Welcome back, readers. It’s hard to focus on soccer this week as the sports world has been rocked by the revelation that an above average tennis player with an outsized reputation has been doping for a decade. It comes as a shock to all of us that a sport for which the average required endurance has shot up remarkably in the last several years could be tainted. Before you know it, they’ll be telling us that the stunning gains in track and field can’t all be put down to human evolution and advances in nutrition. Heaven forbid. In unrelated news … maybe … we start off discussing Leicester City. Let’s dive into the dumpster.
Is the 2016 Premier League trophy cursed?
How else to explain the fact that no one seems to want to win it? The only team that is still showing any conviction about winning this year’s premiership is Leicester City, which is apt, given that the Foxes have already demonstrated that they don’t mind being associated with unsavory objects. Tottenham Hotspur should have been atop the table by now, but Spurs decided to hop aboard The Narrative Express at the last minute and do a Spurs in the last week, to leave Leicester five points clear.
Arsenal, as has been pointed out before, has been Arsenaling for months now. The Gunners have already bottled the league (again), and now the injuries have piled up at a crucial time, to the complete shock of Arsène Wenger and no one else. Manchester City, another team that has apparently been actively trying not to win the league, is mostly only paying attention to the Champions League this season. The Blues’ league form has been shocking, but they are still fortunately being out-rubbished by their city rivals.
Speaking of City’s rubbish rivals, Manchester United could have been top of the table by now, had the spineless Ed Woodward replaced Louis van Gaal in December. Instead, van Gaal kept his job, inspired a modicum of hope by beating crap teams like Midtjylland, Shrewsbury, and Arsenal, and then promptly reverted to the mean once it really mattered. Now that van Gaal is no longer forced into playing promising youngsters — since such luminaries as Antonio Valencia and Marouane Fellaini are returning from injury — expect United’s season to be effectively over at the end of the month.
Congratulations in advance to the Leicester City medical team.
The Adam Johnson fallout continues to get worse
Sunderland, a part-time football club and full-time shit stain upon the planet, is still under intense scrutiny over its handling of the Adam Johnson scandal. The scandal, as a reminder, is that Sunderland continued to employ Johnson after he was arrested for having sexual contact with a child.
This week, chief executive Margaret Byrne resigned in disgrace, after it was revealed that she was fully aware of Johnson’s crimes, and still allowed him to represent the club for the better part of a year. It’s frankly hard to believe that the chief executive was the only person at the club to be aware that an employee was an admitted sexual predator. It’s particularly hard to believe that she did not inform the owner or manager. But now that the appropriate head has rolled, Sunderland will try its best to distance itself from the whole sordid affair, and minimize its own despicable behavior. But seeing that this is the same club that recently employed a vile fascist for a manager, its handling of Johnson is about par for the course.
Equally dispiriting has been some of the filth printed in the English media. Within minutes of Johnson’s guilty verdict, The Guardian published a humanizing profile of him (purposely not linked here) that was essentially an obituary for his ruined career. On Sky Sports News, a reporter asked a scout how well he understood “the temptations facing footballers today.” Yesterday, The Daily Mail (no surprise) published a stomach-churning opinion article that placed blame on Johnson’s victim, implying that a child who had just barely turned 15 years old “knew exactly what she was doing.” On social media, Johnson’s sister started a “Justice for Johnson” campaign, for a confessed sexual predator.
We already knew that soccer has a problem with crimes against women, but now we know that same attitude extends to crimes against girls as well.
Ibrahimovic is right
Zlatan Ibrahimovic caught some flak for suggesting that PSG’s history essentially restarted three and a half years ago, when it was bought by Qatari Sports Investments. At least one salty former player was quick to point out that PSG does indeed have a history that precedes the Qatari money. But here’s the thing: no one cares.
PSG, in its current incarnation, is the result of a merger between two preexisting clubs. Today’s PSG isn’t even as old as its manager. Even though the club won a handful of cups and a couple of league titles in the years before the 2011 takeover, its domestic dominance and arrival as a serious European force started only with the injection of Qatari cash. Ibrahimovic compared the club to Chelsea, which is appropriate. Prior to Roman Abramovich’s acquisition, Chelsea was an average club with a solid fan base and a few decent seasons in its back pocket. Post-takeover, the club became a perennial title challenger and a force to be reckoned with on the continent. The same can be said for Manchester City, a club with a proud, marginally successful (at best) history that was suddenly catapulted into a new stratosphere of competition after a healthy injection of offshore cash.
Supporters of nouveau riche clubs can be as cute as they would like over their legacies, but joining the sport’s elite overnight, through the sudden arrival of billionaire owners, draws a clear line in the history of a club. PSG had existed prior to 2011, but this new version of the club is so far removed from the previous era that it might as well have sprung up out of thin air. Older fans may not want to hear it, and it may be in poor taste to lay it out so plainly, but Zlatan is right.