The Winter Olympics, Empty Stadiums, and the Redrawing of Russian Football History

By Domm Norris

More so than any other nation across Europe, politics is a powerful beast in Russian society, and its influence has had a significant impact upon the way in which football has evolved throughout the post-Soviet era. Recent reports of political strength may have been focused on the Black Sea, but such developments also look set to inflict further lasting damage upon the face of football. Kuban Krasnodar are currently under the spotlight as reports surface of a radical reshaping of football in the city, which is as much about filling expensive voids in far-off locations, as working to protect the future of one of the country’s most beloved clubs.

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Words Unsaid: Looking at the Europa League Theme

By David Rudin

At some point in the early 1990s, back when wins at the World Cup were still worth two points, goalkeepers were still allowed to handle back passes, and UEFA was still headquartered in a squat concrete complex on Bern’s Jupiterstrasse, the powers that be in European football gathered together and decided that a footballing competition wasn’t really a footballing competition without an anthem. 

For the Champions League’s 1992 debut, UEFA therefore commissioned Tony Britten to pen its anthem. The English composer set the French, German, and English words for “champions” to the tune of Handel’s “Zadok the Priest.” This grandiose mélange was then recorded by London’s Philharmonic Orchestra and the Academy of St Martin in the Fields Chorus. Thus, “Champions League” was born.

Like a national anthem, “Champions League” is more flattering than honest. It sidesteps the competition’s lack of history with a score that predates the invention of association football by 140 years. Lyrics like “The best teams/The Champions” gloss over the inclusion of multiple entrants per nation. The London Philharmonic Orchestra’s cultural cachet helps to mitigate UEFA’s crass commercialism. Tony Britten’s anthem is UEFA’s description of the Champions League: prestigious, rich in history, and exclusive.

The Europa League is a footballing competition and, as a footballing competition, it must have an anthem. 

But how do you describe the Europa League?

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Goalscorers don’t sit on benches and neither should Huntelaar

By Mohamed Moallim

It’s reached the point where Klaas-Jan Huntelaar is no longer frustrated; this summer will be his fourth successive tournament with Oranje, under a third different manager, but Huntelaar’s situation remains the same. If not for Robin van Persie he would be the undisputed Dutch ‘number nine’.
Huntelaar or Van Persie intensified during the build up to Euro 2012. It turned into a debate that divided the nation. The former came out on top in every newspaper poll; however the opinion that mattered belonged to then manager Bert van Marwijk, his decision was already made, opting for Van Persie, off the back of a breathless season in England even if Huntelaar matched him stride for stride in Germany.
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It was a second chance. Van Persie led the line in South Africa but finished with one goal same as Huntelaar despite starting every game. “Of course I’m angry and disappointed,” Huntelaar said after learning of the news from Van Marwijk after a training session days before the tournament. He had every right, one reason supporters backed him was because of his record, Huntelaar scored 15 goals in his last 17 games prior to Euro 2012. Van Persie managed the same amount in his last 26 games spanning three years.
No stranger to adversity, his mental toughness was forged at PSV, opportunities were limited but it didn’t stop him from learning from the clubs finest: Van Nistelrooy, Luc Nilis and Mateja Kežman. It paid dividends. The last decade seen him morph into a modern predator turned all-rounder (part-playmaker, part-finisher) – adding distinctive traits of the three: Van Nistelrooy’s finishing, Nilis’ ingenuity and Kežman’s fearlessness – every game he cuts an impassive figure, mind focused, void of distraction and feeling every fibre geared for a single purpose. Once that mission is done the child in him escapes but just as quickly his mask goes back up and the cycle starts again.
To say goals is an obsession would be an understatement. It’s compulsive. His one addiction “when you hear it [ball hitting the net] you spend the whole of the next week longing to hear it again,” Huntelaar told UEFA.com. “It’s like the elixir of life.” 
Louis van Gaal, current Oranje boss, described him as the best inside the penalty area “bar none”. But Huntelaar is much more. His all-round game – awareness, vision, movement and link-up play – stands out greater than it has done before. Huntelaar’s natural game centres around an innate ability to score just about every type of goal, often in the most unlikely of situations, whether creating for himself or finishing a team effort – it can be ugly or laced with finesse – his ambidexterity makes it easier as well as being acrobatic and dominant in the air.
The city of Gelsenkirchen, after a two year odyssey in southern Europe, has reinvigorated him. In the bright lights of the Bundesliga [first Dutchman to win the ‘kicker Torjägerkanone’ – top scorer in 2011-12] he’s showing the form that first brought him to widespread attention at Heerenveen then Ajax eight years ago: a ruthless goal-scoring machine that drew comparisons with premier Dutch marksmen of yesteryear including Marco van Basten, who in spite of growing pressure resisted calling him up for a place in his World Cup 2006 squad.
Instead ‘De Hunter’, that summer, went to the U21 European Championships in Portugal where he spearheaded the Dutch to their first title. A few months later Huntelaar made his international debut in Dublin scoring a brace. It would be another seven games before adding to his tally. He’s never looked back since.
His time with Real Madrid and AC Milan respectively is often looked back on as a failure, but in reality he was a victim of circumstance. Huntelaar arrived in Madrid as Bernd Schuster, the manager that wanted him, was leaving. His successor Juande Ramos saw him as an unwanted €27M welcome present. But when push came to shove, true to form, Huntelaar proved his worth in goals: eight in his first five appearances. Florentino Pérez’s return in the summer of 2009 ended a brief six-month stay.
It was no different in Milan the following campaign; manager Leonardo preferring Marco Borriello and Filippo Inzaghi instead, however there were glimpses most notably a stupendous brace in injury time away to Catania and penultimate goal away to Cagliari a fantastic left-footed drive from 20+ yards out, another example faith in him would be rewarded, exactly what Schalke has done.
Felix Magath gave him a platform as well as a supporting cast, Huub Stevens and Jens Keller as well, the latter describing him as “class” (no pun intended). His recent goal against Hertha BSC was his 275th at club level; since his return from a knee injury that robbed him four months of this season, he’s scored 10 times from 13 games played. ‘HunTORlaar’: a befitting moniker.
Another is ‘Hunter der Nation’. Huntelaar, to his credit, at one stage – despite never being considered first choice in six years as an international – was close to breaking Oranje’s all-time goals record held by Patrick Kluivert which Van Persie subsequently broke. However, if we look at goal-to-minute ratio, only the legendary Faas Wilkes (one every 99) betters Huntelaar (one every 101). Van Persie, in comparison, one every 143. But the Manchester United striker ability and dynamism is unquestionable. Van Persie – now skipper – barring an injury should start in their World Cup opener against Spain [June 13]. “No, it doesn’t bother me,” Huntelaar recently told Sp!ts. “Of course I have ambitions, but it is what it is.” 
Van Gaal, not one to admit, subscribes to Johan Cruyff’s ‘conflict model’:  an individual should be encouraged to prove his manager wrong. There’s a player at his disposal – in what could be his last major tournament – determined (who can grab a goal out of nowhere). And that bodes well for Oranje.

 This piece was written by Mohamed Moallim, our resident Dutch expert. Follow him on twitter @jouracule. Comments below please.

Goalscorers don’t sit on benches and neither should Huntelaar

By Mohamed Moallim

It’s reached the point where Klaas-Jan Huntelaar is no longer frustrated; this summer will be his fourth successive tournament with Oranje, under a third different manager, but Huntelaar’s situation remains the same. If not for Robin van Persie he would be the undisputed Dutch ‘number nine’.

Huntelaar or Van Persie intensified during the build up to Euro 2012. It turned into a debate that divided the nation. The former came out on top in every newspaper poll; however the opinion that mattered belonged to then manager Bert van Marwijk, his decision was already made, opting for Van Persie, off the back of a breathless season in England even if Huntelaar matched him stride for stride in Germany.

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Jonathan Reis: A Cautionary Tale for Would-be Ronaldos

By Kristian Heneage

For some players, their story is written on the pitch, hero or villain, infamy or inspiration, their career is defined by what they produce on the field. Brazilian striker Jonathan Reis has not been so fortunate. A player that seemed at one point destined to succeed compatriots Romario and Ronaldo as PSV Eindhoven’s star Brazilian, too much of his career has been spent trying to beat his demons rather than defenders. 

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The Fight Against Racism Rises in Japan

Let’s not parse words: when headlines related to racism in football make the rounds, it’s understandable to assume the story must be related to one of the countries that’s been associated with racism in the past. Russia, Italy, Poland, maybe even the Ukraine… but Japan? Really?

Earlier this month, fans of prominent J-League club, Urawa Red Diamonds, unfurled a banner that read Japanese Only near the entrance to a dedicated fan section. Targeting foreigners, the banner is the latest in a string of incidents related to the club, coming on the back of discriminatory chants towards South Korean and Brazilian players, and most recently towards their own Tadanari Lee, a South Korean-born forward who plays for the Japanese National Team. Still worse is the fact that team management were made aware of the banner during the match, but neglected to force its removal, concluding that there was no racist intent in the banner’s message. 

Rather than wait the storm brought about by global media coverage, the J-League responded with a substantial punishment: a one-game supporter ban for the Red Diamonds, effectively forcing them to play in front of an empty stadium during a recent fixture.

In a nation where right-wing nationalism is being pushed by hard-line Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe, a man who has done everything but officially deny the Nanjing Massacre, this is certainly a strong message. That said, while some might suggest that recent headlines coming out of Japan involving anti-South Korean graffiti and government-sanctioned revisions of Japan’s history suggest a widespread trend, the reality is that those on the fringe are often the loudest. 

Here’s to the J-League for making their voice heard, and taking a heavy stance against racism. [Posted by Maxi

A Monument to Losing: The Importance of World Cup Heartbreak

By Zack Goldman

No feeling is more coveted in football than World Cup triumph.

But, is there any one more fascinating—or important—as World Cup heartbreak? 

In any tournament, it’s only natural that the language and tone that we use to discuss the event is elevated and inflated.  This is especially true during the World Cup.  No matter how banal any loss may appear—it’s not just a loss.  It’s billed as a death.

It’s that moment when hearts, full of hope, founder—going down with the wreckage of a cup dream sailing smoothly only breaths earlier.  The moment when thoughts of “oh?” turn to “oh no” and then, emptily, just to “oh.”

That’s not to say achievements in the World Cup are only measured by winning the whole thing—or even winning games at all—but it is to say that there is something deeply sonorous and bleak that comes with being knocked out.

Yet, if one of football—and, indeed, sport’s—truest beauties is that it provides a vehicle for sharing the power of an emotion with others, then the importance of losing is the essence of that virtue more than victory.

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Dissecting Paulino - Barça’s first and the Philippines’ last goalscoring machine

By Gustavo Gutiérrez-Mercado 

He is, alongside Hidetoshi Nakata and Ji-Sung Park, one of the finest footballers the Far East has given to the world. Chronicles of that time describe him as a skilful forward; thin, but strong-legged. Paulino Alcántara, product of the marriage between a Spanish soldier and a Filipina, was born in Iloilo City, the Philippines, on 1896; two years prior to the independence of the archipelago from Spain and subsequent occupation by the U.S.

Although registers from the era don’t give away a precise date, Alcántara moved to Barcelona alongside his family at the beginning of the 20th century; being that same city where he started and ended his footballing career. But what’s so remarkable about him?

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Lucas Moura, 14 months later

By Ross Mackiewicz

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Greenpeace vs Gazprom: The Conclusion - Part 5

A tactical analysis of the utilisation of environmental tifosi to combat Arctic drilling in the Champions League’s most important fixture. Read the whole series here.

By Jake Cohen

With regards to quantifying the success Greenpeace has achieved thus far, I asked Ian Duff if Greenpeace had specific figures on how many donations the organisation received as a result of the Champions League campaign, but Greenpeace doesn’t track donations like that.

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