Memo to Theresa May: In Premier League, Russian Roots Run Deep

March 18, 2018

“LONDON — The Russian flag has been there so long now that it hardly attracts any notice, just another familiar piece of background scenery in the global, cosmopolitan Premier League. It hangs from the upper deck of the Matthew Harding Stand at Stamford Bridge, the home of Chelsea Football Club. In its central blue band, spelled out in white block capitals, are the words ‘The Roman Empire.’ …” NY Times


The Sensational Rise and Expensive Fall of a Paris Superclub

March 13, 2018

“PARIS — The transfer fee was eye-catching, the salary eye-watering, and the impact jaw-dropping. It seemed to be the move and the moment that signaled a power shift, a change in soccer’s established order. One of the brightest South American talents of his generation, heralded as the next best player in the world, moving to a rising force in Paris, drawn by money and glamour to a club long on cash and short on patience. …’ NY Times

The ‘Two Worlds’ of the Champions League Keep Drifting Apart

February 22, 2018

Sadio Mané and Liverpool put five goals past F.C. Porto last week.
“As he readied his players to face Manchester City in the last 16 of the Champions League last week, F.C. Basel Coach Raphaël Wicky realized he had a problem. Ordinarily, Wicky would dedicate one training session shortly before a game to a shadow match: On one side, his likely starting team, and on the other, 11 squad members slotted in to simulate Basel’s forthcoming opponent. They would line up in the same system, adopt the same style, play in the same patterns. The aim of the exercise is to familiarize the first team with the challenge that lies in wait. …” NY Times

Saudi Stars Arrive in Spain, With One Eye on Russia

February 9, 2018

“VILLAREAL, Spain — After the website had crashed, but before the falcon arrived, Salem al-Dawsari was introduced by his new club. Inside the Estadio de la Cerámica, the banana-yellow-skinned home of the Spanish team Villarreal, a few dozen journalists had arrived to view Dawsari, a midfielder who had become something of a curiosity in the Spanish news media. For one, Dawsari was among the first players from Saudi Arabia to sign for a team in La Liga, Spanish soccer’s top league. But that was only part of the story. …” NY Times

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

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