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


The World Cup Loses Its First Star

November 20, 2021


“Somewhere, in a darkened room, Erling Haaland was watching. Injury meant he would not be able to take the field for Norway’s most significant match in 20 years. The Netherlands’ return to partial lockdown last weekend meant, with the game played behind closed doors, he would not even be able to support his national team from the stands. Instead, Haaland had to follow from afar, powerless to help. Two minutes into the game, he posted an image of the game’s television broadcast on Instagram, accompanied by a Norwegian flag and the heart emoji. There was, then, still a scintilla of hope. …”
NY Times


U.S. Beats Mexico and Then Rubs It In

November 14, 2021


Weston McKennie and his teammates beat Mexico with goals and then taunted them in song.
“Michael Jackson’s 1988 song ‘Man in the Mirror’ — a classic tune, but no one’s idea of a rousing sports arena jam — was blaring over the stadium speakers late on Friday night as the U.S. men’s soccer team rollicked and embraced happily on the field. A bit less than half an hour earlier, Christian Pulisic had charged toward the sideline to celebrate the first of the Americans’ goals in their 2-0 victory against Mexico, lifting the front of his No. 10 jersey to reveal the same phrase, ‘Man in the Mirror,’ scrawled in permanent marker on his white undershirt. At that moment, even reasonably well-informed American soccer fans might have been left scratching their heads at the references, struggling to understand what, exactly, was afoot. …”
NY Times (Video)


The Little Country That Could Wonders if It Still Can

November 13, 2021



“Luis Suárez arrived first. And in the ordinary run of things, for a city like Salto — a sleepy place tucked into a distant corner of a tiny country — that would have been its claim to fame: producing one of the finest strikers of a generation. Except that, precisely three weeks later, a second arrived. Edinson Cavani grew up only a few streets from Suárez. The curiosity that the two players who would, for more than a decade, help turn Uruguay’s national team into one of the most potent in the world were born in such quick succession, in such proximity, lends their origin story a faintly fantastical gleam. Lightning, after all, is not supposed to strike twice. …”
NY Times


When the Solution Is the Problem

November 5, 2021


That split-second when everyone thinks the ends justify the means.
“Not once, in two decades, had David Beckham heard the moment. He had witnessed it at the time, of course. More than that, in fact: He had summoned it and created it and lived it. He had, presumably, watched the moment more than once in the intervening years, too. But it was not until a couple weeks ago that he sat down and listened to it. The moment he did was — obviously — captured for posterity, a social media post as meta as they come: a man recording his own reaction to a recording of himself. As Beckham listens, he has a look of fierce concentration on his face, mixed with just a little genuine concern, as if he really does not know how it all ends. The audio plays in the background, an echo of his past: the last couple minutes of the BBC radio commentary of England’s meeting with Greece on the road to the 2002 World Cup. …”
NY Times (Audio)


Barcelona, Drifting, Fires Ronald Koeman as Coach

October 28, 2021


“Ronald Koeman knew even before he arrived in Barcelona that his journey as the club’s manager had ended. His team had just lost for the second time in four days, beaten by Real Madrid on Sunday and then by modest Rayo Vallecano on Wednesday. It was marooned in ninth place in La Liga. There could be, the club decided, no way back. The decision to fire Koeman was made while he and his players were still in transit. Barcelona’s president, Joan Laporta, had spent the flight back from Madrid consulting with several executives, according to Sport, the Catalan newspaper, and then informed Koeman that he had decided to end his 14-month tenure. A statement from Barcelona made the decision official a little after midnight. …”
NY Times


Manchester United 0 Liverpool 5: Salah hits hat-trick, United’s midfield goes missing and pressure mounts on Solskjaer

October 26, 2021


Manchester United were booed off the pitch at Old Trafford after suffering a 5-0 humiliation at the hands of their fierce rivals Liverpool. The pressure mounts on Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, whose side were outclassed in every area of the pitch during Sunday’s match. Mohamed Salah was the star for Jurgen Klopp’s team, scoring a 12-minute hat-trick (either side of the break). Liverpool remain unbeaten in 13 matches this season across all competitions, and are one point behind Premier League leaders Chelsea. Here, Oliver Kay and Dominic Fifield analyse the key talking points from Old Trafford… ”
The Athletic
Guardian: Salah’s crowning glory for Egypt in sight after feats for club and continent
NY Times: Goals Rain on Manchester United, Covering the Boss With Blame
Guardian: Manchester United rout had been coming: nobody has a clue what they are doing (Jonathan Wilson)
SI – Manchester United 0-5 Liverpool: Mohamed Salah Reaction To Sensational Performance On Instagram (Video)
BBC: Manchester United 0 – 5 Liverpool
The Athletic: Liverpool humiliation should be the death knell for Solskjaer’s reign
The Athletic: Rest, right-side connection, mentality: Lijnders on how Salah has become ‘unstoppable’ for Liverpool (Video)(Oct. 2021)


Life After Leo

October 24, 2021


“Even by the most charitable estimate, Camp Nou is barely more than a third full by the time the teams stroll on to the field. The Champions League anthem blares, drowning out the thin applause that had greeted the players. Fans pockmark row upon row of sun-bleached seats, stretching into the sky, lost in the vast stadium. On the far side, Barcelona’s motto, its statement of self — més que un club — is spelled out in the seats. As the players fan out, taking their positions, the lettering is still readable. To the left, in the arena’s second tier, where there was once a club sponsor’s logo, a yellow patch has spread. …”
NY Times


Manchester United’s Perfect Feedback Loop

October 22, 2021


“Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was in the mood to play the hits. Manchester United’s most ardent fans, he said, were ‘the best in the world.’ The players who had the privilege to wear the team’s colors were the ‘luckiest’ on the planet. And, of course, there was the inevitable nod to history, to the club’s ‘habit’ of clawing victory from the maw of defeat. Solskjaer was glowing, and with good reason. United had just given Atalanta a two-goal head start in the Champions League and recovered to win regardless. Cristiano Ronaldo had delivered, yet again. United had been at the bottom of its group at halftime, flirting with elimination, but now it sat comfortably at the top. The fans sang Solskjaer’s name as he gave his postmatch television interviews. …”
NY Times


U.S. Suffers First Defeat in World Cup Qualifying

October 13, 2021



“Continuing the good vibes from one performance to the next can be tough, it turns out, when you switch out all of your top performers. That was one of the harsh lessons learned by the U.S. men’s soccer team on Sunday as it fell limply to host Panama, 1-0, in its fifth qualifying match for the 2022 World Cup. Things had looked so different on Thursday, when the Americans stomped to a 2-0 win against Jamaica in Austin, Texas. But with a quick turnaround between matches — and a third game to play on Wednesday night in Columbus, Ohio — U.S. Coach Gregg Berhalter made seven changes to his lineup. …”
NY Times (Video)


Saudi Arabia, Newcastle and Soccer’s Worship of Money

October 8, 2021


“One single sentence, printed in block capitals, emblazoned on a laminated banner, captured it all: all of the pain and resentment and angst and fury of all those years spent under the turgid, wearying, bleak years of Mike Ashley’s ownership of Newcastle United, that decade and a half when the club’s owner seemed to take pleasure, after a while, in draining his own fans of spirit, and pleasure, and hope. The sentence on the banner made its first appearance nearly seven years ago, at what turned out to be just the halfway point of Ashley’s tenure. It was a reference to that dispiriting habit his club had developed of spurning England’s two domestic cups — the two trophies the club had even the slimmest chance of winning — so much that, often, the team looked as if it was trying to get knocked out early on purpose. …”
NY Times
NY Times: Saudi-Led Group Completes Purchase of Newcastle United
Guardian – Player’s view: Newcastle fans deserve change of fortune after long decline
Guardian: Saudi takeover of Newcastle leaves human rights to fog on the Tyne (Video)
BBC – Newcastle United takeover: Phil McNulty asks what Magpies should do in their new era (Video)
BBC – New era for Newcastle United (Video)
Guardian: Amnesty urges Premier League to block Saudi-backed takeover of Newcastle
BBC – Newcastle United takeover: Fans reflect on Mike Ashley years
******English football should be different – it is in thrall to money, no matter where it comes from
*****Shearer: Ashley’s Newcastle was a shell of a club – now he’s gone I’m excited…but conflicted by Saudi involvement (Video)


Tyler Adams Is the Captain Now

October 6, 2021


“The age of Tyler Adams is a matter of perspective. In a strict, chronological sense, of course, he is 22 years 8 months, but what that means — whether it is young, as it appears to be, or old, as odd as that seems — depends on the context. There are times, in fact, when even Adams finds it hard to date himself with any degree of accuracy. Sometimes, he is aware of his youth. He shares the locker room at RB Leipzig, for example, with a host of players who joined the club in the lower reaches of German soccer, and remain in place even now that it has become a fixture in the Champions League. …”
NY Times
W – Tyler Adams
YouTube: Tyler Adams 2020/21 Season Highlights | RB Leipzig (May 2021)


Chasing New Revenue, FIFA Is Considering Major Move to U.S.

October 4, 2021


FIFA officials toured the United States in September, visiting possible host cities for the 2026 World Cup.
“Looking to expand its global footprint beyond its cloistered headquarters next to a zoo on the outskirts of Zurich, soccer’s governing body, FIFA, is studying the feasibility of moving its financial engine, the commercial operation that produces billions of dollars in revenues for the organization, to the United States. The possible move will be determined by technical factors including the suitability of locations on both coasts, the ease of acquiring work visas for overseas staff members and tax rules, according to an official with direct knowledge of the discussions who declined to speak publicly because a final determination had yet to be made. The operations involved represent a vital part of FIFA’s business: They oversee FIFA’s sale of sponsorships and broadcasting rights, which represent some of the most lucrative properties in global sports. …”
NY Times


In One Moment, Messi and P.S.G. Make It All Work

September 30, 2021


“Lionel Messi picked the ball up in that spot, the one that has served as the starting point for so many of his finest moments, the one that he knows so well that it might as well be his spot. It has, for 15 years, been his base camp, his happy place: a few yards inside from the right touchline, a few yards from halfway. He was standing still as he controlled it. He had been standing still for some time, by that stage. Paris St.-Germain had taken an early lead, through Idrissa Gueye, and had spent most of the rest of the game desperately trying to fend off Manchester City’s unrelenting attacks. …”
NY Times


1998 FIFA World Cup Final

September 26, 2021


Aimé Jacquet – Zinedine Zidane
“The 1998 FIFA World Cup Final was a football match that was played on 12 July 1998 at the Stade de France in the Parisian commune of Saint-Denis to determine the winner of the 1998 FIFA World Cup. The final was contested by defending champions Brazil and the host nation France, marking the first time that a World Cup final was disputed between the host nation and the defending champion. France won the match 3–0 to claim their maiden World Cup, with the timing of the match two days before Bastille Day adding to the significance of the victory. Zinedine Zidane, who was named man of the match, scored twice before half-time and Emmanuel Petit added a third goal in the last minute. The match had an attendance in the region of 75,000. … The match also saw speculation on the condition of the Brazilian striker Ronaldo, who suffered a convulsive fit on the eve of the match. After initially being left out of the team sheet, in spite of his physical state, it was announced just 72 minutes before kick-off that he was going to play. In the match, he sustained an injury in a clash with French goalkeeper Fabien Barthez. Although it was believed that the decision to play Ronaldo had backfired, it was understandable as the player had been a crucial member of the side throughout the tournament, having scored four goals and created three more. …”
Wikipedia
Tactical Analysis: France vs. Brazil
W – Aimé Jacquet, W – Roger Lemerre
W – Zinedine Zidane, W – Didier Deschamps
NY Times: Sun Shines on France’s National Heroes
YouTube: Tactics Explained | 1994-1998: A History Of The World Cup, How France’s 4-3-3 won the 1998 World Cup | Tactical Analysis: France 3-0 Brazil | Zidane vs Ronaldo


Marcos Alonso and the Genius of Thomas Tuchel

September 25, 2021


“Things got so bad, at one point, that even Marcos Alonso’s father was telling him to go. His fallout with his coach at Chelsea, Frank Lampard, had been spectacular and it had been total. Alonso had been substituted at halftime during a game at West Bromwich Albion, but instead of dutifully filing out to support his teammates, he had instead skulked off to wait on the team bus, stewing at the injustice of it all. When Lampard found out, he was furious. First, he rebuked Alonso for his disloyalty, his petulance, in front of his teammates, a public shaming that often functions as soccer’s nuclear option, and then he ostracized him entirely from his team. For four months, Alonso did not play so much as a minute of soccer. …”
NY Times
W – Marcos Alonso


Vinícius kickstarts Bernabéu party and comes of age as Real Madrid hero

September 20, 2021


Vinícius Júnior
“In the end, the police had to pull him out of there. There was a party back at his place and Vinícius Júnior was enjoying this more than the last time he was there and probably more than he should have been, but he didn’t care and you couldn’t really blame him: this had been a long time coming and when at last it did, boy was it good. Boy was he. After 560 days, football finally returned to the Santiago Bernabéu and, having conceded inside 200 seconds, twice trailed and been reacquainted with whistles, the Brazilian put Real Madrid into the lead and on course for a 5-2 win over Celta de Vigo that made a celebration of their homecoming. …”
Guardian
NY Times – At Barcelona, a Feeling Worse Than Sorrow: Pity


When a Fairy Tale Is Disputed Territory

September 16, 2021


“Edmund Addo sank into child’s pose in the middle of the field, his forehead touching the turf, his arms outstretched in front of him, a gesture of supplication and thanks. About 60 yards away, euphoria had overwhelmed his teammate Giorgos Athanasiadis, his legs buckling as two colleagues tried to help him to stand. Their coach, Yuriy Vernydub, danced on the touchline. They were all relatively recent arrivals to Sheriff Tiraspol: Addo, a Ghanaian midfielder, and the Greek goalkeeper Athanasiadis had joined this summer; Vernydub predated them only by a year. Still, though, they knew what this meant to their team, which had been waiting for this moment for two decades. …”
NY Times
Sheriff Tiraspol: Who are the Moldovan minnows making their Champions League debut?
W – FC Sheriff Tiraspol
YouTube: The Football Club Without A Country: The Story of Sheriff Tiraspol


A World Cup Every Two Years? Why?

September 10, 2021



“This is soccer’s age of the Big Idea. There is an incessant, unrelenting flow of Big Ideas, ones of such scale and scope that they have to be capitalized, from all corners of the game: from individuals and groups, from clubs and from leagues, from the back of cigarette packets and from all manner of crumpled napkins. The Video Assistant Referee system was a Big Idea. Expanding the World Cup to 48 teams was a Big Idea. Project Big Picture, the plan to redraw how the Premier League worked, was a Big Idea. The Super League was the Biggest Idea of them all — perhaps, in hindsight, it was, in fact, too Big an Idea — an Idea so Big that it could generate, in the brief idealism of its backlash, more Big Ideas still, as the death of a star sends matter hurtling all across the galaxy. …”
NY Times


USMNT, Ricardo Pepi shine against Honduras in second half of World Cup qualifier

September 9, 2021


“The U.S. men’s national team has gotten its World Cup qualifying campaign back on the rails with a 4-1 win over Honduras on Wednesday night. After entering halftime down 1-0, manager Gregg Berhalter made three substitutions to start the second half with aplomb. What ensued was a four-goal onslaught, as the USMNT climbed all the way to third in the Octagonal as the first international window comes to a close. It was a classic ‘tale of two halves’ type of match. After struggling in the 4-3-3, Berhalter lined his team up in a 3-4-3. What ensued was an even sloppier 45 minutes than any of the previous four intervals, with gaps galore in the midfield, between the back seven and the attack, and all over the defensive line. …”
The Athletic
NY Times: For U.S. Men’s Team, Win Salvages a Week They’d Rather Forget
Guardian: A brilliant 45 minutes against Honduras failed to mask US World Cup problems


Explained: Why South American Premier League stars are heading to Croatia after international duty

September 7, 2021


“After Colombia play Paraguay in Asuncion this Sunday evening, the eighth of their 18 qualification games for next year’s World Cup, Davinson Sanchez will not stick around for the ninth. Rather than staying on for the home game with Chile in Barranquilla on Thursday, Sanchez will fly back across the Atlantic. Not back to London, but to Croatia, for a hastily arranged 10-day training camp by the Adriatic Sea. This is all part of a plan that Sanchez agreed with Tottenham Hotspur to make sure that his involvement in Colombia’s World Cup qualifiers will cause minimum hassle to Spurs’ season. …”
The Athletic (Audio)
NY Times: Brazil-Argentina Match Stopped After Health Officials Storm Field (Video)
The Athletic: Spurs and Villa receive clarity over Argentina stars and hope there is no repeat next month Argentina, Brazil
YouTube: Brazil vs Argentina | Matchday 6 Highlights | CONMEBOL South American World Cup Qualifiers


For U.S. Men, Two Games and No Wins Add Up to Concern

September 6, 2021



“If every World Cup qualifying campaign is a roller-coaster ride of highs and lows, then the United States men’s soccer team has not yet left the ground. The Americans have played two games in four days to start the final round of their regional qualifying tournament for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, and though they expected to win both matches, they have settled instead for two disappointing draws. These are early days, still. There are 12 games to go. And two points are better than none. …’
NY Times (Video)
Guardian: John Herdman aims to end Canada’s time in the World Cup wilderness (Video)


The Problem When Teams See Athletes as Assets

September 3, 2021


“One of the things that appealed most to Manchester City about Marlos Moreno was his flexibility. The club spotted him as a teenager, coming off the back of a breakthrough season in which he helped Atlético Nacional, his hometown club in his native Colombia, win not just a national title but the Copa Libertadores, too. Moreno, then 19, had the air of a rising star. He was the sort of prospect who stood out among the thousands of players around the world whose names and performance data flash in front of the eyes of the scouts and analysts at Europe’s biggest clubs. … Executives were sufficiently excited by the acquisition of a player they felt was one of the most promising in South America to mention his name to Sheikh Mansour, City’s owner. …”
NY Times
Who is Man City owner Sheikh Mansour and what’s his net worth?
W – Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan


What’s the Endgame in the M.L.S.-Liga MX Alliance?

August 26, 2021



“One could forgive the top soccer players in Mexico and the United States if they feel as if they have seen quite a lot of each other recently. When some of the best players from Mexico’s Liga MX lined up against some of the biggest stars from Major League Soccer in the M.L.S. All-Star Game on Wednesday night in Los Angeles, it was not — for a handful of them — the first time they had played an important match north of the border this summer. Whether in a series of new cross-border club competitions or in two important national team tournaments, the Nations League and Gold Cup, U.S.-Mexico matchups — in a variety of jersey colors — are now more frequent than ever. …”
NY Times


FIFA, Deemed a Victim of Its Own Scandal, Will Share $200 Million Payout

August 24, 2021


“Even as top soccer officials were still being arrested as part of a sprawling corruption investigation in 2015, lawyers for the sport’s global governing body and U.S. prosecutors began to embrace an intriguing premise: The soccer organization, FIFA, and its affiliates were not only the hosts of the scheme, the thinking went, they were also its victims. For prosecutors, the notion distinguished between the hijackers and the hijacked: It held individuals accountable for their crimes but spared the organizations and the sport that they had defrauded. For FIFA and its new leaders and lawyers, the framing had a bigger benefit: It protected against prosecution, and it offered the organization a chance to reclaim the tens of millions of dollars siphoned away by corrupt officials. Tuesday brought the payoff: Six years after a wide-ranging criminal indictment laid bare decades of corruption in global soccer on a stunning scale, and five years after those in power started pursuing a piece of the millions that American authorities were rounding up, the U.S. government approved the payment of more than $200 million to FIFA and its two member confederations most implicated in the scandal. …”
NY Times
W – Gianni Infantino
W – Sepp Blatter


Scottish Soccer’s Brexit Problem: No Way In, and No Way Out

August 21, 2021


Scotland’s two biggest teams, Celtic and Rangers, have the means to support some of their ambitions. Most of their Scottish rivals do not.
“Juhani Ojala knew he would have to wait. Travel restrictions were still in place in Scotland when, in the middle of July, the Finnish defender agreed to join Motherwell, a club of modest means and sober ambitions in the country’s top division. Upon landing, Ojala knew, he would have to spend 10 days isolating in a hotel before joining his new teammates. … All of that changed in January, when — four and a half years after the Brexit referendum — Britain formally, and finally, left the European Union. As of that moment, clubs in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland no longer had the untrammeled access to players from its 26 member states (a different set of rules apply to Ireland) they had enjoyed since the 1990s. …”
NY Times


The Parable of Inter Milan

August 21, 2021


“The first alarm rang in February, a warning from thousands of miles away. Jiangsu Suning was one of the mainstays of that strange period, five or six years ago, when soccer awoke — almost overnight — to discover that China had arrived, its pockets bottomless and its ambitions unchecked, intent on inverting the world. At first, Europe saw this new horizon as it sees everything: as a market. China’s corporate-backed clubs were, as Turkey’s and Russia’s had been years before, a convenience and a curiosity, a place where they could offload unwanted players from bloated squads. …”
NY Times


The Wisdom of the Crowd

August 14, 2021


“Conspicuous consumption runs through soccer’s billion-dollar transfer market. Club executives hold meetings in deluxe suites in the finest hotels in London, Monte Carlo and Milan: the Connaught, the Méridien, the Palazzo Parigi. There, they haggle with agents in tailored suits over eye-watering transfer fees, lavish salaries and towering commissions. The players being traded sink into the plush leather seats of private jets to travel between clubs, before signing contracts worth tens of millions of dollars in sumptuous, state-of-the-art training facilities. …”
NY Times


Paying the Price for Premier League Riches

August 7, 2021


Andreas Pereira is known as the Preseason Pirlo. But he has nowhere to go.
“The headed clearance did not quite get the requisite power, or direction. It floated, rather than fizzed, out of Brentford’s penalty area, the danger not quite clear. Two Manchester United players converged on it, sensing opportunity. The ball bounced off the turf, not too high, not too quick, and hung in the air for just a second. And that is where Andreas Pereira met it.There is a reason some Manchester United fans have come to know Pereira — with equal parts affection and admonishment — as the Preseason Pirlo. …”
NY Times


The True Value of Gold

July 23, 2021


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


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

July 12, 2021


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


Brazil’s Top Clubs Are Planning a Breakaway League

July 9, 2021


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


Italy suffer for shootout win in emotional and authentic tournament tussle

July 7, 2021


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


No Semifinalist Is an Island

July 6, 2021


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


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

July 2, 2021


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


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

June 29, 2021


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


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

June 28, 2021


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


The Case for a 32-Team Euros

June 26, 2021


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


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

June 24, 2021


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


Denmark Advances at Euro 2020, Winning Where Eriksen Fell

June 21, 2021


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


At Euro 2020, a Reminder That Good Can Be Great

June 19, 2021


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


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

June 15, 2021


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


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

June 12, 2021


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


U.S. 3, Mexico 2: All the Plot Twists

June 9, 2021


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


How Euro 2020 Was Saved

June 8, 2021


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