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


Zinedine Zidane Has the Wins at Real Madrid. Where Is the Praise?

April 29, 2018


“MUNICH — Unlikely as it seems, it may be time to consider the distinct possibility that Zinedine Zidane — winner of the Champions League in each of his first two seasons as a manager, and now on the brink of guiding Real Madrid to the competition’s final for a third year in a row — may be quite a good coach. That his brief managerial career has thus far delivered eight trophies in not quite 30 months should have made that perfectly obvious, of course; by this stage, the fact that he could steer his team to a 2-1 victory at Bayern Munich in the first leg of a Champions League semifinal should barely be worthy of note. Zidane the coach, not unlike Zidane the player, has known nothing but success. …” NY Times


Mohamad Salah Stands Tall, but Liverpool Cracks Door for Roma

April 29, 2018

“LIVERPOOL, England — Of all the teams Mohamed Salah has claimed as his victims this season, of all the defenses Liverpool’s irrepressible striker has shredded, A.S. Roma had a head start. After all, Salah spent two years in the Italian capital before moving to England. He trained alongside Roma’s defenders every day, played alongside them every week. When they came face to face with Salah in the first leg of a Champions League semifinal at Anfield on Tuesday night, they would know all of his tics and his tells, his flaws and his foibles. …” NY Times


The Players Are Retired. But Try Telling Them the Games Don’t Matter.

April 25, 2018


“LIVERPOOL, England — As soon as he hit the pass, Xabi Alonso stopped dead in his tracks, and raised his hands to his head in horror. He had picked up possession on the edge of Liverpool’s penalty area, directly in front of the Kop. He was under no pressure. He turned elegantly toward his goal, ready to build yet another attack. He has done it thousands of times over the years, and this time, too, he looked a picture of calm — right up until he played the ball directly into the path of a slightly startled opposition striker. Liverpool, a few minutes before, had been three goals ahead. Now, thanks to Alonso’s momentary mindlessness, it was 4-3 down. …” NY Times


Anticipating Anthem Protests, Spain Braces for ‘Verbal Violence’

April 25, 2018

“BARCELONA, Spain — A long hail of whistles and jeers from a crowd numbering in the tens of thousands might not be the most articulate way to express a political opinion, Arnau Pans acknowledged with a shrug. But, in his eyes, it can serve a purpose. Pans, 24, is a die-hard fan of the soccer club F.C. Barcelona and, like many such fans, an active supporter of the Catalan independence movement. On Saturday, for the fifth consecutive year, Barcelona — the most high-profile of Catalan institutions — will appear in the final of the Copa del Rey, the oldest soccer tournament in Spain. And for the fifth straight year, that means questions about free expression and the boundaries of political etiquette are being debated as vehemently this week as questions about team tactics and lineups. …” NY Times (Video)


Juventus’ Near Miracle Against Real Madrid Ends in Controversy

April 13, 2018

“MADRID — Gianluigi Buffon, Juventus’s veteran goalkeeper, has lived through all the highs and lows of soccer, from winning the World Cup with Italy to getting relegated with his club because of a match-fixing scandal. But even by such standards, his exit from the UEFA Champions League on Wednesday night will rank as one the most dramatic events in his career. In the dying moments of the game, Buffon was shown a red card for angrily protesting a penalty that allowed Real Madrid to advance to the semifinals of the competition. …” NY Times


See Jack Run: 227 Premier League Miles, One Deliberate Step at a Time

April 5, 2018


“BURNLEY, England — Jack Cork wears his status lightly. The Burnley midfielder has been aware of it since his brother pointed it out a few weeks ago, and he is proud of it, too. He is much too bashful to draw attention to it, though, and much too circumspect to read too much into it. Burnley has played 30 games in the Premier League this season: 2,700 minutes (plus injury time) of soccer in what is marketed as the most intense league in the world. And Cork has been there for every second of it. This status does not make Cork unique. …” NY Times


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


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


The Three Epic, Early Champions League Showdowns

December 14, 2017


“The draw for the Champions League round of 16 is set, and even though the first games will not be played for two months, we already know that at least one true European power will be eliminated before the quarterfinals kick off, and a couple more elite clubs could be in trouble. This is because the Champions League draw pitted some of the best teams in the world against each other in early clashes. According to Soccer Power Index, six of the nine best teams to make the knockouts have been drawn against each other. These three matchups — each of which consists of two games, one at each club’s home grounds — should give the Round of 16 a new level of drama. … ” fivethirtyeight, NY Times: Real-P.S.G. and Barcelona-Chelsea in the Champions League, YouTube: The Three Epic, Early Champions League Showdowns


Applause at the Draw, but Will Russia Keep Cheering?

December 3, 2017


“MOSCOW — Half a million fans — by current, suspiciously optimistic, estimates — will descend on Russia next year for what Gianni Infantino, the FIFA president, has already decreed will be the ‘best’ World Cup in history. Every single fan, he has decided, will have “an amazing experience.” Billions of dollars have been spent on new, or renovated, stadiums to host the finest players in the world: Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi, Neymar and Kylian Mbappé. Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin, on Friday promised a ‘major sporting festival of friendship and fair play.’ …” NY Times, The Ringer: The Four Must-Watch Games of the 2018 World Cup Group Stages (Video), NY Times – World Cup Draw: Group-by-Group Analysis


World Cup 2018 Draw: How It Works

November 30, 2017

“The World Cup does not begin until June, but a crucial moment for all 32 teams in the field arrives Friday, when the draw to populate the tournament’s eight first-round groups is made. If things fall right, a team could emerge from Friday’s draw with an easy route to the Round of 16. If they don’t, a team’s hopes could be dashed even before they arrive in Russia. Here is a look at how it all works. …” NY Times


Brazil’s Indicted Soccer Leader Planning to Keep His Job

November 17, 2017

“LONDON — As the president of Brazil’s soccer federation, Marco Polo Del Nero should have been here on Tuesday, watching his country’s national team play out a soporific 0-0 tie against England in an exhibition match at Wembley Stadium. Yet instead of exchanging pleasantries with executives from the Football Association in a suite high above the field, Del Nero was almost 6,000 miles away, at home in Brazil. Even there, though, it would have been understandable if his focus was not on the events unfolding under Wembley’s brightly lit arch, but instead on proceedings inside a wood-paneled courtroom in Brooklyn, where three soccer executives — well known to the 76-year-old Del Nero — are standing trial on corruption charges. …” NY Times


A Night in Belgrade With an Undercover Crowd Monitor: ‘Try to Act Casual’

November 7, 2017


“BELGRADE, Serbia — At the appointed hour, the man picked up his phone, sat down on the couch in his hotel, and dialed the number. ‘Yes, hello, I’m calling you on behalf of Fare,’ he said, dropping the name of a network based in London that fights discrimination in world soccer. ‘Just to inform you, I will be the matchday observer tonight in Belgrade. We have done some research. Of course, we all know it’s a high-risk match ….’ The match in question, set to begin a few hours later, was a Europa League contest last Thursday between Partizan Belgrade of Serbia and Skenderbeu of Albania. The person on the other line was the UEFA delegate assigned to supervise proceedings at the stadium. And the so-called risks? …” NY Times (Video)


New Candidate and Palace Intrigue Shake Up U.S. Soccer Election

November 7, 2017

“In the surest sign yet that Sunil Gulati, the United States Soccer Federation president for the past 12 years, is in for a bruising re-election fight, his deputy Carlos Cordeiro announced Wednesday night that he would enter the race to replace his longtime friend. The entry of Cordeiro — a former Goldman Sachs executive who currently serves as U.S. Soccer’s executive vice president — into an increasingly crowded field of presidential candidates represents one of the most significant challenges yet to Gulati, whose stewardship of American soccer has been under fire since the United States men’s national team missed out on qualification for the 2018 World Cup last month. …” NY Times


How Did a Tiny Swiss Company Quietly Secure Valuable World Cup TV Rights?

October 27, 2017


“LONDON — Investigations over the last few years by United States and Swiss law enforcement officials into corruption in global soccer have exposed dozens of people and companies that, according to prosecutors, conspired to illegally reap profits from broadcasting and sponsorship deals tied to the sport’s biggest events. One company never named in any of the charging documents, but referred to obliquely, is a little-known entity based in the canton of Zug in Switzerland: Mountrigi Management Group, a three-person operation that illustrates how some of the biggest deals at the top of the world’s most-popular sport were put together. …” NY Times


The Real Failure of U.S. Men’s Soccer Sporting – Brian Phillips

October 15, 2017


“For around 30 years, from the 1986 World Cup through the night of Tuesday, Oct. 10, the United States men’s national soccer team managed to project at least a pleasing illusion of progress. Maybe it wasn’t always real progress. Maybe it wasn’t the kind of spectacular success enjoyed by the United States women’s team, which has won three World Cups and four Olympic gold medals and galvanized generations of fans. But there was always something you could point to, some piece of evidence to suggest that the men’s game was improving in this country. That the people at the top had a plan. …” NY Times


United States Misses World Cup for First Time Since 1986

October 12, 2017


“COUVA, Trinidad and Tobago — There was always a chance that a year would come when the United States again failed to qualify for the World Cup, when the hurdles in the nearly two-year slog of regional qualification — the matches on steamy afternoons and muggy nights, the hard tackles and the coin-throwing fans, the lousy fields and the dubious refereeing — all proved too much. That year is 2017. Trinidad and Tobago, whose World Cup dreams ended months ago, stunned the United States, 2-1, on Tuesday night. The result, combined with just-as-shocking outcomes in two simultaneous games in Honduras and Panama on the final day of qualifying for the Concacaf region, ushered in the unthinkable: The American men, mainstays of the World Cup for more than a generation, are out of next summer’s tournament in Russia. …”
NY Times, How the United States Missed the World Cup, Minute by Minute


U.S. National Team Still Controls Its Own World Cup Destiny

October 5, 2017


“The easiest route to the World Cup, any national team will tell you, is through the front door. Win your qualifying games and you can’t be left out. No worries. No math. No if-we-do-this-and-they-do-that calculations. Win, and you’re in. This, then, is the most appealing route for the United States national team over the next six days. If Coach Bruce Arena and his players win their final two qualifying games, at home against Panama on Friday and at Trinidad and Tobago on Tuesday night, they can pack their bags for Russia 2018. …” NY Times


In Soccer’s Hinterlands, World Cup Expansion Opens a Door

January 19, 2017

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Uganda, celebrating a goal against Botswana, is one of the teams that are likely to benefit the most from the coming World Cup expansion.
“While the soccer world was chewing over FIFA’s controversial decision on Tuesday to increase the size of the World Cup finals to 48 teams from 32, Milutin Sredojevic was trying to block out the noise. Sredojevic, a Serbian coach, is in Dubai preparing Uganda’s national team for the Africa Cup of Nations, the continental championship that begins Saturday in Gabon. Uganda, which is in the tournament for the first time since 1978, is a heavy underdog. Yet despite Sredojevic’s best efforts to focus on the task ahead, news of the expansion, which could benefit smaller federations like Uganda’s, filtered through anyway.” NY Times