A Soccer Team’s Success Puts Its Small Arab Village on the Map

June 27, 2022



“… His community’s soccer team, Maccabi Bnei Reineh, did not exist until six years ago. Less than two years ago, in September 2020, it was still a largely unknown club from a small Arab village of 18,000 people near Nazareth, preparing for yet another season in the Israeli fourth division. Now, after three promotions in quick succession, the name Maccabi Bnei Reineh is on everyone’s lips in Israeli soccer. The team’s success, to the surprise of even the village’s own residents, has put its community firmly on the map. …”
NY Times


Paulo Dybala and the Problem With Italy

June 25, 2022



“Paulo Dybala did not, particularly, look as if he were ready to say goodbye. As the lights at the Allianz Stadium in Turin, his home for the last seven years, flashed and flickered, and Tina Turner’s ‘The Best’ began its crescendo, he started to cry. Not in the sense of a single, elegant tear rolling down the cheek. He sobbed. He racked. His chest heaved as he gulped for air. …”
NY Times


Darwin Nunez vs Liverpool: Analysing the two games that wowed Klopp

June 19, 2022


“Darwin Nunez could become the most expensive signing in Liverpool’s history and his journey there has been seven years in the making. It was around 2015 when a Liverpool scout based in South America spotted the young Uruguayan striker playing for Penarol’s under-19s. Since then, Liverpool tracked Nunez’s progress as he went from making his debut in place of ex-Liverpool player Maxi Rodriguez for Penarol in November 2017 to his move to Almeria, in Spain’s second division, in 2019. …”
The Athletic (Video)
W – Darwin Núñez
NY Times: Soccer Rediscovers the No. 9
W – Erling Haaland


In Qatar’s World Cup Summer, the Mercury Rises and the Clock Ticks

June 17, 2022


“DOHA, Qatar — The sun comes up before 5 a.m. and immediately puts the entire city on convection bake. By lunchtime, the temperature has finished its methodical climb up the scale, from unusual through uncomfortable to unbearable and then, finally, to unhealthy. The wind off the bay offers no relief; in June in Doha, even the summer breeze blows hot. This was to be the summer the World Cup came to Qatar, an idea that seems as preposterous now as it did a dozen years ago, when the tiny Gulf country, let’s just say, acquired the hosting rights to soccer’s biggest championship. …”
NY Times


Robert Lewandowski, Bayern Munich and the Bitter End

June 11, 2022


“Robert Lewandowski does not, in his own words, like to make “too much show.” He is, and always has been, a touch more impassive than the average superstar. He does not greet his goals, the ones that have come for so long in such improbable quantities, with a roar, or a leap, or a scream. Instead, he grins. For the really good ones, he might go so far as a beam. …”
NY Times


Cruel Twist Puts Wales in World Cup and Keeps Ukraine Out

June 6, 2022


“CARDIFF, Wales — When it was over, when the referee blew his whistle and the crowd roared and Ukraine’s dream of earning a place in this year’s World Cup was gone, most of its national soccer team dropped straight to the grass. A few players held their heads in their hands. The rest simply stared off into space. The scoreboard confirmed what, in that moment, even the Ukrainians themselves could scarcely believe: Wales 1, Ukraine 0. A World Cup qualifying journey laced with symbolism and spirit and national pride, an opportunity delayed three months by war with Russia and reaching its denouement on a day that had begun with explosions in Kyiv, the first direct airstrikes on the capital in a month, had ended not in triumph but in the cruelest of twists: defeat to Wales on an own goal scored by a Ukraine forward, Andriy Yarmolenko. …”
NY Times
Guardian: Kyiv locals put Ukraine’s defeat into context after World Cup near miss


A Very Specific Risk

June 3, 2022


“It can be hard, at times like these, to know exactly who to believe. On one side, there are the thousands of witness accounts, the contemporaneous reports from much of the world’s news media, the countless videos and an apparently bottomless reserve of high resolution photographs, all telling one story about last Saturday’s Champions League final. And that was all it took. As soon as UEFA decided that the real problem with this sporting event was all the people who wanted to watch it, the — let’s keep the lawyers happy — misinformation spread and disseminated and infected everything it touched. From that point on, Liverpool’s fans were presumed guilty until proven innocent, not least by considerable portions of the people who should, really, have been their allies: other soccer fans. …”
NY Times


Tallying the Costs, Shirts and All, of Missing the World Cup

June 2, 2022


.
“In those initial moments of agony in March after Nigeria was eliminated from qualification for this year’s World Cup, the most immediate thoughts of Amaju Pinnick, the president of Nigeria’s soccer federation, were of the disappointment being felt by his 200 million countrymen in Africa’s most populous nation. He needed only to look down on the scenes unfolding inside Moshood Abiola National Stadium in Abuja, Nigeria, to see what it meant. Thousands of angry supporters had poured onto the field after the final whistle to vent their anger, knocking over the advertising boards, chasing the players from the field and clashing with security officers. …”
NY Times


Only in an alternate reality should Real Madrid be Champions League winners – that’s the beauty of football

May 29, 2022


“On another day, in some other timeline, maybe Real Madrid could have won the 2021-22 Champions League final. It would have been improbable in any universe, with the way Carlo Ancelotti’s team played, but you can imagine some alternate reality where the movements of bodies and balls are just a little less orderly, where football is a little less fair — who knows, maybe stranger things have happened in a world like that than a smash-and-grab 1-0 win. But yesterday was not that day, and this is not that timeline. Of course Liverpool are champions. …”
The Athletic
The Athletic – Liverpool 0-1 Real Madrid analysis: Courtois’ saves and Klopp’s goalless finals
Guardian – ‘Don’t be sad’: Liverpool fans pack city streets to welcome heroes home
BBC – Liverpool 0-1 Real Madrid: Champions League defeat caps miserable end to magnificent season amid Paris chaos (Video)
NY Times: UEFA Blames Delay at Champions League Final on ‘Fake Tickets’


In Milan, an Iconic Stadium Isn’t Going Down Without a Fight

May 22, 2022


Camilla Ferrari
“As he watched the soccer game playing out on television, the Milanese writer and actor Gianfelice Facchetti felt an emotional tug that he thought might be leading him toward his next book. It was during Italy’s first coronavirus lockdown, and Facchetti’s favorite team, Inter Milan, had been forced to play its matches behind closed doors. The decision left its longtime home, the 80,000-seat Giuseppe Meazza Stadium, more commonly known as the San Siro, devoid of atmosphere, and amid the silence Facchetti’s mind began to drift. …”
NY Times


Manchester City Had the Money. Haaland’s Team Had the Plan.

May 11, 2022


“A few days before last summer’s transfer window drew to a close, a handful of Manchester City’s most senior executives gathered in a conference room at the club’s sprawling campus to pick through what had gone right, and what had gone wrong, over the previous couple of months. Though City, the Premier League champion, had succeeded in persuading Aston Villa to relinquish Jack Grealish, the impish playmaker who had emerged as England’s breakout star during the European Championship — making him the most expensive player in English history in the process — it had failed to land its other priority target, the Tottenham striker Harry Kane. …”
NY Times


Andrea Pirlo Is Timeless

May 7, 2022


“Officially, whenever Andrea Pirlo has watched soccer over the course of the last year or so, it has been for work, rather than merely for pleasure. It might be almost a year since his first foray into management was ended, abruptly and unceremoniously, by Juventus, but being a manager is less a job and more a lifestyle choice, like being a monk, or a double agent. It cannot be switched off. …”
NY Times


Cox: Like Ancelotti, Guardiola got his subs right. There’s not much more he could have done

May 6, 2022


“Even by the standards of Champions League semi-finals, the most action-packed and dramatic stage of any competition in modern football, Real Madrid’s comeback against Manchester City last night was truly extraordinary. For 85 minutes at the Bernabeu, City were largely faultless and seemed set to record a controlled 1-0 victory that would take them into the final against Liverpool on May 28. Then, suddenly, a late blitz saw the Spanish champions score two goals, both through Rodrygo, and at 5-5 on aggregate, the momentum was with Madrid. It wasn’t a surprise they opened the scoring in extra time, and it wasn’t a surprise that they held out. City were shellshocked. Is it possible to make sense of such a chaotic ending? Let’s see. …”
The Athletic: Michael Cox
Guardian: Systemic flaws of Guardiola’s City keep Champions League out of reach (Video)
NY Times: Real Madrid Stuns City, Seizing the Moment as Only It Can
Guardian: Real Madrid’s latest miracle is a tale of 88 seconds and one Ancelotti video (Video)
The Athletic: Camavinga, Rodrygo, Vinicius: Real Madrid’s big bets on rising stars are paying off


Liverpool beat Villarreal: How the Reds came back from the brink in Champions League semi-final

May 4, 2022


“They were outplayed during the first half of their semi-final second leg in Villarreal, the Reds producing surely their worst half of the season in a game that threatened to derail their quadruple hopes. But – as is so often the case – Jurgen Klopp’s side found a way. Liverpool looked in control of the tie after a comfortable 2-0 win last week at Anfield but the Spanish side cancelled out that lead by the break. At the hour mark it was still 2-2 on aggregate, but Fabinho, half-time substitute Luis Diaz and Sadio Mane scored to send Liverpool to Paris – where they will play either Real Madrid or Manchester City. …”
BBC
NY Times: Liverpool’s Dream Delivered, Only After Villarreal’s Is Dashed
Guardian: Díaz turns tide at Villarreal to send Liverpool to Champions League final
NY Times – Champions League Updates: Liverpool Beats Villarreal to Reach Final (Video)


Pochettino and the paradox at PSG, a club that is almost unmanageable

April 30, 2022


“There is probably only one thing a manager can do at Paris Saint-Germain that would enhance his reputation, which is to win the Champions League – and even then there would be plenty of people looking at the £900m net spend since the Qatari takeover in 2011 and thinking: ‘About time.’ Mauricio Pochettino has not done that. …”
Guardian – Jonathan Wilson


A Clash of Civilizations in the Champions League Semifinal

April 29, 2022


“It is easy to see a clash between Manchester City and Real Madrid in the Champions League semifinal as the ultimate contrast of footballing cultures: If City are the brash young upstart of European football, then Madrid are its landed gentry. The latter have been crowned its kings on 13 occasions, while the former still await their first European title. Historians might see this as a reductive reading of the situation—as a club, City were actually founded several years before Madrid, but in terms of prestige, the Mancunians are still playing catch-up. The pattern of Tuesday’s first leg, which Manchester City won 4-3, perfectly illustrated this dynamic. …”
The Ringer
NY Times: Superclubs and Spring Nights
Tactical Analysis: Manchester City 4-3 Real Madrid


Jurgen Klopp: How significant is Liverpool boss’ contract extension?

April 28, 2022


“Liverpool are almost on a good news overload as they chase immortality and a historic quadruple but the announcement that manager Jurgen Klopp has extended his Anfield contract may just be the best yet. Klopp’s Liverpool are on course to reach their third Champions League final under his leadership after a controlled 2-0 win against Villarreal in the first leg of their last four-tie, and have already won the Carabao Cup this season. Add to this, they will play Chelsea in the FA Cup final at Wembley in May and stand only one point behind leaders and reigning champions Manchester City in pursuit of their second Premier League title under the charismatic German. …”
BBC
NY Times: When Passing Is Art, Not Paint by Numbers


Manchester City 4-3 Real Madrid: Classic Champions League tie a genuine gold standard match

April 27, 2022


Kevin de Bruyne opened the scoring after only 93 seconds in an incredible Champions League semi-final first-leg tie
“Carlo Ancelotti’s last visit to Manchester City ended in a 5-0 humiliation in what proved to be the final match of his tenure as Everton manager. When the legendary Italian manager, 62, turned to his Real Madrid backroom staff with arms outstretched and gave an anxious glance down at his watch with City 2-0 up after only 11 minutes on his return to Etihad Stadium, he was probably fearing a similar scoreline. City were flying. Real were overwhelmed. This was shaping up as a one-sided mauling for the great old Champions League campaigner chasing the trophy for a historic fourth time….”
BBC
The Athletic: ‘I always have it in my head’ – the mental strength behind Karim Benzema’s outrageous penalty for Real Madrid
NY Times: A Convincing Win That Was Anything but Convincing
The Athletic: Carlo Ancelotti’s quiet path to redemption at Real Madrid
Guardian: Pep Guardiola urges Manchester City to be more ruthless in Real Madrid return


Is Bayern Munich Breaking the Bundesliga?

April 23, 2022


“The first time Gregor Weinreich saw Bayern Munich crowned champion of Germany, he celebrated until sunrise. That was 1994. Three years later, when it happened again, he was so euphoric that he ran onto the field at the club’s old Olympic Stadium, a flare burning and sputtering in his hand. He was not alone. Many hundreds more did the same. Those memories remain sharp and clear and warm a quarter of a century later. His recollections of much more recent triumphs, by contrast, are already faded, fuzzy, indistinct. Weinreich knows Bayern won the title in 2014, and 2015, and 2016, and 2017, but he cannot tell them apart. …”
NY Times


Taking Senegalese Soccer to New Heights, With Pride and Style

April 22, 2022



“DIAMNIADIO, Senegal — Standing on the sidelines of Senegal’s brand-new national stadium, Aliou Cissé, the biggest fan of his own team, waved his arms at 50,000 fans, exhorting them to cheer even louder, his signature dreadlocks bouncing on his shoulders. Fans roared back, clapping and blowing their vuvuzelas at a more deafening pitch. Minutes later, Senegal defeated its fiercest rival, Egypt, earning a qualification for soccer’s World Cup, which begins this November in Qatar. …”
NY Times


You Decide Which Games Matter

April 16, 2022


“Only a little more than a year ago, the Europa Conference League was still just an idea. It did not, in truth, even seem like an especially good idea. Explaining where such a league would fit into the game’s pecking order, what its purpose would be, hardly had the making of a compelling elevator pitch. Europe already had two continental tournaments: the wildly popular Champions League and the broadly tolerated Europa League. Why not add a third, then — one that encompassed all of the teams that were not quite good enough to qualify for the other two competitions? …”
NY Times
W – FA Cup
W – UEFA Europa Conference League


The Best Tournament in Europe Is the One You’re Not Watching

April 14, 2022


“Over the course of the last year, setting out from his home about an hour north of Rotterdam, Remco Ravenhorst has followed his team to the glittering shores of Lake Lucerne and the concrete sprawl of suburban Berlin. He has seen his beloved Feyenoord play in the sleepy Swedish town of Boras and the firecracker hostility of Belgrade, Serbia. He has visited Prague, twice. He traveled all the way to Gjilan, on the far side of Kosovo, even though he knew that pandemic-related regulations meant he would not be allowed to enter the stadium. …”
NY Times


Exiled by Russian Bombs, a Ukrainian Soccer Team Embraces Its Journey

April 11, 2022


“It wasn’t the sounds of the bombs, though he did hear those, that brought back the memories for Darijo Srna. It was the air raid sirens. When they blared in Kyiv shortly after 6 a.m. on Feb. 24, Srna froze in terror. His mind flooded with thoughts and recollections of his childhood, of his first experience with war, when the former Yugoslavia broke apart in the 1990s. Since then, soccer has taken Srna, 39, far from his home in Croatia to a distinguished career, the bulk of it with the Ukrainian club Shakhtar Donetsk, where he is currently the director of football, and to games in the Champions League and at two World Cups. But in an instant, the sounds of sirens brought it all back. …”
NY Times


Soccer Should Worry About the Product, Not the Packaging

April 10, 2022


“Everything started with a letter. In the summer of 1990, Daniel Jeandupeux, a young Swiss coach, was bored. More precisely, he was bored by that year’s men’s World Cup. The romance of Toto Schillaci, the joy of Roger Milla, the swelling aria of Nessun Dorma: None of it could quite dislodge his sensation that it had been, by and large, a deeply ‘ugly’ tournament. That thought inspired Jeandupeux to explore why that might have been. As he described it to the estimable Dutch news outlet De Correspondent, he used an early example of soccer analytics software, a platform called Top Score, to examine what form the game took, particularly in matchups in which one team took an early lead. …”
NY Times


Broken down: How Klopp’s Liverpool and Guardiola’s Manchester City play football

April 9, 2022


“Manchester City vs Liverpool. Pep Guardiola vs Jurgen Klopp. A 4-3-3 vs ….well, a 4-3-3. Whichever angle you look at it from, City and Liverpool have barely given each other an inch as they set record-breaking limits in the modern Premier League era. … The numbers certainly support Klopp’s assertion. Only one point separates the two sides in terms of Premier League points accrued since the beginning of the 2018-19 season. After 143 games each, City are just edging it 338 to 337. …”
The Athletic (Video)
The Athletic: How Guardiola and Klopp left the rest of the Premier League trailing in their wake (Video)
The Athletic: One day, Jurgen Klopp will leave Liverpool – will all he has built last once he has gone? (Audio)
Guardian: Foden, the flanks and key battles that will decide Manchester City v Liverpool – Jonathan Wilson
BBC – Man City v Liverpool: Tiny margins involved in Premier League’s title-defining rivalry (Video)
NY Times: Liverpool, Manchester City and a Bar Set Too High
NY Times: Classic Games, Lingering Scars and the Finish Line in Sight


The Biennial World Cup May Be Dead, but FIFA’s Fight Isn’t Over

April 4, 2022


“Gianni Infantino strode into the bright lights of a packed convention center alongside the emir of Qatar on Friday and declared that he expected this year’s World Cup to be the best ever. … It was here where yet another of Infantino’s hopes for revolutionary change, the kind of bold but ultimately failed plan that has marked his presidency of soccer’s global governing body, finally came to an end. The divisive efforts to double the frequency of the men’s World Cup, to milk FIFA’s multibillion-dollar cash cow every two years instead of every four, are over. …”
NY Times


The 2022 World Cup draw analysed: ‘The Group of Dark Arts’, favourites France and that song

April 2, 2022


“Cringe-inducing cartoon meant to engage with no youngster we have ever met? Check. Song-and-dance routine combing local colour with avant-garde twist? Check. A massive advert for the official ball (the fastest ever, no less)? Yep, we had that, too, and several speeches, a first performance of the first song from the official Qatar 2022 album and a very contrived moment with France manager Didier Deschamps and a young lad who was in the crowd in Moscow four years ago. The 47 minutes of preamble before the draw for the 2022 World Cup at the Doha Exhibition and Convention Centre flew by! …”
The Athletic (Video)
NY Times – World Cup Draw Highlights: Matchups Let Teams Look Ahead to November
Guardian – World Cup draw: group-by-group analysis for Qatar 2022 – Jonathan Wilson
NY Times: World Cup Draw Brings Certainty. Now Comes the Hard Part.
The Athletic: With a marquee World Cup meeting vs. England, USMNT has a chance to change its perception writ large
BBC – Fifa World Cup Qatar 2022: What are the draw highlights? (Video)


The World Cup Draw Is Friday. Here’s How It Works.

April 1, 2022


“The World Cup field is almost complete. On Friday, soccer teams will learn the answer to the critical question they and their fans want to know: Who will they play when the tournament opens in November in Qatar? The World Cup draw — part gala, part pep rally, part math seminar — will deliver intriguing clashes of styles, testy political collisions and, if past events are any guide, a few uncomfortable moments. But given the stakes of the draw, it is also one of the biggest events on the global sports calendar. Here is a look at how it works. …”
NY Times
NY Times: Who Has Qualified for the 2022 World Cup? (Video)
NY Times: Your World Cup Questions, Answered
The Athletic – 2022 World Cup odds: France, Brazil are co-favorites ahead of the draw; England, Spain right behind


Despite a pair of horrible misses, the USMNT leaves the Azteca in good shape

March 26, 2022


“The final celebration was muted, more of a full-body manifestation of a sigh of relief than an explosion of joy: A fist pump, a high-five, a slap on the back and a quick exit to field level to congratulate the team. Not that U.S. Soccer sporting director Earnie Stewart and U.S. men’s national team GM Brian McBride were that composed for the duration of the USMNT’s critical 0-0 draw against Mexico at Estadio Azteca on Thursday night. The former U.S. internationals, who both played in qualifiers at the Azteca, were visibly tense throughout, watching the match on a platform near the press tribune in the upper bowl of the cavernous stadium. The pair spent most of the game in a strained silence that was only punctuated by brief moments of encouraging applause and a couple instances of agonizing disbelief. Their anxiety was understandable. …”
The Athletic (Video)
The Athletic – ‘Positive disappointment’: After struggles in Mexico, a young USMNT must show their resilience once again
NY Times: U.S. Ties Mexico as World Cup Remains Just Out of Reach (Video)


At P.S.G., Kylian Mbappé Has to Go

March 19, 2022


“Only one player escaped the ire of the Parc des Princes. Paris St.-Germain’s fans whistled and jeered every time Lionel Messi touched the ball. They howled and crowed at the sight of a wayward shot from Neymar. There was no allowance in their anger for reputation, no discrimination by status. It encompassed mortal and immortal alike. The lone exception, during last weekend’s routine win against Bordeaux, was Kylian Mbappé. There was no romance behind his pardon. He was not excused because he is a boy from the French capital’s banlieues, an identifiably Parisian superstar, a local kid made good. …”
NY Times


Poland Refused to Play Russia Once. It May Have to Do So Again.

March 16, 2022


“One by one, late on a Friday evening, Robert Lewandowski called his Poland teammates. They were scattered across Europe, and most of them were busily preparing for club games that weekend, but his question could not wait. They had all seen the footage emerging from Ukraine: Russian tanks rolling across the border, Russian artillery bombarding cities and towns, Ukrainian refugees flooding out of the country, hundreds of thousands of them seeking shelter in Poland. In a matter of weeks, Poland was scheduled to face Russia in a crucial World Cup qualifier. …”
NY Times


Roman Abramovich: What do Russian owner’s sanctions mean for Chelsea?

March 14, 2022


“The future of European champions Chelsea is uncertain after sanctions were placed on Russian owner Roman Abramovich on Thursday. The billionaire has been in charge since 2003 but had his attempts to sell the club halted by the UK government, which has frozen his assets. What does it mean for Chelsea’s fans, players and staff? BBC Sport explains how the situation will affect those associated with the club. Abramovich was sanctioned by the UK government as part of its response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The government believes the billionaire has had a ‘close relationship for decades’ with Russia’s president Vladimir Putin, links Abramovich has always denied. …”
BBC (Video)
NY Times: At Chelsea, Nervous First Steps Into an Uncertain Future
NY Times: Britain Freezes Assets of Roman Abramovich, Creating Crisis at Chelsea
Guardian / Jonathan Wilson – ‘It was so emotional’: Yarmolenko on his tears for Ukraine after West Ham goal
Guardian: Stamford Bridge hosts dark day for those who care for football’s soul
New Republic: Is Soccer on the Brink of a Moral Awakening?

Hammers ahead Andriy Yarmolenko, born in Ukraine, scored his staff’s opening objective within the win. With Russia’s invasion on Ukraine persevering with, there isn’t a doubt that his coronary heart is heavy and hurting.


Roman Abramovich and the End of Soccer’s Oligarch Era

March 12, 2022


“There were, over the years, three stories that explained how Roman Abramovich washed ashore at Chelsea. Each one, now, serves as a kind of time capsule, a carbon-dated relic from a specific period, capturing in amber each stage of our understanding of what, precisely, soccer has become. The first took root in the immediate aftermath of Abramovich’s takeover of Chelsea. It was light, fuzzy, faintly romantic. Abramovich, the tale went, had been at Old Trafford on the night in 2003 when Manchester United’s fans stood as one to applaud the great Brazilian striker Ronaldo as he swept their team from the Champions League. Abramovich had been so smitten, it was said, that he had decided there and then that he wanted a piece of English soccer. …”
NY Times
The Athletic: Chelsea – what next? (Audio)


In Derby Without Drama, City Wins a Laugher

March 7, 2022



“There was no tension in the last few minutes. It had gone long before the fourth goal arrived, marking the point at which victory turned into a rout. So had what little anxiety, what scant fretfulness might still have lingered. Instead, in the final few minutes of a derby, Manchester City’s fans could let go and enjoy themselves. Theirs was not a vicarious joy. There was pleasure, of course, to be had in the sight of Manchester United, once again, reduced to chasing shadows, grasping hopelessly at air, its players’ heads hanging and its fans silently trooping away. But as the minutes ticked by, the Etihad Stadium grew a little tired of crowing. …”
NY Times
Guardian: Manchester United flounder without foundations to build upon – Jonathan Wilson
BBC: Manchester United players ‘not good enough or don’t care’ – pundits react to derby defeat (Video)


The Artist Who Painted a City

March 6, 2022



“Out on the Burley Road, where the last vestiges of the city of Leeds slowly dissolve into the Yorkshire countryside, there is a barn in the middle of a field. It stands there, alone, the size of a garden shed, in a patch of land demarcating the boundary between a pet grooming salon and a dog park. For a long time, it was about as unremarkable as any structure can be. A barn, in a field, in a part of the world where there are a lot of barns and a lot of fields. And then one day, a year ago or so, it changed. One side, the side that faces you as you head down the hill, was suddenly covered with a striking, monochrome mural of Marcelo Bielsa. …”
NY Times


FIFA Suspends Russia, Ejecting It From World Cup Qualifying

March 1, 2022



“World soccer’s global governing body suspended Russia and its teams from all competitions on Monday, ejecting the country from qualifying for the 2022 World Cup only weeks before it was to play for one of Europe’s final places in this year’s tournament in Qatar. The suspension, which was announced Monday evening in coordination with European soccer’s governing body, also barred Russian club teams from international competitions. The decision came a day after FIFA was heavily criticized for not going far enough in punishing Russia for its invasion of Ukraine, and amid mounting demands from national federations for stronger action. …”
NY Times


Champions League Final Will Be Played in Paris, Not Russia

February 26, 2022


“European soccer’s governing body on Friday voted to move this season’s Champions League final, the showcase game on the continent’s sporting calendar, to Paris as punishment for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The game, on May 28, had been scheduled to be played in St. Petersburg, in a stadium built for 2018 World Cup and financed by the Russian energy giant Gazprom, a major sponsor of the governing body, UEFA. It will take place instead at the Stade de France, in the northern Paris suburb of Saint-Denis. It will be the first time France has hosted the final since 2006. UEFA said it had made the decision as a result of ‘the grave escalation of the security situation in Europe.’ …”
NY Times
****New Republic: European Soccer Only Has Itself to Blame for Its Russia Problem
***NY Times: Stranded Soccer Stars, Frantic Phone Calls and a Race to Flee Kyiv (Video)
NY Times: The Roots of Ukraine’s War: How the Crisis Developed
NY Times – Maps: Tracking the Russian Invasion of Ukraine
The Athletic: Footballers should not be asked to do a politician’s job
NY Times – Soccer, Russia and a Line Drawn Too Late


Old Firm

February 21, 2022


“The Old Firm is the collective name for the Scottish football clubs Celtic and Rangers, which are both based in Glasgow. The two clubs are by far the most successful and popular in Scotland, and the rivalry between them has become deeply embedded in Scottish culture. It has reflected, and contributed to, political, social, and religious division and sectarianism in Scotland. As a result, the fixture has had an enduring appeal around the world. Between them the two clubs have won 106 Scottish League championships (Rangers with 55 and Celtic with 51), 73 Scottish Cups (Celtic with 40 and Rangers with 33), and 47 Scottish League Cups (Rangers with 27 and Celtic with 20). Interruptions to their ascendancy have occurred rarely, most recently with the challenge of the New Firm of Aberdeen and Dundee United in the first half of the 1980s. …”
Wikipedia
NY Times: Old Rivals, New Ideas and Why Some Clubs Are Reluctant to Try (Jan. 2021)
Soccer Politics – The Old Firm: Scotland’s Claim to Football Fame (Dec. 2011)
The Old Firm – April 2019) (Video)
The Old Firm Derby: A Tale of Politics, Religion and Scottish Sectarianism (Oct. 2019

Celtic and Rangers players observe a moment of silence before their match on December 29, 2018


Remembering What Draws You In

February 12, 2022


“Let’s start with the bad: Tottenham Hotspur has not won a trophy in the 13 years I have watched nearly every one of its matches. It did not win one while I was in high school in Illinois, where I settled on my Tottenham fandom after selecting the club at random in the FIFA video game. It did not win one while I was in college, when I was a regular at early-morning gatherings of the first Tottenham Hotspur Supporter’s Club in Wisconsin. The early years of Mauricio Pochettino happened when I lived in Boston. Back then, I would sneak away from my desk at city hall to watch matches at a downtown pub. No trophy. …”
NY Times


Africa Cup of Nations review: sorrow, anger and Mané’s redemption

February 8, 2022


“Our writers relive their highs and lows of a tournament completely overshadowed by the Olembe Stadium tragedy. … This Cup of Nations was played under a shadow from the moment eight supporters died outside Olembe Stadium a fortnight ago. There is no excusing what happened at a venue surrounded by vast spaces and the depressing sense remains that its causes will be swept under the carpet. After driving back to Yaoundé the following day and speaking with Romaric, who had been in the ground and encountered people who had been caught up in the crush as he left, the horror of what had occurred started to become clear. A subsequent visit to the emergency hospital brought some harrowing testimonies; these are, sadly, the words and images that linger. …”
Guardian
The Athletic – Cox: Italy-esque Senegal shackled Egypt with five men – they were deserved winners (Audio)
****An African Cup of Nations Primer
NY Times – Africa Cup of Nations: Soccer Tournament Offers Joy Amid Coups and Covid
AFCON 2021: The Review
W – 2021 Africa Cup of Nations
YouTube: Senegal vs Egypt | AFCON 2021 FINAL HIGHLIGHTS | 02/06/2022, Cameroon vs Egypt – CAF African Cup of Nations 2022 2:10:39

Fans from Burkina Faso, which recently underwent a coup, rehearsed their dances and drumming before Wednesday’s semifinal.


The End of the Transfer Fee

February 5, 2022



“The two transfers that drew all the oxygen from the summer of 2021 were both monuments to the past. Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo have dominated their sport for a generation. That they are both, now, approaching their autumns did not matter; as soon as the chance to to sign them arose, neither Paris St.-Germain nor Manchester United paused for thought. Any doubt at all about what they might do, how they might fit, was assuaged by what they had done. …”
NY Times


Canada Beats U.S., Cementing a Soccer Power Shift

January 31, 2022


“If it wasn’t already clear which country in North and Central America and the Caribbean had the best soccer team during this World Cup qualifying cycle, Canada provided another resounding argument for its primacy on Sunday. With a 2-0 win over the United States on a frigid afternoon, Canada, without its best player, extended its lead atop the eight-team qualifying group that will determine the region’s berths in this year’s World Cup. Now four points clear of its closest rival with four games remaining, Canada has put itself in pole position for one of the region’s three automatic spots in Qatar in November. …”
NY Times (Video)


Is Canada the Soccer Rival the U.S. Needs?

January 28, 2022



“By most measuring sticks, Dwayne De Rosario enjoyed a successful career in soccer. He played 14 seasons in Major League Soccer, earning a most valuable player award, a league scoring title and collecting four M.L.S. championships. He represented Canada in the world youth championships, won a Gold Cup with its senior team and, although retired for years now, he still shares the title — for the moment at least — as his men’s national team’s career goals leader with 22. …”
NY Times
NY Times: U.S. Picks Up Another Win and Turns Focus to Canada (Video)
The Athletic: USMNT win over El Salvador highlights growing need for a reliable striker as World Cup hopes take shape


Behind the Curtain With Soccer’s Prophet of the Deal

January 26, 2022



“The quickest way to capture the extent of the influence wielded by Fabrizio Romano, a 28-year-old Italian journalist with a five o’clock shadow and an overworked iPhone, is to boil it down into a list of easily digested numbers. Currently, Romano has 6.5 million followers on Twitter, two and a half times as many as, say, Inter Milan, the team that featured in Romano’s breakthrough moment, or Bruno Fernandes, the Manchester United star who inadvertently made Romano a global phenomenon. He has 5.6 million more on Instagram, and a further 4.5 million devotees on Facebook. …”
NY Times


The Most Exciting Sporting Event in the World Is Happening Right Now

January 24, 2022


“In March 1957, Ghana cast off British colonialism and became the first country in sub-Saharan Africa to achieve political self-rule. At its independence celebrations, the new prime minister, Kwame Nkrumah, offered a hopeful message: ‘We are going to create our own African personality and identity. It is the only way we can show the world that we are ready for our own battles.’ I was remembering that line last week as I watched the early matches of the Africa Cup of Nations, a tournament of soccer teams representing 24 countries from across the continent. This year’s competition is being hosted by Cameroon; it began on Jan. 9 and runs until Feb. 6. …”
NY Times


Mourinho, Benítez and the Pursuit of the Past

January 22, 2022


“In the sudden flood of spare time he had after departing Manchester United, José Mourinho filmed a commercial for a bookmaker. A couple of years and a couple of jobs on, it is still running on British television. It still works, after all. Mourinho is still a household name in Britain. The ad’s central concept holds up. Mourinho’s acting might be just a little hammy — as you might expect — but it is quite deft, too. Looking as tanned and healthy and relaxed as we all did in 2019, he earnestly walks viewers through what it takes to be ‘special.’ The joke is that he should know: He is the Special One, after all. Get it? …”
NY Times


Is This Stadium in England or Wales? The Team Needs to Know.

January 18, 2022


Deva Stadium’s parking lot is in England and its field is in Wales. In a pandemic, that’s a problem.
“… The answer to all three, Sumner knew, was Chester F.C., a one-time stalwart of English soccer’s professional divisions but currently residing in its sixth tier. For 30 years, Chester, the team he served as official historian, had played at a stadium that straddled the largely nominal line separating England from Wales. Not that it seemed especially important to anyone. The stadium’s location was nothing more than a minor claim to fame and occasional inconvenience: two countries sometimes meant paperwork for two local authorities. Other than that, Sumner said, nobody even knew exactly where the border was.’ …”
NY Times
W – Chester F.C.


When Two Champions Leagues Titles in Eight Months Don’t Count

January 17, 2022



“Pitso Mosimane has done enough winning in the last year, plus change, to talk about nothing else. In November 2020, only three months after he was appointed manager of the Egyptian club Al Ahly, he won the African Champions League title. He did so by beating Zamalek, Al Ahly’s fiercest rival. The final was cast as the derby of the century. Nobody in Egypt thought it was an exaggeration. Eight months later, he repeated the trick. The calendar contracted and concentrated by the pandemic, Al Ahly returned to the Champions League final in July to face Kaizer Chiefs, the team Mosimane had supported as a child in South Africa. He won again. He was showered with golden ticker tape on the field, then presented with bouquets of roses by government grandees when he returned to Cairo. …”
NY Times


Manchester City, Chelsea and Competing With Perfection

January 16, 2022


“For a few weeks, around this time last year, English soccer found itself in a heartfelt, sincere discussion over whether the time had come for Éderson, Manchester City’s goalkeeper, to start taking penalties. Questions were asked on television. The subject was weighed in newspapers. Soccer’s commentariat chewed over the idea’s merits. It had all started with a joke. Some time in 2019, the otherwise all-conquering Manchester City had developed a curious tick. Suddenly, Pep Guardiola’s team just could not score penalties. …”
NY Times


André Onana Just Wants to Play

January 13, 2022


“For a goalkeeper of Andre Onana’s experience, the passage of play midway through the first half of Cameroon’s Africa Cup of Nations opener should have been routine. Instead, it was anything but. Not once but twice, Onana misjudged the flight of the ball as it was crossed from one side of the field to the other. The second flap at thin air allowed Burkina Faso to take the lead, and left Onana with his head in the turf, acutely aware of his role in the chaos. …”
NY Times (Video)
W – André Onana


AFCON 2021 guide: The storylines, the underdogs and the games you won’t want to miss

January 9, 2022


“The latest Africa Cup of Nations is just around the corner. It’s been a long road to get here for a competition that has been moved around the calendar multiple times and, in the style of Euro 2020 last summer has the ‘wrong’ year in its official title, but 24 teams are now finally set to duke it out in Cameroon to become the next champions of Africa, with the tournament getting underway on Sunday, and finishing on Sunday, February 6. Here’s everything you need to know. …”
The Athletic (Audio)
NY Times: The Joy in Embracing the Unknown (Video)
New Frame: Behind concerns over Afcon is a culture of disdain
Predicting the Africa Cup of Nations 2021 Winner
GOAL – Afcon 2021 predictions: The contenders and the pretenders (Video)


Freiburg head coach Christian Streich: 10 years a Bundesliga treasure

January 5, 2022


“Freiburg head coach Christian Streich says football ‘never gets boring’ for him as he celebrates a decade in charge of the Black Forest side. That’s right, the Bundesliga’s longest-serving current tactician brought up 10 years in the job on 29 December, a remarkable achievement in what is famously a results-oriented and subsequently often a transitional role. There was a certain poetic elegance then, when the 56-year-old recorded his 100th Bundesliga victory as head coach in his team’s final game of 2021, the last-gasp 2-1 triumph over Bayer Leverkusen on Matchday 17 a fitting way of ushering in the anniversary of his appointment. …”
Bundesliga (Video)
NY Times: The Teachings of the Philosopher of the Black Forest (June 2020)
W – Christian Streich


The Premier League’s Influence Extends to Title Races Abroad

December 27, 2021



“That first meeting told Alex Muzio all he needed to know. Not long after he and his business partner, the gambling tycoon Tony Bloom, bought Royale Union Saint-Gilloise, a Belgian soccer team, Muzio sat down with the club’s coach. He wanted to discuss potential recruits. Muzio had never been a soccer player. He had never been a scout. He had spent his career working for Bloom’s Starlizard consultancy, the firm many consider to be the largest betting syndicate in Britain. Starlizard’s business model is using data to find an edge. It has information on tens of thousands of players from across the world. …”
NY Times


Fear and Falsehoods Fill the Premier League’s Vaccination Gap

December 24, 2021


For athletes sensitive about anything they put into their bodies, even the debunked claims can still seem persuasive.
“The report spread like wildfire. Premier League players shared the link among their peers. Some passed it to their family members and closest confidantes. A handful were sufficiently troubled by what it seemed to suggest that they presented it to their clubs’ in-house medical teams, seeking advice. It had been produced by a website that says it tracks the number of ‘young athletes who had major medical issues in 2021 after receiving one or more Covid vaccines.’ The report claimed to list 19 ‘athletes’ — mostly in the United States — who it said had experienced heart attacks after being inoculated. Some of the attacks, the site noted ominously, had been fatal. …”
NY Times


Premier League Buckles In Amid Another Covid Surge

December 19, 2021


“That familiar feeling, the one we hoped we had left long behind, is swelling once again. There is a precariousness in the air, a sense that everything is hanging by a thread, that the next step might be the one over the edge. March 2020 seems a world away, a lifetime ago, but we are here again. In parts of Germany and in the Netherlands, the ghost games are back, those afternoons that offer an eerie simulacrum of sport’s emotion. When Feyenoord and Ajax meet for the most ferocious game of their seasons this weekend at De Kuip — one of Europe’s most intimidating, most evocative grounds — the stands will be empty, silent. The voices of the players will carry out of the stadium, into the still air. …”
NY Times
BBC: Premier League and government urge footballers to get Covid-19 vaccine (Video)


Plagued by Fan Violence, French Soccer Asks: Why?

December 15, 2021


PSG fans welcome Manchester City to Paris.
“Only 3 minutes 54 seconds into the match, Dimitri Payet jogged gingerly toward the corner flag at Groupama Stadium. The game between his team, Marseille, and the host, Lyon, was young and still formless. There had been no goals. There had barely been time for a chance. Everybody, fans and players alike, was still settling in. In the stands above him, Wilfried Serriere, 32, a food delivery driver, looked down and saw a half-liter bottle of water at his feet. It was full. Payet was placing the ball for a corner. His back was turned. In images captured by the stadium’s security cameras and later played in a courtroom, Serriere can be seen picking up the bottle, lowering his hood, and throwing it. A beat later, Payet fell to the grass, clutching his face. The bottle had caught him flush on the cheek. …”
NY Times
Guardian: Lyon are paying for their lack of a long-term plan


What Do We Mean by Good Soccer?

December 11, 2021



“Jesse Lingard was streaking away, the ball at his feet, on the right wing. Their legs weary and their hopes dwindling, Arsenal’s defenders heaved and hauled to keep up with him, as if they were running into a stiff wind. And on the other side of the field, Cristiano Ronaldo started to sprint. It was a true sprint, too, a track sprint, a coached sprint: starting in a low crouch, his back straightening as he reached full tilt, head held high, arms pumping. The clock had just ticked past 90 minutes, but there seemed to be a magnet drawing Ronaldo to Arsenal’s penalty area, some elemental force. …”
NY Times


He Knows Who Won the Ballon d’Or. No, He Won’t Tell.

November 28, 2021



“At this time of year, Pascal Ferré seems to field the same call, over and over again. They come from across the world. Sometimes, it is a team executive or a club president. Often, it is an agent, charming and inquisitive. Occasionally, it might even be one of the world’s most famous players themselves. Regardless of the voice on the other end of the line, they all follow much the same pattern with Ferré, the genial, bearded editor in chief of the prestigious French soccer weekly France Football. They start by shooting the breeze, asking casually after Ferré’s general health. Then, they start to shift gear. …”
NY Times


Who Has Qualified for the 2022 World Cup?

November 24, 2021


“With a year to go, almost half the field for the 2022 World Cup is set. Thirteen countries have already booked their places for the tournament, which opens in Qatar next Nov. 21: some with ease, cruising through qualifying, and some with a touch more drama. Quite what the tournament, riddled with scandal and concern from the day Qatar was announced as the host, will be like cannot yet be known. The identities of the teams who will contest it, though, are remarkably familiar. Most — if not quite all — of the traditional contenders are already there: a 10-country-strong European contingent led by France, the defending champion, and Belgium, officially the world’s best team, as well as the likes of Spain and England and Germany. They have been joined by the two great powerhouses of South America, Brazil and Argentina. …”
NY Times


Solskjaer Out at Manchester United After a Loss Too Far

November 23, 2021


“Manchester United had not done it after a humiliation by Liverpool. And the club’s executives had managed to tolerate the sight of Manchester City’s cruising to victory at Old Trafford while barely breaking a sweat. After each defeat, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, the manager who had overseen both calamities, somehow remained in his post. He could not, though, survive a third. Solskjaer had promised, two weeks on since that defeat against Manchester City, that his team would react, that it would use the embarrassment as fuel for the rest of the season. …”
NY Times