven Gerrard, the Rangers manager, will not tempt fate. He will only believe the title is won, he has said, when the math says so. Neil Lennon, his counterpart at Celtic, similarly cannot concede defeat. His team, he has said, will keep going, keep fighting, while there is still some small glimmer of hope. But both must surely know that it is over, and has been for some time. It was over long before this last, toxic month, when Celtic staged a winter training break in Dubai in the middle of a pandemic and flew back into a coronavirus-infected storm.It was over before two Celtic players duly tested positive, before pretty much the whole first-team squad had to go into isolation, before criticism rained down on the club from the Scottish government and even its own fans. …”
NY Times, In Brazil, Risk and Reward, Side by Joyous Side


Speaking Up for the Armchair Fan

January 19, 2021


Critics of television’s influence on soccer ignore that it’s still the way most fans experience the game.
“Television is not a dirty word. It is not the sort of word that should be spat out in anger or growled with resentment or grumbled through gritted teeth. It is not a loaded word, or one laced with scorn and opprobrium and bile. It is not a word that has a tone. Not in most contexts, anyway. In soccer, television is treated as the dirtiest word you can imagine. It is an object of disdain and frustration and, sometimes, hatred. Managers, and occasionally players, rail against its power to dictate when games are played and how often. They resent its scrutiny and its bombast. Television is never cited as the root of anything pleasant. Television is the cause of nothing but problems. There is no need to linger for long on the irony and the hypocrisy here. Television, of course, is also what pays their wages. …” NY Times


The Dark Fairy Tale of Atalanta

August 13, 2020


“Our faith will never fade” reads the inscription at a gathering spot for Atalanta’s most devoted supporters.
“BERGAMO, Italy — … It was hard to believe it was happening at the time. It is even harder to believe it happened now. That day was, possibly, the proudest in the modest history of Atalanta. A great tide had made the short journey from Bergamo, the prosperous, pretty city where the soccer team is based, to Milan for the first leg of their Champions League, round-of-16 tie against Valencia. Atalanta had never breathed such rarefied air. It had, in truth, scarcely even contemplated it. The whole town, it seemed, had been transplanted for the night. …”
NY Times
NY Times: The Champions League Returns With a Plan for Everything


A History of Soccer in Six Matches

April 18, 2020


Hungary’s visit to Wembley in 1953 was a seminal moment in the modern game.
“A few weeks ago, I asked readers to submit ideas for what they would like to see in this column. Not because I am short of them, you understand, but because in this bleak new reality of ours writing about sports very much falls into the category of ‘things you want,’ rather than ‘things you need.’ There was a flurry of suggestions, on every topic under the sun, most of which I know absolutely nothing about. One theme that stood out, though, was that many would welcome the chance to immerse themselves in the comforting nostalgia of soccer history. Even with my understanding editors and generous word counts, that is a vast, unwieldy subject. You can write soccer history in a million different ways: through the lens of teams and individuals, through tactics or geography or culture. …”
NY Times (Video)


Champions League: Neymar’s Hat Trick Powers P.S.G. in Rout

October 5, 2018


“Paris St.-Germain’s attack overwhelmed Red Star Belgrade, 6-1, in the Champions League on Wednesday, with Neymar scoring a hat trick that included two brilliant free kicks. P.S.G. Coach Thomas Tuchel went with his strongest lineup up front, with Neymar, the World Cup star Kylian Mbappé, Edinson Cavani and Angel Di María. They all scored in the first half except for Mbappé, who had to wait until the 70th minute for his goal, created with some more deft footwork by Neymar.” NY Times


For David Luiz and Chelsea, Everything’s Perfect. Until Suddenly It’s Not.

September 30, 2018

“Muttering under his breath, shaking his head in regret, David Luiz was the last player to disappear from the field. He had taken his time after the final whistle. As Liverpool’s players went over to celebrate with their fans, and as his Chelsea teammates trudged disconsolately toward the tunnel, Luiz lingered. He stripped off his jersey. He bestowed a few handshakes on eager young fans reaching their arms out for him to brush.” NY Times


An Ex-Owner of the Dodgers Takes Another Swing in Marseille

September 16, 2018


“MONACO — Not long after Frank McCourt arrived at his luxury hotel here, there was a knock at the door. A valet had returned with a newly pressed shirt. McCourt, freshening up after an overnight trans-Atlantic flight, called out from the bathroom with an instruction to hang the shirt in the closet. McCourt carried on with his ablutions. The valet, in that smooth, five-star silence, carefully slid the shirt onto the rail and, without seeing McCourt, prepared to slip out the door. As he was leaving, though, he could not help himself. ‘Allez l’O.M.,’ the valet said, and vanished.” NY Times


At Transfer Time in Lithuania, Prospects and Profits Collide

September 4, 2018


“KAUNAS, Lithuania — The letter was short and to the point: A.S. Monaco, the elite soccer club on the French Riviera, wanted Ibrahima Sory Soumah to travel from his home in Guinea to France for a 10-day trial. Soumah’s mind raced with the possibilities. If Soumah, a teenage midfielder, could succeed in the test period and convince his hosts of his value, he might take his place at one of the finest soccer finishing schools in the world, and maybe even follow the path that led George Weah, Thierry Henry and Kylian Mbappé from Monaco to global stardom. But even if he did not, Soumah knew that simply spending time under the tutelage of Monaco’s coaches would increase his chances of finding a different club and forging a decent pro career in Europe, fulfilling his dreams and those of his family back in Conakry.” NY Times


A Rebuilt Liverpool Hopes to Reach New Heights With Its Soul Intact

August 10, 2018


“At the start of the last Premier League season, Liverpool fans had some fun online passing around a picture labeled ‘Liverpool F.C. as a car.’ The image showed one vehicle Frankensteined together from the parts of three: The front was a sports car, the center a boring family sedan and the back a rusted junker missing its wheels. And for the first half of last season, the image seemed to be a perfect metaphor for their team. Liverpool’s attack, headlined by the transcendent Mohamed Salah and the almost-as-good Sadio Mané and Roberto Firmino, blitzed through the league terrifying opposing defenses. The midfield, typified by the stereotypically English grit of Jordan Henderson and James Milner, did its job capably if unspectacularly.” NY Times


Manchester City Sizes Up Its Toughest Premier League Opponent: Complacency

August 10, 2018

“It was not a goal that clinched a title, or secured a trophy, and it was not a victory that was needed, not a win that changed very much at all. On the surface, when Gabriel Jesus scored in injury time against Southampton on the final day of last season, it was just another goal, just another win. Manchester City had scored 106 times over the previous 10 months; on the way to the Premier League title, Pep Guardiola’s team had won 32 of 38 games.” NY Times


In a Dark, Endless News Cycle, the World Cup Gave Us Light

July 17, 2018

“When history looks back and remembers the stunning 2018 World Cup, what will be the lasting images: Neymar attempting, game after game, to break the land speed record for rolling while clutching your ankle? The referees experimenting with VAR? The replays of celebrating players and fans in rapture, tossing their drinks in the air, after yet another last-minute game-winning goal? (This tournament’s 23 stoppage time goals shattered the previous record.) Or maybe it will be a singular moment, like Kylian Mbappé’s strike to make it 4-1 and become the first teenager to score in a World Cup final since a man named Pelé.” NY Times


Russia Finally Falls, Leaving a Trail of Admirers and Doubters

July 8, 2018


“It was only a couple of minutes to midnight, and Miroslav Romaschenko did not want to leave. As Croatia’s players bounced around in ecstasy and as Russia’s collapsed, disconsolate, onto their backs, the losing team’s assistant manager sat down, frozen in place on the Fisht Stadium’s turf. He stayed there, staring into space, as the Croatian captain, Luka Modric, leapt into the crowd, celebrating his country’s second-ever World Cup semifinal; as both teams sought out Fyodor Smolov and Mário Fernandes, the two players whose missed penalties brought Russia’s tournament to a close; and as the fans turned to leave, back to the beach, back to the bars, back to reality.” NY Times


Drug Use. Corruption. Scandal. There’s an Ugly Side to the Beautiful Game.

July 7, 2018

Musa Okwonga, a poet, activist and author of two books on football, answered questions on Reddit this week about the off-the-pitch issues around the World Cup and some of the most exciting matches. Mr. Okwonga is no novice. His ties to the beautiful game started generations before his birth in England, when his grandfather coached the Ugandan national team. The Reddit conversation, ranging from doping to inequality, was punctuated by his friends’ inside jokes about frozen beans and wedding poetry. Mr. Okwonga, who lives in Germany, used the Reddit forum to expand upon the writing he has done for our newsletter, Offsides.” NY Times


Neymar and the Art of the Dive

July 6, 2018


“Alarm bells rang inside Jim Calder’s brain earlier this week as he watched Neymar, the Brazilian soccer superstar, squirm on the grass and cry out in apparent distress. ‘Neymar does what all beginning actors do,’ he said. ‘They oversell the event.’ Calder would know. For three decades he has taught acting at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts. His voice has been consistently hoarse this summer, a consequence of yelling at students all day at a theater workshop he runs every year in Florence, Italy. Yet when the classes have ended, when he turns on the television to watch the World Cup at night, he continues to have his thespian tastes affronted.” NY Times (Video)


Stuck in Soccer Limbo, in the Shadow of the World Cup

July 4, 2018

“An odd thing happened in December when soccer fans in Crimea, the disputed Black Sea peninsula annexed by Russia from Ukraine in 2014, began trying to buy tickets to the World Cup. Some ticket seekers trying to make purchases through FIFA, soccer’s world governing body, encountered error messages on their computers. The problem, the president of Crimea’s soccer federation told reporters, was that FIFA still recognized Crimea as part of Ukraine. Fans on the peninsula feared that World Cup tickets had joined cellphones and credit cards on a list of imported items banned by international sanctions.” NY Times


If Ronaldo Can’t Beat Uruguay, the Least He Can Do Is Pay Taxes

July 4, 2018

“Before his team lost on Saturday, Portugal’s superstar forward Ronaldo was having a thrilling World Cup. There was his stunning performance against Spain, where he scored three of the game’s six goals. There was his outstanding early header against Morocco, which prompted his coach to declare that Ronaldo was aging ‘like a port wine.’ Exhilarating displays of virtuosity! Brilliance and showmanship! What’s not to like?” NY Times


Is Neymar Black? Brazil and the Painful Relativity of Race

July 2, 2018

“Years before he became the most expensive player in the world; before his Olympic gold medal; before the Eiffel Tower lit up with his name to greet his professional move from Barcelona to Paris, Neymar da Silva Santos Júnior, the Brazilian forward known to the world simply as Neymar, faced his first public relations controversy. The year was 2010, and Neymar, then 18, had shot to fame in Brazil after a sensational breakout season. During an interview for the newspaper O Estado de S. Paulo, in between a conversation about Disneyland and sports cars, he was asked if he had ever experienced racism. ‘Never. Not in the field, nor outside of it,’ he replied.” NY Times


Colombia Emerges From the World Cup Chaos, Booting Senegal

June 29, 2018

“After all that, after all the qualification and buildup, after six hard-fought matches and injuries and hand-wringing, it all came down to yellow cards. Just like Japan, Senegal won once, tied once, and lost once — falling by 1-0 to Colombia on Thursday after giving up a goal to Yerry Mina — but it will be the Japanese advancing to the knockout phase by virtue of having only three yellow cards, while Senegal had five.” NY Times


Made in Argentina, and Now Coaching Everywhere at the World Cup

June 28, 2018


“For a while, even after he had embarked on his coaching career, José Pékerman refused to give up his taxi. He had driven the little Renault 12, given to him by his brother, for four years, after an injury had forced him to retire as a player but before he started work in the youth system at the Buenos Aires club Estudiantes. In those early days, Pékerman often arrived for training sessions in the car he had painted yellow and black himself. Coaching was his ambition, and he quickly showed he had a gift for it, but he was reluctant to part with the taxi. It was his guarantee that he could support his family, his safety net. In Argentine soccer, he knew he could never be certain when he might need it.” NY Times


For a 90-Minute Game, a Train Ride of 27 Hours

June 27, 2018


“YEKATERINBURG, Russia — After nearly 27 hours and 900 miles on a train from Moscow, Hans Josefsson’s pedicure remained immaculate. Before leaving Sweden 10 days earlier for the World Cup, he had his toenails painted blue and gold, the colors of the national soccer team. ‘A professional did it; I knew I would do a lot of walking in these sandals,’ Mr. Josefsson said before arriving here Tuesday afternoon in the easternmost Russian city in which matches are being played. A fellow passenger on the daylong trip, Luis Aragones, 24, an architect, had watched in Mexico City as Mexico stunned Germany, the defending champion, in its opening game. He had joined a delirious celebration whose mass jumping may have caused the equivalent of a minor earthquake.” NY Times


Soccer and Doping? Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell

June 27, 2018

“The World Cup continues to thrill, with exhilarating wins by England, Germany, Belgium and Colombia, and an equally exciting draw between Japan and Senegal. Away from the field, though, an old controversy has once again rumbled into view: doping. The Mail on Sunday, a British newspaper, reported over the weekend that a Russian player, Ruslan Kambolov, who was excluded from his country’s World Cup squad because of injury, had tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs 18 months ago. And according to the paper, it gets worse: Both the Russian authorities and FIFA kept this information quiet.” NY Times


Telemundo Has a Big Goal: Win the World Cup

June 23, 2018


“MIAMI — Nearly seven years before this year’s World Cup began, Eli Velazquez, a sports television executive for Telemundo, was awakened by an early morning phone call from his boss six time zones away. It was earth-shattering news. For the first time, Velazquez’s longtime employer, Telemundo, one of the main Spanish-language broadcast networks in the United States, had wrested away World Cup broadcast rights from Univision, its archrival. For the hefty sum of $600 million, the 2018 and 2022 World Cups were theirs. Still in bed, Velazquez, who had helped prepare Telemundo’s sales pitch, struggled to absorb the welcome, but overwhelming, news.” NY Times


Broadcasts in a Native Language, Speaking to Every Corner of Peru

June 21, 2018

“The language of soccer games is ripe with phrases, metaphors and clichés that reflect modern life: a coach who parks the bus, a midfielder who shoots rockets, a striker who scores with a bicycle kick. But at 11,000 feet in the Peruvian Andes, the vocabulary changes. That is where Luis Soto, who hosts a daily sports program on Radio Inti Raymi, is narrating Peru’s first appearance at the World Cup since 1982 in his native language, Quechua.” NY Times


The World Cup Is Fun. Except for the Russians Being Tortured.

June 20, 2018


A banner read “World Torture Championship?” at a protest in Moscow in advance of the World Cup.
“MOSCOW — Have you enjoyed the first week of the 2018 World Cup? Good. Some of the games have certainly been very exciting! Now read the words of Dmitry Pchelintsev as they appeared in MediaZona, a small independent online publication focused on police brutality and the prison system in Russia: ‘The man in surgical gloves cranked the DC generator with wires attached to my toes. The calves of my legs started contracting violently, I was paralyzed with pain. They threw me on the floor, pulled my underpants down and tried to attach the wires to my genitals. I clenched my teeth so hard that my mouth was full of blood and shards of broken teeth.’ Mr. Pchelintsev, a 26-year-old anti-fascist activist from the industrial town of Penza, told his lawyer about this in February — and then, he has said, he was tortured again to make him disown his statement.” NY Times


Amid the Roars in Russia, the French Can Still Hear the Echoes of 1998

June 20, 2018

“KAZAN, Russia — The French forward Kylian Mbappé was not yet born when France beat Brazil, 3-0, to win the World Cup at home on July 12, 1998. But like any other French citizen, Mbappé, 19, has had no shortage of opportunities to relive the moment this month. There has been a deluge of material and events commemorating the 20th anniversary of France’s first and only victory in a tournament that was, lest anyone forget, the brainchild of two Frenchmen: Jules Rimet and Henri Delaunay. In the week before this World Cup in Russia began, French television networks broadcast three documentaries about the 1998 victory. One film, titled, ‘Le Sacre d’une Nation,’ contained video of a 7-year-old Antoine Griezmann, who, with a friend, was dashing around the French national team’s training ground near Lyon during the summer of 1998 while wearing a No. 7 French jersey.” NY Times


Seismic Event: Mexico Stuns Germany at the World Cup

June 17, 2018


“MOSCOW — Hirving Lozano’s first-half goal and sturdy second-half defense gave Mexico a 1-0 victory over Germany on Sunday, providing the first major surprise of the 2018 World Cup. It was hard to recall a bigger result for Mexico, which has hosted the World Cup twice but has never advanced past the quarterfinals. Germany, the defending World Cup champion, has won the tournament four times, and was expected to seriously challenge for a fifth crown in Russia. But the Germans seemed flummoxed by the Mexicans’ speed and directness in the first half, and they couldn’t find a reply to Lozano’s goal.” NY Times

Mexico Just Taught Germany a Lesson: Never Win a World Cup
“The World Cup had its first great game on Friday when Spain and Portugal dueled to a 3-3 draw, and it had its first upset on Sunday, when Hirving “Chucky” Lozano gave Mexico a stunning 1-0 win over Germany. Mexico’s gameplan from the start was to rely on a counter attack to pressure their opponents, and Germany allowed them an unimpeded path. They pushed a high line—and stuck with 31-year-old Sami Khedira, a once rangy but now limited midfielder—in the middle to keep Mexico out of the box. Khedira is a step slower than he was four years ago, and Philipp Lahm and Bastian Schweinsteiger aren’t around to clean up for his mistakes.” The Ringer

He’s Got a Winning Record. So Why Do Mexican Fans Want the Coach Fired?
“PASADENA, Calif. — A few weeks ago, Juan Carlos Osorio, the coach of Mexico’s national soccer team, sat in the sunny courtyard of a Beverly Hills hotel, nursing a cup of coffee and reliving the moment in 2016 that very nearly derailed his 20-year journey from a small club on Staten Island to his first World Cup. Osorio, 57, had just presided over the most humiliating defeat in Mexico’s history, a 7-0 demolition by Chile in the quarterfinals of the Copa América, the world’s oldest international tournament. It was the sort of loss that gets a coach fired, especially in Mexico — provided Osorio didn’t quit first.” NY Times

Joshua Kimmich leaves a Philipp Lahm-shaped hole in the Germany defence
“There is no position over which the opinion of supporters and football managers can clash more starkly than full-back. Fans invariably love a marauding type who gets up and down the wing, dives into tackles and is generally both no-nonsense in defence and a swashbuckling attacking presence. Note the cult hero status that was quickly bestowed last year on Sead Kolasinac at Arsenal and note too how Arsène Wenger very quickly decided that he would rather stick with the more positionally disciplined Nacho Monreal. Telegraph


Swiss hold out to neutralise Brazilian firepower and earn share of points

June 17, 2018

“… Lionel Messi endured a misstep in his opening game with Argentina against Iceland and his former Barcelona team-mate, Neymar, experienced similar frustration on a night when Brazil had cause to bemoan a couple of costly decisions that went against them. The highlight of the game was an arresting 25 yard strike from Philippe Coutinho but the main talking points centred around a push on Miranda by Steven Zuber before he equalised for Switzerland early in the second half and the denial of a Brazil penalty late on.” Telegraph

Switzerland’s Zuber heads controversial equaliser to deny Brazil victory
“This was not how Brazil had scripted it. The five-times world champions were in control thanks to a trademark Philippe Coutinho screamer and the first step to avenge the trauma from the previous finals looked set to be sure-footed. Yet one lapse was all it took for Switzerland to crash back into it – Steven Zuber heading the equaliser – and, with a priceless result within their grasp, they were in no mood to relinquish it.” Guardian

In Brazil, Soccer Madness Seems to Be Moving in Reverse

With social and political problems weighing heavily, Brazil’s enthusiasm for the World Cup is not as high as in recent tournaments, even though the team is among those favored to win it. Children are still playing, though.
“RIO DE JANEIRO — There may be no better barometer of Brazil’s enthusiasm — or lack thereof — for the World Cup than Jorge Rudge Street. Every four years, months before the start of the tournament, which Brazil has won more than any other country, residents spend their nights painting murals and hanging green and yellow pennants between light poles along the street, in the working class neighborhood of Vila Isabel. A big screen is set up for watch parties that often include performances by famous musicians. Not this year.” NY Times


When Nationalists Don’t Like the National Team

June 12, 2018


“Germany won the World Cup in 2014 and it has an excellent chance of winning it again this year in Russia. Here in Berlin, where I live, the excitement is rising. My friends’ calendars are filling up with watch parties. Bar owners are moving big TV screens toward the street. My local beer garden is stockpiling booze and sausages, preparing for the hordes of fans hopeful that the German team will advance to victory.” NY Times


Mo Salah, Now Starring in Chechnya

June 11, 2018

“GROZNY, Russia — Ramzan A. Kadyrov did not sustain himself as the autocratic leader of the Chechen republic by failing to understand the value of propaganda and spectacle. So he was not to be deterred when Egypt’s national soccer team arrived here at its World Cup training camp on Sunday, and the whole squad showed up for an evening workout — except for the star forward Mohamed Salah. The bearded Mr. Kadyrov, 41, left the field in his turquoise and white track suit. Soon, he returned, this time making a grand entrance with Mr. Salah before about 8,000 fans, posing for photographers and television cameras, even grabbing the Liverpool star’s arm and raising it as if crowning a boxing champion.” NY Times


How Russian Meddling Gave Us This Year’s World Cup

June 9, 2018

“In the spring of 2010, Christopher Steele, a former British spy with a shock of graying hair and a quiet, understated manner, received some alarming news: Vladimir Putin, a lifelong ice hockey fan, had taken a sudden interest in soccer. This was years before Mr. Steele compiled his now famous dossier on Donald Trump, with its references to clandestine meetings in Prague and, of course, ‘the pee tape.'” NY Times


World Cup 2018: The Boys From the Banlieues

June 9, 2018


“BONDY, France — Speak to those who saw Kylian Mbappé as a child, who watched him take the first steps in his skyrocket of a career, and they will tell you the same thing: All they needed was one glimpse. That was enough, even then, to know. When Jean-François Suner, the general manager of A.S. Bondy, the first club on Mbappé’s journey to Monaco, Paris St.-Germain and the World Cup, first saw him play, he simply said, ‘Wow.’ The sensation, he said, must have been the same for those who, a decade or so earlier and an ocean away, first watched Lionel Messi.” NY Times


In Morocco, an Imported Team for the World Cup

June 7, 2018


“CASABLANCA, Morocco — Even before he began talking with midfielder Sofyan Amrabat, Ruud Gullit knew he would fail to convince him. The sales pitch — persuading Amrabat, a prodigiously gifted 21-year-old, to commit to playing for the Netherlands internationally — had some built-in advantages. Amrabat, after all, had been born in the village of Huizen, close to Amsterdam. He had lived his entire life in the country, and had played all his club soccer there.” NY Times


Mexico Wages a Psychological Battle Against Its World Cup Demons

June 7, 2018

“It is a legacy of World Cup consistency, but one in which Mexico no longer wants any part. For six straight World Cups, Mexico has sent a team to the tournament. And for six straight World Cups, it has cheered its heroes through the first round only to see them crash out in the second. One coach after another has tried to break the streak. A few emphasized hard work. One appealed to national pride. One even sought a new mind-set, and a different kind of ending, at the top of an ancient pyramid. As Mexico arrives at the World Cup in Russia, it will be with the country’s most promising lineup in decades.” NY Times


North American Bid for World Cup Gets High Marks, but Still Needs Votes

June 2, 2018

“The organization that controls soccer’s World Cup released a report Friday that raises serious concerns about Morocco’s ability to host the 2026 event, but the country’s bid was not disqualified. The assessment by evaluators for FIFA, world soccer’s governing body, could have essentially delivered the World Cup back to North America for the first time since 1994 had it outright rejected Morocco’s bid on technical grounds. Instead, Morocco’s survival sets up a furious two-week chase for votes against the other remaining bid, a combined entry from the United States, Mexico and Canada. …” NY Times


Paolo Guerrero’s Fight to Reach World Cup Spurs Protests in Peru

May 23, 2018

“LIMA, Peru — The thousands of fans arrived at the Estadio Nacional as a sea of red and white. For more than an hour, they had paraded through the avenues of central Lima, dressed in their national team jerseys, blowing their vuvuzelas and pushing their children ahead of them in strollers. Now, after filing inside Peru’s national stadium, they sang Peru’s national anthem, waved Peru’s flag and hoped — against the longest of odds — that their festive display of national camaraderie would not be in vain. For a week, their energies, and much of Peru’s attention, has been focused on the case of Paolo Guerrero, the star striker who helped lead his nation to its first World Cup in 36 years but now seems all but certain to miss the tournament because of a doping ban. …” NY Times