The decline of Holland: how Dutch are doomed by total obsession with past | Priya Ramesh

Nostalgia, arrogance and an insular group of Dutch legends turned coach-and-fours have stalled the Oranje Machine and left Holland failing to qualify for a second successive competition

In Graham Swift’s novel Waterland his narrator, a history teacher going through a mid-life crisis, says:” And where history does not undermine and set traps for itself in such an openly perverse style, it creates this insidious longing to revert. It begets this bastard but pampered child, Nostalgia. How we hanker turning now to that time before history claimed us, before things went wrong .”

At some phase analysis of decline has become a ordeal, particularly when the causative factors seem numerous and varied and not independent of each other. Nostalgia gives itself to convenient explanations of why things are not as good as they were, which may overshadow the fact it is perhaps more important that one seems back has progressed and not vice versa. Dutch football has assured four talented generations of players, right from Cruyff and Van Hanegem‘s cohort in the 70 s, Gullit, Rijkaard, Van Basten and Koeman in the 80 s, Bergkamp’s batch in the 90 s and the 1983 -8 4-born class of the 00 s led by Arjen Robben and Wesley Sneijder.

In the wake of failing to qualify for next year’s World Cup finalsin Russia Dutch footballers are now criticised for a lack of” winning mentality “. Marcel Brands of PSV, in a discussion in 2014 with his fellow technical directors of the so-called big three, Marc Overmars of Ajax and Feyenoord’s Martin van Geel, remarked:” We develop many intelligent, tactically strong players. We simply need to improve substantially in the win factor. I went to Portugal recently: Sport, Benfica and Porto. There it is completely different. There it is all about winning. With us, it’s the exact opposite:’ 80% possession, played well, yes but we lose 1-0 .’

” That’s not how it was necessary to. If you look at Germany, they have taken a step. There was always physical football, a lot of running. Now, there is a lot more[ technological] football than 10 years ago. They also find us[ the Dutch] a lot .”

Arjen
Arjen Robben retired after Holland failed to qualify for a second major tournament in a row. Photograph: Hoogte/ REX/ Shutterstock

Tellingly, nearly all of the successful recent exportations from the Eredivisie have been players who were scouted between the ages of 16 and 19- Uruguay’s Luis Suarez, Denmark’s Christian Eriksen and Belgium’s Toby Alderweireld find the Netherlands a prime location to hone their talent, having developed initially elsewhere. But even if the current Holland side absence extraordinary talents, there was sufficient quality for them at least to construct academic qualifications play-offs. That suggests there are deeper structural problems with the national squad. It is clearly more complicated than simply Memphis Depay’s preference for wearing hats.

In 2014 all the big three’s technological directors agreed that the KNVB, the Dutch FA, required a strong technical director. Jelle Goes had functioned as” technological manager” since 2013 and played a big role in drafting the Winnaars van Morgen ,” Winners of Tomorrow”, plan for resurrecting Dutch football; and, when Hans van Breukelen was induced technological director in 2016, Goes’ focus shifted to youth.

However, this summer both Goes and Van Breukelen left their roles, with the latter resigning, having made a mess of the national coach-and-four situation after Danny Blind’s departure and saying he had not been able to build” his- and the KNVB’s — ambitions come true “.

The KNVB’s lack of a clear long-term vision seemed evident as they let Hakim Ziyech slip through their fingers. The 24 -year-old, who played for Dutch youth teams up to the under-2 1s and was the outstanding Dutch midfielder of his generation, was injured on his first call-up in May 2015 and could not play, but then seemed to be overlooked. He then elected to represent Morocco, building his debut in October 2015.

In March 2016 Blind was asked why there had not been more of an effort to tie down Ziyech. The then Holland manager responded with the specious excuse that Ziyech was not playing as a” true No10″ at Twente at the time but as more of a second striker. Immediately his then-assistant coach, Marco van Basten, sitting at the back of the room, turned to the reporter who had suggested the KNVB had failed in this regard and said:” Why? He has run with the choice with his heart? Then, in my opinion, you should ask him .”

In May 2016 Van Basten called Ziyech and the St-Etienne winger Oussama Tannane” stupid sons” for not having the patience to wait for their chance:” How stupid can you be to choose Morocco if you are in contention for the Dutch national team ?”

This, beyond the contempt, indicates some delusions of grandeur and superiority persist despite Holland’s shortcomings on the pitch. Nearly two years later another young talent- Sofyan Amrabat -is set to follow Ziyech. He still has a chance of playing at the World Cup finals with Morocco, while the Dutch must watch a second consecutive international tournament on their Tv screens, still absence direction in their long-term planning as well as a player are worth constructing a new side around.

The way in which Van Basten conveyed his view is indicative of the way dynamics can change when there are many big personalities vying for influence. For the Dutch this is not a new phenomenon. In 1981, as Ajax trailed Twente 2-3 at De Meer, Johan Cruyff, then in a vague directorial role, constructed his style from the stands to the bench and propped himself beside the coach-and-four, Leo Beenhakker, shouting instructions and attaining tactical changes. In 2004, when Ronald Koeman was manager of Ajax, Louis van Gaal, then technological director, used to sit on the sidelines and commentate on training sessions.

Recently Ruud Gullit, assistant coach to Dick Advocaat, recorded a video for his Twitter feed in the Holland dressing room. Advocaat was unaware of and unhappy with the breach of protocol, yet Gullit was excused. Less than a month later Advocaat indicated Gullit would be his ideal successor because of the way the France players seemed to approach him in reverence at full-time, after they had easily defeated Holland 4-0 in September.” The Netherlands genuinely forgets what a great Gullit is ,” said Advocaat. There is bias in choosing to remember the great player- but not the reasonably mediocre manager.

Dick
Dick Advocaat, right, and his assistant Ruud Gullit are the latest familiar faces who have failed to halt Holland’s slide. Photo: Hoogte/ REX/ Shutterstock/ Hoogte/ Rex/ Shutterstock

Robert Maaskant, who has managed NAC Breda and Willem II, pertinently told De Volkskrant in August:” When I started as a trainer, I believed:’ I did not have a great career as a player, so I need to get into[ management] early. Because between the ages of 42 and 50, all those former internationals[ Frank de Boer, Phillip Cocu, Giovanni van Bronckhorst] will start to get involved, and they will get the best undertakings first .’ But the leading I had, ultimately led to nothing more. Because experience is no longer as important.

” It started with Marco van Basten’s appointment as Holland coach, without any experience. Since then you do not’ build’ a career in Dutch football any more: it will’ happen’ to you .”

Peter Bosz , now at Borussia Dortmund, is a Dutch rarity in breaking that ceiling in recent years but seemed to be swiftly pushed out by the powers that be at Ajax. So a painting emerges of an insular, constricted group of coach-and-fours who are granted opportunities with little or no coaching experience. Most share a common notion of possession-based 4-3 -3 football, which attains Dutch squads predictable while other nations have either bettered 4-3-3 or moved on.

The most successful exponents of the “Dutch” style are no longer Dutch, and given there is little to lose now, perhaps a step in the right direction would be to experimentation with appointing a foreign coach-and-four. The last one- the Austrian Ernst Happel- did not fare too badly.

Dutch football has always been a battleground of “philosophy” and winning football matches in the somewhat arbitrary “right” way over merely winning. That there is also pride in losing the 1974 World Cup final to West Germany– when Cruyff’s talented side squandered a one-goal lead to their greatest contenders in Munich- seemed to set forth the faith that results were, to an extent, expendable in the pursuit of the ideal of total football.

Now, in the friction between the nostalgia for their great footballing inventions of the past and the reality of being outshone in tactical relevance today, the Dutch seem to have lost their standing and objective up compromising on both the style for which they were renowned and the results they fail to achieve.

In retrospect their shock 5-1 drubbing of Spain at the 2014 World Cup finals in Brazil signified a strange fork-in-the-road of a game, in which the defending champs had fallen into a predictable rhythm and the team who had lost the 2010 final seemed to be one step ahead. But Spain have recovered while the Dutch have regressed because that is where the insidiousness of nostalgia can lead- to regression, in the assumption that to attain glory in the future we need to “go back” and recreate a past that has long been lost. Clearly Holland and Dutch football must now look to the future instead.

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Liverpool left frustrated again by David de Gea and Manchester United

Liverpool and Manchester United depicted 0-0 at Anfield for the second year in a row, with David de Gea again to the fore , notably when stretching out a foot to deny Jol Matip

If nothing else, Liverpool was likely to take it as a compliment that Manchester United would choose to approach the game this style. It was the second successive season this fixture has ended goalless and it did not need a suspicious intellect to deduce that Jose Mourinho had decided that would be enough to make it a satisfying day- and to hell with anyone who might topic his lack of adventure.

His team had averaged three goals a game from their previous seven Premier League fixtures but this was the first time they had faced a side in the top-1 2 places. Mourinho altered his tactics accordingly and the second half, in particular, was an exercise in defensive parsimony directly in front of the Kop. Liverpool were unable to break them down and Mourinho has already made it clear what he thinks about the people who might blame him for ruining games as a spectacle. For the story of this match, refer to what he said after last season’s Europa League final against Ajax:” There are lots of poets in football, but poets don’t win many titles .”

He tends to know what he is doing but it was a risky strategy and it would have been intriguing to ensure Mourinho’s back-up plan if one of those Liverpool attacks had determined a way behind United’s defence.

Instead, the home side did not have the witticism or imagination in decisive areas and, regrettably for Jurgen Klopp, three points have never been awarded for moral victories. Liverpool have won only one of their last eight games in the various competitions and it all seemed rather flat at the end.” What did Jose Mourinho say ?” Klopp wanted to know.” That we were the more defensive side? That would have been funny .”

Mourinho has heard it all before and will reflect on a chore well done , no matter how much it grates with him when he is accused of groups together teams that do not play the classic United way. They did not manage a single noteworthy attack in the second half but the most extraordinary statistic of the afternoon was that it was not until the 17 th minute that Romelu Lukaku managed a touch of the ball.

Lukaku is often accused of absence his best work in the most difficult assignments but his failure to rating here owed more to the circumstances. The Belgium striker had one chance in the first-half when he aimed his shot too close to the Liverpool goalkeeper, Simon Mignolet, but he was isolated for most of the game and perhaps there was a measure of frustration in current challenges that sent Joe Gomez flying close to the touchline.

Instead this was an afternoon where Phil Jones and Chris Smalling demonstrated their improvement under Mourinho, Lukaku could be seen helping out in defense, Anthony Martial spent most of the game inside his own half and in the one moment of old-fashioned excitement there was another reminder about David de Gea’s extraordinary ability to prevent the ball from going into his net.

Anfield was already rising to its feet when Roberto Firmino misled Nemanja Matic inside the penalty area and Joel Matip reached the cross first. The Liverpool defender made a solid connect, eight yards out, but in that split second De Gea was already adjusting his body, protruding out his left foot to block the shot on the goal-line. It was an exceptional piece of improvisational goalkeeping and when De Gea rose to his feet he still did not have a hair out of place. What an incredible keeper he has become.

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Jose Mourinho and Jurgen Klopp react to Anfield stalemate- video

That apart, there was not a great amount of penalty-area activity during a first half that was far too hectic to expect either side to pass the ball with their normal accuracy. Mohamed Salah presented, in flashings, some lovely, deft touches but there was so little time on the ball, with a challenge never too far away, it was difficult to build possession. Both sides were guilty of not taking enough care of the ball and perhaps that was inevitable when everything was so fast and furious.

The second half was a more controlled affair, with Liverpool pressing forward, forcing a succession of corners but without ever giving the impression they were wearing down their adversaries. Klopp’s men played many pass, but never the killer one. Gomez came the closest with a clipped pass into Emre Can’s path but the German’s shot went into the Kop and, after that, there were only sporadic moments when De Gea was threatened again.

Mourinho brought on another centre-half, Victor Lindelof, in the final exchanges for Ashley Young, a converted defender playing here as a right winger, and video games huffed and puffed to its objective under the glare of the autumnal sunshine. It was the first time ever there have been back-to-back 0-0 draws in this fixture and Klopp was asked afterwards if he would ever put up a team in the way that Mourinho had.” You could not play this style at Liverpool ,” he responded,” but it’s OK for Manchester United .”

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Glut of goals, fresh talent and unpredictability fuel Serie A revival | Paolo Bandini

Only a few seasons ago Italys top league was regarded as a defensive, Juventus-dominated turn-off but now it is game on

There was a time when Italians might have been insulted by the suggestion of theirs being the third-best football league in Europe. Serie A was always il campionato piu bello del mondo – the most beautiful championship in the world. How else to describe a competition that produced 12 European Cup finalists between 1983 and 1998, a place where you could watch Diego Maradona take on Franco Baresi, or Zinedine Zidane battle Ronaldo for the Ballon d’Or?

Nobody is blind, though, to the power switching since. Between TV deals and billionaire owneds, Premier League clubs became able to offer wages the Italians could not match. Barcelona and Real Madrid maintained pace by using the Champions League to solidify their status as global brands. Serie A’s most marketable teams were too busy squabbling over the Calciopoli scandal.

Even the Bundesliga, rich with well-run clubs and domestic talent, moved ahead in the continental pecking order. By 2014, the columnist Gianni Mura was writing in the newspaper La Repubblica that he had” ever seen a Serie A of such scarce technical quality “.

So when Italy climbed back up to third in Uefa’s country coefficient rankings last month, it was a cause for modest festivity. In practical terms it entailed nothing, since the top four nations will each send four teams to the Champions League from 2018 in any case. But to move ahead of Germany for the first time in seven years was a salve to wounded national pride.

The hope is that it also provided confirmation of Italian football being back on a positive trajectory. At the time of Mura’s lament, the opposite seemed to be true. Juventus were ploughing towards a record points tally but had failed to reach the last 16 of the Champions League. The only Italian side who did, Milan, got flailed 5-1 on aggregate by Atletico Madrid.

Domestically, the tactical tendency was towards ever more defensive formations. “ Catenaccio has returned in its most rudimentary kind ,” wrote Mura, painting a picture of” bad full-backs dressed up as wingers”, playing in” three-man defences the hell is, in fact, a back five “.

Since then, however, Juventus have been in two Champions League finals and Serie A has transformed into a Wild West of attacking football. The goals are flying in at a higher rate in the Italian top flight( 2.88 per game) this season than in any of Europe’s other top five leagues. The same was true last season as well. Only one game out of 49 since the start of September has ended goalless.

After six straight titles, Juventus’s hegemony is finally under threat. Napoli have not only won their opening seven games but scored at the least three times in each. Just as Milan were elevated in the late 1980 s by a former shoe salesman, Arrigo Sacchi, so Napoli’s rise has been masterminded by a man who was working in a bank at the age of 43. Perhaps it is easier to take risks when you are doing, as Maurizio Sarri describes it,” the only chore I would do for free “.

And perhaps that boldness is catching. Serie A has not traditionally been a welcoming place for teenage talent but these days it is awash with it. Pietro Pellegri, born in 2001, was already the youngest player to take part in a Serie A game, and became the youngest to score a bracing where reference is struck twice against Lazio last month. The 19 -year-old Federico Chiesa stirs memories of his father, Enrico , at Fiorentina, and Milan, after spending more than EUR2 00 m on new signings, have started games with a homegrown teenager, Gianluigi Donnarumma, in goal and another, Patrick Cutrone, leading the attack.

It has been a challenging start to the season for the Rossoneri , beaten three times already, but the ambition shown by their new owneds, as well as those of neighbours Internazionale, has restored exuberance in the stands.

Milan attained the highest attendance for a Europa League qualifier when 65,673 fans came to see them crush Craiova. A few weeks later, 51,752 turned out to watch Inter beat Fiorentina in Serie A, the biggest crowd the Nerazzurri had achieved for an August fixture since their treble-winning campaign in 2009 -1 0.

Average attendances in Serie A are up by more than 1,500 per game from last season. The Milan clubs have played a part but so too have sides such as Napoli and Atalanta, the latter continuing to defy gravity with a core of players developed through their academy system.

We are not quite back in persons under the age of the Sette Sorelle – Seven Sisters- when Juventus, Milan, Inter, Fiorentina, Lazio, Roma and Parma were all considered legitimate title contenders. But Serie A’s pond of starrings is spread more evenly than it has been in the recent past, letting eight or nine squads to at least aspire to a place in the top four.

Dries
Dries Mertens, second left, and Napoli have shone so far this season. Photograph: Ciro Fusco/ EPA

Dries Mertens has been the greatest revelation, with 24 aims and 11 shall take part in the league since the start of 2017. But even outside the most obvious clubs, Lazio can boast Ciro Immobile- whose 13 ten-strikes this season are bettered only by Lionel Messi across Europe’s top five leagues- Torino have Andrea Belotti and Atalanta the irrepressible Papu Gomez.

Not everything is positive. Although a handful of clubs have followed Juventus’ result by either constructing stadiums or taking ownership of their existing practice, advance remains painfully slow. Figures published by KPMG prove Serie A revenues grew at a slower rate between 2011 -1 2 and 2015 -1 6 than in any of Europe’s other top leagues.

The gap between the top and bottom of the division, furthermore, has rarely seemed wider. A survey be carried out in Gazzetta dello Sport find 58% of readers in favour of reducing the number of teams in the division to 18 or even fewer.

Overall, though, there is more good than bad. The introduction of the VAR system for reviewing major refereeing decisions appears to be making a positive impact, despite some heated debate, with the number of fouls per game down across the board.

Serie A has a route to go before it can confidently call itself the most beautiful championship in the world again. But more objectives, fewer fouls and fresh talent coming through feel like a good place to start.

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Outer space: the Russia World Cup stadium with a novel seating extension

Architects working on the Ekaterinburg Arena have come up with a unique answer to the tricky question of how to fulfill World Cup minimum capacity of 35,000 spectators

World Cup stadia come in all shapes and sizes but next year’s tournament in Russia will violate new ground with fans at one venue seated outside.

Architects working on the Ekaterinburg Arena have come up with a unique answer to the tricky topic: how do you seat the Fifa-sanctioned minimum of 35,000 spectators when the stadium has a capability of many thousands less? Simply build a stand outside.

FIFA World Cup (@ FIFAWorldCup)

The Ekaterinburg Arena is beginning to look

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Facebook is not ruling out bidding for Premier League live matches

Facebook has refused to rule out entering the bidding to stream live Premier League matches following mounting speculation over a looming rights battle

Facebook has refused to rule out entering the bidding to stream live Premier League matches following mounting speculation over a looming rights battle.

Ed Woodward, Manchester United’s vice-chairman, told investors in New York last week that Facebook and Amazon were interested in the last round of Premier League rights deals for 2016 -1 9, which were sold primarily to BSkyB and BT for PS8. 4bn, and predicted that the tech companies will enter the next auction, which covers the 2019 -2 2 period.

The sale of live rights for increasingly large sums of fund has been crucial to the success of the Premier League since 1992 and England’s top clubs could prosper even more if newer media companies, eager to build business through subscriptions, decide to challenge Sky and BT’s dominance of a hugely popular market. The threat to traditional broadcasters was become clear when Amazon outbid Sky, paying a reported PS10m a year, for the UK rights to the tennis tour last month, its first major live athletic acquisition outside the US.

” The Premier League is a very important partner of ours ,” Dan Reed, Facebook’s global head of athletics partnerships, said on Wednesday.” We work with them to help them reach their audience. It would be premature to speculate on how we might approach that. But they are a very important partner. That speaks for itself. We continue to have an ongoing relationship with the Premier League .”

Reed evaded questions about whether Premier League clubs are talking up interest from Facebook and Amazon as a negotiating gambit and refused to reveal whether deliberations about rights have already taken place.” I’m not going to theorize on what or why the club in the Premier League are saying what they’re saying ,” he said.” They’re going to make their decision. We have very productive the partnership agreement with clubs in virtually every league in the world. We work with them to help build their audience and content .”

Reed said that it is difficult to imagine enter into negotiations with English clubs individually and denied that traditional broadcasters should feel threatened by Silicon Valley, citing the instance of Facebook streaming Fox Sport’s coverage of live Champions League matches.

” We aim to collaborate with broadcasters and rights holders ,” he said.” Our partnership with Fox shows that we can have a mutually beneficial relationship. Put aside streaming of games- we help broadcasters all around the world.

” We work with Fox in the US to help them to get people to tune in to events on television, which is the bedrock of our relationship with broadcasters. There are a number of examples where we assist broadcasters and we have an excellent relationship with Sky and BT in the UK .”

However there are times when Facebook will induce direct approaches to rights holders.” We aim to collaborate with broadcasters where possible, but there are also situations where we will collaborate with the rights holders ,” Reed said.

Reed explained that Facebook’s interest in sport stems from its potential to connect communities digitally and insisted that it would not veer away from its current model of streaming live events for free.” Sport is very relevant ,” he said.” It does bring people together. You can’t say about every content .”

Reed would not speculate about when Facebook would be ready to bid for important events. So far the platform has proved a more attractive locating for smaller sports looking to enhance their profile and reach new audiences.

” Some of the biggest successes come from athletics which you wouldn’t inevitably expect ,” Reed said.” We have darts and snooker on our platform and they found an audience .”

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Barcelona in the strange and symbolic eye of a storm over Catalonia | Sid Lowe

Baras nuanced identification with Catalonia is part of what devotes the club an explicitly socio-political dimension. And that meant this was always going to be more than a match even if in the end it was less than one

At every Camp Nou game for virtually six years now, chants for Catalan independence have gone up when the clock reaches 17 minutes and 14 seconds, commemorating the year the city fell to Felipe V, but not this time- not on the day the latter are perhaps closer to freedom than ever before. This time, Europe’s largest stadium was silent. No fans could be heard, only footballers. Occasionally, the referee’s whistle rang out or somebody clapped yet there were no chants , no sungs and no one to sing them. At the side of the pitch where Barcelona played Las Palmas, stewards in orange bibs lined up to keep an eye on stands that had no one in them. Ninety-eight thousand seats sat empty; scarcely got a couple of hundred people were there, and many of those wished they weren’t.

It was late Sunday morning when Barcelona’s international defender Gerard Pique therefore voted in the referendum on independence called by the Catalan government and declared illegal by the Spanish government and the constitutional courts. He, like many others, had insisted he would vote anyway so “hes having” done, shaking hands with staff at the polling station, smiling and defining off for the stadium. But while that scene was repeated in many places it wasn’t the suit everywhere and by the time he left the Camp Nou seven hours later, there were tears in his eyes. So much had happened and so much more could still happen, a future uncertain and scary. Barcelona had won 3-0 but Pique called it the worst day of his career and the worst thing the state had done in 50 years.

” The images speak for themselves ,” he said. They had gone around the world: pictures of violence and pictures of the stadium, surreal and still, gates closed in protest, fans standing outside seeming through the bars as the match was played before a television audience of millions and an actual audience of substitutes, coach-and-fours, physios, cameramen, journalists and stadium personnel. “Strange,” Sergio Busquets called it. Symbolic too- which this game was always likely to be, simply not like this.

They say athletic and politics shouldn’t mix, by which they tend to entail other people’s politics. It’s a line Spain’s secretary of state for athletic has use, and one Espanyol manager Quique Sanchez Flores recurred on Sunday night after his side were defeated 2-0 at the Bernabeu, where the 12 th minute ensure Spain flags unfurled and a rendition of Y Viva Espana in response to the referendum.” I’m not going to mix politics or athletic or take part in this indicate ,” he said, but athletic and politics do mix, especially with Barcelona, who the Marxist novelist Manuel Vazquez Montalban described as the” symbolic unarmed army of Catalonia “.

That identification with Catalonia, while nuanced, changing, unequally espoused, sometimes vague and often problematic, is part of what devotes Barca an explicitly socio-political dimension. It comes together, of course, in the slogan: mes que un club , more than a club. And that meant this was always going to be more than a match even if in the end it was less than one.

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Emotional Pique offers to end Spain career after Catalonia violence- video

In September 1976, Las Palmas came to the Camp Nou for the first Barcelona game broadcast in Catalan on Radio Barcelona. In October 1977, they were again the visitors when Barcelona invited Josep Taradellas, former head of the Catalan government, in exile since 1939, to preside over video games.” I’ll come on one condition ,” he said:” You win .” Before the match, he told advocates they shared the” same religion” he had 40 years earlier, insisting they had inherited a Barcelona” rooted in Catalanism “. Later in 1978, Las Palmas were again their foes when they won the Cup for the first time since the transition to democracy, Johan Cruyff collecting the trophy from Juan Carlos. And then on Sunday, the day of the referendum, Las Palmas arrived once more.

This time they said they didn’t want to be silent witnesses: they came here with special shirts, Spain flags stitched to their chests.

During the week, national police and civil guard had arrived in Catalonia charged with preventing a referendum that had been declared illegal. Videos proved civil guard policemen setting off to Catalonia, praised by friends and families who sang the football chant “ A por ellos !”. Roughly: run get them! Bizarrely, others had turned up at the port of Barcelona in a barge with a gigantic picture of Tweety Pie on the side. Apprehends were made, ballot papers destroyed and websites blocked, a suit for sedition brought. The government claimed to have dismantled the referendum. Of 2,315 polling stations, more than half had been sealed off, “theyre saying”. They would enforce the law, they added. We’ll still vote, came the reply. “ Votarem !” the chant.

The government said that preventing the referendum was defending republic. Not many footballers spoke but some did. Barcelona released a statement defending the right to vote; not necessarily to choose freedom but to choice.” Voting is republic !” the former Barcelona player Carles Puyol said.” Tomorrow is not about independence, it is about republic ,” Pep Guardiola insisted.” You can vote yes , no, or blank, but you vote ,” Pique said afterward.” For a long time people couldn’t vote and now it’s something we have to defend .”

People
People clash with the civil guard outside a polling station in Sant Julia de Ramis. Photo: Raymond Roig/ AFP/ Getty Images

Electoral colleges were occupied to keep them open, voting slip-ups printed privately, plastic ballot boxes brought in. In those conditions it was flawed, few guarantees offered, but it was going ahead, and while some- particularly those against secession- bided away, large numbers came out. Polling stations opened on Sunday morning and some were forcibly closed down. But by the end of a day of tension and violence that felt like a point of no return, the Catalan government said over two million people had voted, and Spain’s Interior Ministry admitted that all but 79 of the 2,315 polling stations had opened. The Camp Nou, that sounding box of Catalan sentiment, on the other hand, had not.

In some places, police in riot gear fired rubber bullets. They smashed through doorways of polling stations and took ballot box. There were charges, sticks utilized, people hurt. There was blood and balaclavas, anger and aggressivenes. Some of the images were brutal, horrifying. In some places national police tackled firemen who protected people; there were cases of confrontations between the national police force and the Catalan police.” We did what we had to do ,” the Spanish chairperson Mariano Rajoy later said. He called Spain two examples to the world, but the reaction suggested that much of the world didn’t concur. The Catalan government claimed 850 people had been hurt.

The images travelled; you’ll have assured dozens of them by now. On Sunday night, mob gathered at the Puerta del Sol in central Madrid to show support. The images had reached the Camp Nou too, where there was a protest as well, but this was different.” Sadly, I grew up in a place that’s seen similar before ,” their Basque manager Ernesto Valverde said.” We don’t live in a bubble. We’re all conscious of what happened .” In those circumstances, things changed. Barcelona’s identification with Catalonia demanded it.

The traditional pre-match snack between directors of the two clubs was cancelled and sessions were held. There were many who wanted to refuse to play. The grada de animacio , the fans behind the north aim, said the game should be called off and if it wasn’t they would ask people to invade the pitch. Rumours started going around that it would be deferred and at 1.40 pm the Catalan Football Federation announced the suspension of all games due to be played after 2pm. Barcelona-Las Palmas, kick off 4.15 pm, was one of them, but nothing explicit was said. So they waited.

If it was to be cancelled, most initially assumed it was a security issue- even though four days before, when they eventually broached the fact that, hang on, video games is on the same day as the referendum, authorities had said there would be no problem. The referee said as much in his report. Barcelona though said differently. The league said there was no security menace and refused requests to postpone the match. If Barcelona pulled out, they were informed they would automatically lose 3-0 and have a further three points taken off.

At 2.40 pm reports started circulating that it was off, but no one knew for sure. At Camp Nou, the gates were still closed to fans. The concourse around the stadium was deserted but for a handful of staff with no notion what the fuck is up, standing there awaiting. In the offices, the premise was that it was off, but nothing had yet been confirmed. At 3.14 pm, sporting director Robert Fernandez walked in.” I don’t know anything ,” he said. Another director privately said it was off. The teams, though, were already inside. Players and the board were discussing it. Most players wanted to go ahead. There was still no news and still no advocates. They waited outside. Inside, passageways were empty. At the stallings, they prepared food for fans who weren’t coming. Stewards went through the motions and hostess stood there with no one to greet.

At 3.30 pm, 45 minutes before kick-off, Jesper Cillissen came out to warm up in an empty stadium, followed soon after by Ter Stegen. Up in the directors’ box, Fernandez sat with Ariedo Braida, simply the two of them. 3.34 pm, still no idea. Down below, two members of staff strolled across carrying a board saying ” democracy” on it. It was 3.42 pm and there was no news, but the players were out now in their normal yellow-and-red-striped training tops, the colour of the Catalan flag. The thud-thud of the ball echoed around the stadium. Then, 24 minutes before kick-off, it was finally official: Barcelona would play Las Palmas, but behind closed doors.

Sid Lowe (@ sidlowe)

98, 000 empty seats. And a game that feels empty too. pic.twitter.com/ B1aSGK3JIY

October 1, 2017

” I understand that some didn’t want to play ,” Pique said afterward.” There were arguments for and against .” Two directors resigned, Jordi Mones and Carlos Villarrubi walking immediately. Josep Maria Bartomeu explained that with six points the punishment for pulling out they had decided to stay, but to play behind closed doors as a route of making a point, sending an image around the world. It was a decision in keeping with his presidency- a kind of” yeah but no” that didn’t really please anyone. As Gazetta dello Sport’s Filippo Ricci put it, ultimately the decision fulfilled neither tourist nor purist. The former left disillusioned; the latter felt that if you really are more than a club, then forget the six points. Ex-president Joan Laporta called it an “abstention”. Headlines on Monday called it a disgrace.

If not everyone concurred. Not everyone knew, either. Outside fans awaited by the gate, wondering what was going on. There were 13 minutes to run until kick-off but the loud speakers there bided silent. Journalists has broken the bad news. Then at 4.05 pm, an announcement was at last made and the supporters headed home. They’d waited a long time for nothing.

At 4.13 pm, Barcelona’s anthem blared out. The referee came out of the passageway and picked up the ball from that absurd plinth, hurriedly hurling down the one “hes having” in his hand, and the players followed. Echoing round, the anthem opens with the line:” The whole stadium cheers; we’re the blue and claret people .” When it closed, a” brave yell “, the place fell silent and the whistle ran, heard by all. There was no one in stands, where the mes que un club slogan sat exposed. The directors’ box lay empty. The committee watched it from somewhere inside. So did the players’ families, a lift-load of children leaving together at the end.

Every shout was audible. A free-kick was greeted with” oh, so you give this one ?”, there was something about a” mother’s shell”, and the standard call of any park anywhere: get off, push up, human on, quick, that’s it, near post , no pollute, good. There’s something odd about actually hearing someone holler:” Leo! Leo! Here, Leo !” at Messi. Something odd about it all. Something sad too, a kind of what’s the point when it’s like this ? But it was fascinating too. You could close your eyes and more or less follow video games, imagining the kind of pass delivered by the noise, the ball struck or stroked. Phwump or tac .

From way, style up, you could hear Messi get hit, and the fulfilling audio of his free-kicks being saved: leather then latex on the ball. From route down there they could hear the radio commentators screaming when Busquets scored. And when Messi got the second and third there was gentle applause from a ballboy behind the goal. Suddenly, somehow, in an empty stadium there was also person operating on the pitch, swiftly removed by stewards. He appeared to be wearing an freedom shirt and carrying a piece of paper. With barely seconds to run Luis Suarez put a shot wide. His shriek rolled round the seats and he tore at his shirt, ripping it wide open and walking off. Somehow it didn’t seem to matter so much on an empty stage, like this didn’t really count. But the three points did- which was why they played. Perhaps sport did trump politics? At the end, the players shook hands but didn’t swap shirts and left quietly.

At the end , it says there. Could this be the end? The beginning of the end, anyway.

An
An empty net and empty seats as Messi ratings. Photo: Aflo/ Rex/ Shutterstock

By late evening, the Catalan government announced that 2,262, 422 referendums had been cast; 2,020, 144 of them voting Yes to independence. On Sunday morning Marca had led with a front cover-up depicting Neymar and Cavani embracing insisting that it is never too late to sort things out. Perhaps they should have used Pique and Ramos, for a start, and by Sunday night, it felt more difficult than ever.” This was not a referendum, it was just a demonstrate ,” Rajoy said. He said the responsibility lay solely with those who had brought the referendum, defying the law. He also belatedly talked about dialogue, but something changed and that feels further away than ever. Although those voting figures are flawed- general elections had already been suggested that Catalonia is divided on such issues, split almost exactly down the middle- Puigdemont says it is a mandate and that a unilateral statement of independence may follow in 48 hours.

Then what? How does the Spanish state react? And what happens next? And what happens to Catalonia’s football teams? It doesn’t matter, you might believe, but it does. Perhaps more than it should. It has been a recurring topic in recent years, a question asked over and over. The president of the league says that in the event of independence, they would not be able to play in La Liga. Some of them didn’t want to play on Sunday.” We discussed it ,” Pique said.” After everything that happened today in Catalonia and the pictures, which speak for themselves, the violence that everyone has seen, it was very hard to play without our fans .”

As he spoke, his voice began to break. He left just before 7pm. Although he offered to step aside if the manager thinks he is a problem, Pique will arrive in Madrid, to play for Spain.” I truly believe there are loads of people in Spain who are totally against this and believes in democracy ,” he said.” There has been no act of aggressivenes[ from Catalonia] and the national police and the civil guard had to come and act the style they have.

” I think this will stimulate things much worse. It’s one of the worst decisions in 50 years, and it will only separate Spain and Catalonia more. I’m very proud of Catalonia and all its people. They were peaceful, they didn’t react. I’d tell them to keep doing it the same. However much they are incited, however much they want them to fall into the trap, remain peaceful and sing, sing loud .”

Talking points

* So, just the 34 goals this week, then.

* For a few moments, Madrid lived a little dangerously against Espanyol. A shooting against the post before half-time ushered in a second half when they suffered and, although they had a one-goal result, you wondered if they might even go a fourth league game at home without a win. But just as the pressure built, there was Isco again to score his second.” It was about day we won at the Bernabeu ,” he said.

* Real Sociedad ultimately transgressed a run of four consecutive games in which they confessed three- by letting in four. Still, at the least they scored four as well, in a wet, wild and wonderful match with Real Betis at Anoeta which ran from 0-1 to 1-1 and from 2-1 to 2-3, then 3-3, 3-4 in the 84 th minute and 4-4 in the 85 th. And it could have been 4-5 as well, when Sergio Leon, who’d belted in the 3-4, raced away at the very end and was brought down on the edge of the area.

Sociedad
Sociedad defender Diego Llorente celebrates after scoring. Photo: Javier Etxezarreta/ EPA

* ” New director, certain victory ,” they say. Then again, they say a lot of things. This time, though, they were almost right. Pako Ayesteran’s Las Palmas were beaten at the Camp Nou but there were debut victories for Calleja at Villarreal, where Bakambu scored a hat-trick against Eibar, and for Alaves’s new director Di Biasi. Their win over Levante gets them off the mark … and off the bottom.” It doesn’t always work like that, but today it did ,” he said. It’s Malaga who are bottom now.” We’re not playing so badly as to only have a phase but we have to accept the reality ,” Michel said.” The numbers are horrible .”

* ” I’ve saved a match ball ,” Pepe Mel acknowledged. Florin Andone saved it for him with three minutes to go.

* Malaga were beaten 2-0 by Sevilla, who are now second without altogether convincing. Mind you, it was hot: 36 degrees at the Sanchez Pizjuan.” You don’t have to be a genius to know that you can’t play a game in Sevilla at four o’clock ,” Berizzo said.” And it’s not even the players who are at the greatest danger: the fans spent 3 hour in the oven .”

* Atletico couldn’t rating at Butarque for the second season in a row. And the main reason it finished 0-0 again was Jan Oblak.

* Time to take Valencia seriously.” We’re get full marks, but there’s a long way to go ,” Marcelino said when they are won 3-2 against Athletic, for whom Aduriz scored a gorgeous objective. That was not all he said. He also nailed international week:” It gives you life ,” he said.” I get out of here, get at Asturias, forget it all for a few days .”

Results : Celta 3-3 Girona, Deportivo 2-1 Getafe, Sevilla 2-0 Malaga, Levante 0-2 Alaves, Leganes 0-0 Atletico, Real Sociedad 4-4 Betis, Barcelona 3-0 Las Palmas, Villarreal 3-0 Eibar, Valencia 3-2 Athletic, Real Madrid 2-0 Espanyol.

Pos Team P GD Pts
1 Barcelona 7 21 21
2 Sevilla 7 6 16
3 Valencia 7 8 15
4 Atletico Madrid 7 8 15
5 Real Madrid 7 7 14
6 Real Betis 7 3 13
7 Leganes 7 2 11
8 Real Sociedad 7 0 10
9 Villarreal 7 0 10
10 Levante 7 -2 9
11 Celta Vigo 7 2 8
12 Getafe 7 2 8
13 Athletic Bilbao 7 0 8
14 Espanyol 7 -4 8
15 Deportivo La Coruna 7 -7 7
16 Girona 7 -5 6
17 Las Palmas 7 -8 6
18 Eibar 7 -1 4 6
19 Alaves 7 -7 3
20 Malaga 7 -1 2 1

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Marouane Fellaini double sinks Crystal Palace as Manchester United march on

Two aims from Marouane Fellaini helped Manchester United to their fourth 4-0 victory in the Premier League this season as they outclassed Crystal Palace, who are still was striving to score their first league objective of the campaign.

The only good news for Roy Hodgson was that his second visit to Manchester in a week did not result in another 5-0 scoreline. It could have done but Manchester United were not exactly running flat out here. There was simply no require. That is the bad news for stricken Crystal Palace. There is so much of it that it is hard to know where to start.

Probably the third minute, by which hour United had taken the leading and the visiting manager was already gazing glassy-eyed into space in the manner perfected with England last summer.

A sublime turning by Marcus Rashford on the left wing had sent Joel Ward so far in the wrong direction that the Palace full-back practically had to pay to get back in, and left free to cut in along the goalline the England forward had the time and composure to look up and find Juan Mata awaiting near the penalty place for a objective to mark his 200 th Premier League appearance.

In truth the game went a bit flat after such a sparkling start, with Palace doing their damage limitation progressing well and keeping two disciplined defensive lines behind the ball. It took United half an hour to find a way through, though when they did the hazard again came from the left. This time it was Ashley Young in an advanced posture, easily avoiding Andros Townsend’s token resistance to send over a cross to the far post, where Marouane Fellaini was able to sweep in a close-range volley.

Palace built it to the interval without further mishap, yet in the 10 first-half minutes that remained after Fellaini’s goal United could easily have doubled their leading. Rashford struck a post just before the violate, but the passageway of play that best summed up the undertaking facing Hodgson came got a couple of minutes earlier, when Townsend needlessly conceded a corner because he could not find a team-mate to assist him out, and Chris Smalling missed the target at the far post with a free header from Mata’s cross. All Palace had managed by way of attack in the first period was a shot from their stand-in striker Bakary Sako that David de Gea beat away, though it was significant that even when United stimulated mistakes at the back, such as the clearance from the goalkeeper that went straight to Jeffrey Schlupp, their adversaries were too timid to take advantage.

Hodgson’s second half began as badly as his first, with whatever he had said to his players in the dressing room rendered irrelevant by the free-kick Rashford arrowed into the area for Fellaini to score his second with a header on the six-yard line. Wayne Hennessey had to get down low to stop Young adding a fourth a few minutes later, after Palace had instead dozily permitted the left back to arrive unchallenged in the field to accept a short corner.

Any semblance of a contest over, the only questions that remained as video games went into its final half hour were whether Palace might manage their first aim of the season and whether Romelu Lukaku could violate Louis Saha’s record by scoring in each of his first seven league games. One of those potentials seemed much more likely than the other, but Lukaku seemed to have missed his big chance when the ball transgressed to him off Jesse Lingard and he put a low shot the wrong side of a post, with the crowd so confident of his finishing prowess a objective was already being acclaimed.

That left Palace a window of opportunity but though Townsend went close with a free-kick from a long way out, it was not that close and Lukaku had the last laugh when Ander Herrera and Anthony Martial presented him with an unmissable chance five minutes from time.

So United aimed up visiting the upper part of the table after scoring four for a fourth time in September, while pointless and goalless Palace must sit out the international breaking on the bottom with Chelsea to come when Premier League fixtures resume.

It is perfectly true, as Hodgson pointed out, that a team in Palace’s position is bound to miss players of the calibre of Wilfried Zaha and Christian Benteke, though at the end of a one-sided game one was left wondering what the gap between the sides might have been like had United been able to call upon Paul Pogbaand not had a Champions League trip to Moscow in midweek.

” We’re Crystal Palace, we score when we want ,” was the defiant chant from the travelling supporters. If only it were true.

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Tomer Hemed sinks Newcastle as Brighton grab much-needed win

Hemeds strike proved to be the difference as Brighton beat Newcastle

If Brighton& Hove Albion get relegated this season it will not be for a lack of courage, focus or determination. This narrowest of home wins against a team who were technically their better is likely to be celebrated in this part of the south coast, though probably only briefly. The next test, at Arsenal next Sunday, is only around the corner.

Tomer Hemed’s dextrous second-half volley was enough to separate the home side from a Newcastle United who had come into the match after three consecutive wins and left it remind ourselves the fine margins of Premier League football. For Brighton, meanwhile, it was back-to-back victories at the Amex Stadium.

Controversy after the match centred on Hemed, who had appeared to stamp on DeAndre Yedlin during a defensive spell and jostle Chancel Mbemba in the build up to his goal. If found guilty of special stamps, he could face a three-match retrospective outlaw. Others might argue, however, that a highly presentable chance passed up by Hemed’s opposite number, Joselu, had a more important influence on the match.

” I’m delighted with the win but also very pleased with the manner of it ,” a typically tranquil Chris Hughton said after the match.” Once we got the goal it was very difficult because you either press for the ball and leave space or you stay compact and they get a lot of the ball .” Albion, as is Hughton’s style, opted for the latter option and it ran.” We had to defend well to win this game and I thought we did .”

These two sides know each other well, of course, having contested a two-horse race for the title in the Championship last season. Both Hughton and Rafael Benitez acknowledged that there is not much to choose between them; not in personnel, attitude or even formation.

” They’re quite similar in the way they play, a 4-4 -1-1, though they probably have a bit more pace off the front than we have ,” Hughton said.” It was nice to win but they’d look at the fact they’re still two points ahead of us in the table .”

It was perhaps an acknowledgement of the speed provided by Christian Atsu and Matt Ritchie that Brighton were happy to play on the transgres, even during the opening exchanges. That was where the space was however, and when Anthony Knockaert determined Solly March in room on the left in the 11 th minute, the first big chance of the match followed. March whipped the ball across the face of objective where it eventually fell to Pascal Gross on the edge of the box. With the goal at his compassion, the German advanced on to the ball and drove his shot fiercely into Knockaert’s back.

Ten minutes later and Newcastle had contrived an even more glaring miss. It was a sweet move, flowing all the way from their own box with Mikel Merino robbing Knockaert, then advancing the ball to Atsu who drove inside and out at the Brighton defence before slipping in Ayoze Perez for the cross.

Perez discovered his fellow Spaniard on the edge of the six-yard box. Joselu, who contrived a series of glaring misses against Stoke last week, rolled his marker cleverly, spun on the ball and pushed his shot well wide of the far post.

From that phase the first half declined. Gross put get paid to a well-worked counterattack with a six-yard pass straight to Ciaran Clark. Perez shot over from close range when teed up by Chancel Mbemba. When the half-time whistle ran, Hughton had a face like thunder.

Within six minutes of the restart, however, Brighton had the all-important opening goal. It came from a setpiece on the left-hand side of the Newcastle box, driven deep by Gross. Dale Stephens fulfilled the ball unmarked at the back post and nodded it back across goal where it skewed through a defender’s legs and up to chest height. With barely any time to react, Hemed managed to meet the ball both on the turning and on the volley and flashed it into the roof of the net.

Newcastle did not look like their gameplan had been thrown out of the window, they remained calm and composed. But they were lacking the alacrity to penetrate a Brighton defence that had been happy to invite them on to them in the first place. For their portion, Brighton’s counterattacks- even with half an hour remaining- were now largely seen as opportunities to run the ball into the corner.

Benitez argued afterwards that Hemed had shoved Mbemba as the initial ball came over the box.” It’s a player who is moving and pushing , not person standing still ,” he said. But he also acknowledged that his squad needed to create more with the ball, especially after going behind.

” We did some good things, we had some chances. But we have to learn from this defeat. You have to be stronger in defense if you want a clean sheet in the Premier League and you have to take your chances. It’s a pity with so much control at the end we didn’t make better opportunities .”

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Tottenham hang on to beat West Ham with 10 men after Harry Kane double

Harry Kanes doubling and a goal from Christian Eriksen had Tottenham cruising at the London Stadium but West Ham almost claimed a describe after Serge Auriers red card, going down 3-2

On a slow-burn afternoon at the London Stadium, West Ham United summoned a late, doomed charge, but Tottenham Hotspur were always just about beyond their reach. Slaven Bilic’s rejigged squad scored two late headed objectives, the last after Serge Aurier had been sent off with 20 minutes to go, depicting a belated crackling of noise from the home mob. By the end a 3-2 scoreline had a hopeful gloss. The problem for West Ham was that by the time they started to play the game had already been put to bed by foes who were simply a class apart.

Spurs had started cagily, perhaps expecting a little lunchtime derby ferocity, before realising with half an hour run that they were pushing at an open door. At which point Harry Kane scored twice in the space of four minutes as Tottenham demonstrated the best use of their high-speed attacking gears, both goals coming from a turnover in midfield, both finished ruthlessly.

Afterwards Mauricio Pochettino said he was ” in love” with his centre-forward, which is still bud under his hand. Kane currently has 11 objectives in his last five Premier League away games and eight in all rivalries since August turned to September. He could have had four here without ever really seeming to widen himself that much.

On a somewhat clammy autumn day in east London both teams started with three at the back and a pair of roving wing-backs. For Spurs the presence of Moussa Sissoko as a kind of false No7-cum-right-sided something-or-other left Eric Dier the only dedicated central midfielder. It appeared a somewhat strange, and indeed untranscribable, 3-2-1-2-1-1 formation, albeit one that West Ham never actually tested when it might have mattered most.

The game took a while to thrum up through the gears. Spurs had their best moments down the Sissoko-Aurier right flank, which was also the source of the most glaring miss of video games after 20 minutes. Sissoko’s neat pass inside a square West Ham defence dedicated Aurier space to fizz a low hard cross that Kane miskicked in front of an open goal.

With 26 minutes run Andy Carroll came on for Michail Antonio, who seemed to have twanged his groin. It was a change that shifted the dynamic of West Ham’s attack, and not in a good way. Antonio can run all day, a relentless bullocking presence. These days Carroll tends to unsheathe his elbows, find a nice part of the attacking half and put his towel down there for the rest of the afternoon.

Just past the half-hour mark the game began to wake up, Sissoko and Mark Noble bumping chests and screaming into each other’s faces after Noble had slid in a little roughly after a loose ball. Three minutes later Kane opened the scoring. There was a beautiful severity to the move, with four touches from the centre circle to back of the net. Christian Eriksen played an instant pass to set Dele Alli in space. He took a touch, crossed and Kane flashed a header into the corner.

Moments later it was two. This time the move came down the right, Jan Vertonghen striding away from Carroll’s limp challenge and defining Alli galloping off into space. Joe Hart’s block sent the ball straight to Kane’s feet. He had time to stop, yawn and roll the ball into the net. It was not a disastrous goal to confes, just strangely sloppy and loose, a combination of half-hearted, low-pressure interventions and a lack of pace in that West Ham back three.

For a while in the early stages of the second half it was hard to believe a Premier League match was actually taking place, as half the stadium seemed to be determining its style back from the refreshment galleries, a football stadium that at times in practice seems like a vast, craning, cantilevered act of dilution.

For a while this became the Alli-Eriksen show, Spurs’ two most impish creative players observing space in awkward regions. Alli was tripped outside the area. Kane reached the post with a fiercely spanked free-kick, and from Aurier’s deflected cross Eriksen placed the ball low into the corner past Hart to make it 3-0.

West Ham pulled one back with 25 minutes to go, Javier Hernandez heading in at the back post after Jose Fonte’s flick. It was a classic piece of poaching, Hernandez’s first shot at aim, and merely his 20 th touch of the ball.

Finally we had something that resembled in shape and sound a London derby, as West Ham set about Spurs with a little intent. Aurier was sent off, depicting a second amber for a hack on Carroll from behind. Cheikhou Kouyate headed in from the replace Arthur Masuaku’s fine cross, and by the end West Ham might even have snatched a point. This, though, was a game that was lost in that half-speed opening, and killed off by Kane’s lovable, cold-eyed precision.

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‘Sunil Gulati has an agenda to stay in power in US Soccer and that is it’

Eric Wynalda, the former USA forward turned commentator, exposes he is ready to roll up his sleeves and challenge Sunil Gulati for the role of US Soccer president

Eric Wynalda doesn’t yet know if he will run for president of the United States Soccer Federation next year but he does know something has to change at the upper part of the athletic in America.

Wynalda, apparently, is not alone. After 11 unchallenged years as USSF president, incumbent Sunil Gulati is currently facing at the least two- and perhaps more- declared challengers at an election in February.

Wynalda comes with a broad view on the state of the American game. A Hall of Famer with more than 100 appearances for the men’s national squad, his 34 goals made him all-time resulting goalscorer until Landon Donovan violated that record in 2007. Now 48, he was the first American to play in the Bundesliga before Jurgen Klinsmann stimulated that cool- if not mandatory- and scored the first-ever aim in Major League Soccer. He is a coach-and-four and now known as a TV pundit with Fox Sports.

” I’ve stood back for two decades waiting for things to get better ,” Wynalda says.” What I’ve realise is that there is not a whole lot of people who are willing or even wanting to invoke change. Out of moral obligation, I suppose I’m eventually at the point where I’m asking,’ What can I do to help ?’ I don’t want to tweet something or write an article or start a fight. I want to roll up my sleeves .”

Eric
Eric Wynalda in his heyday for the United States soccer team. Photograph: Monica M Davey/ AFP/ Getty Images

Disquiet about Gulati’s leadership has been growing in the broader football community, heightened by the tepid performance of the men’s national squad under Klinsmann and deja vu successor Bruce Arena- both handpicked by Gulati. While on-field results can’t be directly attributed to a human who teaches economics at Columbia University for his day chore, they can be a symptom of deeper issues, according to Wynalda.

” I’ve had at least 50 calls from people encouraging me to run ,” Wynalda says.” Not merely people on Twitter who are interested promotion and relegation and want the[ USSF] house of cards to autumn. I’ve heard from people who want to know how we can induce football better in this country .”

The success of soccer in the US, Wynalda says, should not just be measured by participating interest and revenue streams if that doesn’t translate to broader development and evolution.

” Just because the masses are playing the athletic, they suppose success is going to magically happen some day by accident ,” Wynalda says.” Sometimes it does- a Clint Dempsey, Landon Donovan, or Christian Pulisic happens- but that is not good enough. Coming 18 th at a World Cup is not a success story .”

Off the field, Gulati can claim the federation’s good financial position, its influence within Concacaf and Fifa, and the 2026 joint World Cup bid, in his favor. He has also successfully avoided any USSF links to the Fifa corruption scandal despite Department of Justice indictments nailing individuals doing business in or from the US right under the snout of his organization.

Gulati was close to the late Chuck Blazer, the corrupt former Fifa vice-president and Concacaf general secretary who turned FBI informer, and has never clarified the dynamic of that relationship or if he has been interviewed in ongoing DoJ and Swiss investigations conducted by football corruption.

While Wynalda contemplates whether to make a move, Boston attorney Steve Gans has declared he wants Gulati’s undertaking. Gans said in a recent interview with the Washington Post that the state of the game” feelings more like 1989 or 90″. Also operating is Paul Lapointe, a Massachusetts-based former indoor soccer squad owned, while John Motta- another New Englander- is a US Soccer board member holding a challenge.

Motta is president of the United States Adult Soccer Association( guess amateur players ), a Dunkin’ Donuts franchise mogul and the only person to ever defeat Gulati in an election. In 1998, Motta beat Gulati, then an MLS deputy commissioner, in a election to elect a USSF vice-president. Still, Gulati persisted. Eight year later he was elected USSF president.

Of course, Gulati has not yet signalled whether he even intends to run again but the entice of four more years at US Soccer- especially if it wins hosting rights for the 2026 World Cup- is powerful, even more so with Gulati’s elected posture on Fifa’s perk-heavy council. However, an option mooted by some insiders is for Gulati to step aside and usher in US Soccer vice-president Carlos Cordeiro, a former Goldman Sachs executive, as his status quo successor.

Wynalda believes Gulati’s time as an unchallenged leader is over and, as every economic prof knows, the theory is that competitor breeds innovation and success.

” I don’t think it is healthy[ to have someone in charge for 11 years] unless there is a clear vision or a plan ,” Wynalda says.

” Right now, it is just one guy who not only professes to be the smartest guy in the room and has an answer for every single question you hurl at him but he has an agenda and that is why there is a lot of people saying enough is enough. His agenda is to stay in power and that is it .”

Wynalda adds:” People are no longer simply interested or curious about football in the US. They are passionate. This is the moment to genuinely give these people who are in love with the game a better product .”

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