Arsenal Is in Crisis, but a Signing Changes the Mood

February 4, 2018

“On Tuesday evening, Arsenal suffered another one of those indignities that tend to pockmark its seasons. This time, the humiliation came in the driving rain of South Wales and at the hands of Swansea City: facing a team at the bottom of the Premier League table, Arsenal dominated the game, monopolized possession and then went and lost anyway, 3-1. For Arsenal’s fans, these defeats have become wearily familiar in the last decade or so, as Arsène Wenger’s two-decade reign at the club has drifted into a sort of managed decline. They have turned Arsenal into a place hard-wired to treat every disappointment as an existential crisis. …” NY Times

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Geoff Cameron’s Car-Pool Confessional

February 4, 2018


“STOKE-ON-TRENT, England — Rain predictably pelted the windshield on the nearly 40-mile journey down the dark motorway back to his home on the outskirts of Manchester, but Geoff Cameron wasn’t about to let a soaking interrupt him. Not after all these years here. Even after playing a full 90 minutes for the second time in three days, and even after the most damaging league defeat in his six seasons as a Stoke City player, Cameron had plenty to say. Over the course of the next hour, after some expletive-laden venting in the wake of a costly 1-0 home loss to Newcastle United, he invited questions on a number of subjects: Stoke’s increasingly dire predicament in the Premier League, his brush with political controversy last year and the challenges of life as an American abroad. …” NY Times


At African Soccer Event, Games of Cat and Mouse

January 30, 2018


“CASABLANCA, Morocco — Standing just inside the lobby of Casablanca’s Novotel, Koly Koivogui was hard to miss. Dressed in a bright red zip-up track top bearing the insignia of the Guinean national soccer team, Koivogui, a large, barrel-chested coach, stood guard. He was making sure that uninvited player agents or scouts did not harass members of his team on the eve of the 16-team African Nations Championship, a competition for national teams with rosters made up solely of players who play club games in their birth countries. …” NY Times


Critics Say FIFA Is Stalling a Doping Inquiry as World Cup Nears

January 4, 2018

“LONDON — Dealing with Russia and its doping program haunted the International Olympic Committee for over a year. Now it’s FIFA’s turn. With the Russia World Cup six months away, leaders of the antidoping movement are criticizing soccer’s governing body over its failure to pursue more aggressively whether Russian authorities covered up positive doping tests belonging to the country’s top soccer players. Travis Tygart, the head of the United States Anti-Doping Agency, said Tuesday that FIFA’s apparent inaction was ‘exasperating.’ Craig Reedie, the president of the World Anti-Doping Agency, said he expected FIFA to pursue any allegations of corruption and act decisively. …” NY Times


In a Top-Heavy Premier League, More Teams Rush to the Bunker

January 3, 2018

“LIVERPOOL, England — There was a moment, a few minutes into the second half, that encapsulated it all. Not just this game and these teams, but what the Premier League has been this season, and what it might become. A Manchester United attack had just broken down, and Everton’s defense had cleared the ball. Phil Jones, United’s central defender, collected the ball deep inside his own half. Oumar Niasse, Everton’s hardworking forward, chased him down. Jones hurried a pass to his teammate Marcos Rojo, whose touch was not entirely clean. The boisterous Goodison Park crowd, scenting weakness, stirred. …” NY Times


The Barca Way Spreads Far From Catalonia

December 29, 2017


“Everywhere you look, the fingerprints are visible. They are there in those places where the lights shine brightest, and they are there where the lights don’t shine at all. At the summit of the Premier League; among the rich and famous of the Champions League; at suburban schools in the United States; at provincial, second-tier clubs in China; at village teams in Africa: In every corner of the world and at every level of soccer, there are indelible traces of Barcelona. Wherever they are found, they are present for the same reason. Across the planet, the word Barcelona — the idea of Barcelona — has over the last decade come to connote not just success but beauty, too. That has inspired countless clubs, large and small, to try to distill and import the magic, to find someone to sprinkle a little of that stardust on them. …”
NY Times


In an Unforgiving Sport, They Minister to Hearts and Souls

December 21, 2017

“The work is done over a quiet cup of coffee, in the privacy of the physiotherapist’s room, or through a brief chat on the touchline after training. It might be no more than a quick text message or email, asking if everything is O.K. It is supposed to take just one day a week, but in reality it means being on call, 24/7, even years after the work has supposedly ended. It is entirely voluntary, and wholly unpaid. It can be sad and troubling: dealing with addictions and pain, fear and death. But it can be joyous, too: helping with births and marriages, healing wounds and building relationships. Most often, though, it is simply being there: a shoulder to cry on and an ear to bend, the one person in the relentless, ruthless environment of professional soccer who is not concerned with how well you are playing or how many goals you have scored. It is why many players, and so many teams, treasure the discreet presence of a club chaplain. …” NY Times