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Women’s Euros Offer a Soccer Free-for-All


That old, familiar feeling crackled and fizzed into the nice and cozy night air as 20,000 fans streamed out of Elland Road last Friday. England had just dismantled the reigning European champion. A significant tournament, on home turf, was only a number of days away. The weeks ahead appeared to glisten with promise.

England, by now, should know just how dangerous that feeling is. June is nothing but treachery and illusion. It’s when July arrives, bringing with it the piercing light of high summer, that each one of that faith and hope have an unerring tendency to curdle into disappointment and regret. Those flags, brandished so proudly, invariably fall limp in the warmth.

There are definitely reasons to imagine that this 12 months can be different. An abundance of them. England’s women’s team, without query, arrives at Euro 2022 as a real candidate to win its first major international honor.

Its strengths are so many and varied that it almost seems disparaging to indicate that it has home-field advantage and might expect the backing of raucous, capability crowds. No player would dare say it, but when England emerges triumphant from the European women’s championship that begins next week, it is going to not be due to the eagerness of the general public however the talent and experience of the squad.

Its Dutch coach, Sarina Wiegman, knows her path to glory; she led her homeland to this title five years ago. It has a team filled with players who feature often on the earth’s best competitions. It has a recent track record of traveling deep into the ultimate stages of tournaments.

“Watching those last half-hour, teams can be very frightened,” Mark Parsons, the coach of the Netherlands, said after his side was picked apart at Elland Road. “England can be favorites for the tournament.” He is correct. There may be a convincing argument that Wiegman and her players not only can end the subsequent month triumphant, but that they need to.

The issue is that the identical applies to quite a number of of England’s opponents within the tournament. A similarly compelling argument may very well be made for Spain, a team constructed around the celebs of Barcelona’s all-conquering side and one which boasts at its heart Alexia Putellas, widely considered the best female player on the planet.

The Netherlands, too, shouldn’t be taken flippantly, despite its defeat in Leeds. It has been only three years since — under Wiegman’s command — the Dutch were competing within the World Cup final. Vivianne Miedema, Lieke Martens, Danielle van de Donk and the remaining have hardly regressed since.

It will not be quite a 12 months since a Swedish team, bristling with experience, was competing within the Olympic final. Though it missed out on gold against Canada, the way wherein Peter Gerhardsson’s team swatted aside not only Japan, but additionally Australia and the USA during its run should function a warning.

France’s aspirations appear to be limited not only by the fallout from what’s best referred to diplomatically because the Aminata Diallo affair — it is difficult to avoid the suspicion that one other Knysna moment lies in wait, though within the fairly less glamorous surrounds of Rotherham — but additionally by the curious decision of its coach, the imposing Corinne Diacre, to omit two of her finest players. Eugénie Le Sommer and Amandine Henry can be notable by their absence.

Norway, against this, is bolstered by a returning force. The presence of Barcelona’s Caroline Graham Hansen alone would have been enough to make the Norwegians a threat. That she will be able to now call on Ada Hegerberg, the forward looking for to make up for lost time after missing almost two years of her profession through injury, could also be enough to show Norway right into a contender.

It’s true of all major tournaments — whether contested by women or men — that a part of the charm lies in an unpredictability rooted within the comparative rarity of meaningful international soccer.

Meetings of established, or expected, powers between finals are infrequent, and so it’s difficult to interpret the teams’ merit in relation to at least one one other. Each Argentina and Brazil, for instance, will arrive in Qatar later this 12 months among the many favorites to deprive Europe of the (men’s) World Cup for the primary time since 2002.

Each are in wealthy veins of form. Each have considerable momentum behind them. Yet how much meaning, what it’s value, is obscured by the incontrovertible fact that they’ve faced European teams on only a handful of occasions since 2018, all of them within the vanilla, faintly desensitized surrounds of the exhibition game.

That’s true of this summer’s Euros, too, after all: England’s 5-1 victory over the Dutch may or is probably not a real guide to the edges’ strength, however it seems relevant that the Netherlands rested a few of the standout players at Parsons’s disposal — Miedema included — and had enjoyed substantially less training time than the English. Neither of those will apply should the 2 teams be reunited in the ultimate at Wembley.

The effect of those missing showdowns is magnified, though, by the incontrovertible fact that so little women’s club soccer is broadcast, definitely compared to the lads’s game. As readers of this column have previously noted, the perception that England’s Women’s Super League is the strongest domestic tournament in Europe has arisen at the very least partially because there isn’t a broadcast deal for its equivalents in Spain or France or Germany.

England’s squad, as Wiegman has observed, is undoubtedly brimming with talent. A transparent idea of how that compares with the strength in depth of, say, Spain is each possibly irrelevant — tournaments should not at all times won by probably the most gifted team — and somewhat elusive. Even performance data doesn’t necessarily provide an entire picture because players’ statistical output depends entirely on the context wherein they’re operating.

As women’s soccer grows, that ought to start to alter and produce with it multiple material advantages. It will surely be a shame if the insularity that afflicts the lads’s game — mentioning no names, England — was adopted in a sport that has experienced its starburst in a much more connected world.

In the interim, though, perhaps it’s best simply to enjoy its effects: a serious tournament that provides the hope of legitimate uncertainty, one that would conceivably be won by almost half of its constituent teams — Denmark: we forgot Denmark — and one which, as tournaments used to do, is not going to reflect a longtime hierarchy but serve to define it.

Gareth Bale has won the Champions League five times. He has three Spanish titles to his name and just as many European Super Cups and Club World Cups. He was once the costliest player on the earth, so long as Cristiano Ronaldo wasn’t listening. He has, to his name, either the best, or the second-finest, goal scored in a Champions League final.

He has scored more goals for his country than any player. He has been the central figure in restoring Wales to the ranks of soccer’s elite nations: ending its wait for a spot at a serious finals in 2016 after which, lower than a month ago, qualifying for its first World Cup in greater than 60 years. He continues to be only 32.

It is difficult to clarify, then, why it’s that each Bale’s departure from Europe and his arrival in Major League Soccer, with Los Angeles F.C., have been so comparatively low-key. Bale’s stock must be higher than Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s, say, when he landed in North America. He’s closer to his prime than Andrea Pirlo was when he got here to Recent York. His résumé is, if anything, higher than Frank Lampard’s was when he made the identical move.

Probably the most obvious explanation is that the last three years of Bale’s decade at Real Madrid have been underwhelming, at the very least on a private level. He has been little greater than an optional extra on the club since his decisive intervention within the 2018 Champions League final. He has, for reasons which have not at all times been entirely clear, been forged as a villain by the club itself.

It’s a shame that dispiriting coda has come to obscure, to some extent, quite how much Bale has achieved, quite how high he has soared. His has had, by any metric or measure, a superstar’s profession. He’s definitely the best coup secured by an M.L.S. team since Ibrahimovic, and possibly since David Beckham. It’s tempting to wonder if it is going to be only after he retires that we come to appreciate it.

Regular readers will know by now that it’s the considered opinion of this text that soccer doesn’t handle change thoroughly. All sports cherish their traditions, the mores and the practices that lend them their lore and their magic, but few are quite so immune to the relentless march of progress as soccer.

It’s hardly surprising, then, that the thought — announced this week by the F.I.G.C., Italian soccer’s governing body — of settling the Serie A title not by goal difference or head-to-head records but through a winner-take-all playoff has not exactly won universal acclaim.

In fact, it’s hardly a sweeping revolution. The brand new measure will come into force provided that the teams that finish first and second end any given season with the identical variety of points. Yet that has done little to melt the blow of what seems, to many, a wanton break with tradition, a tacky novelty and, worst of all, the unwelcome intrusion of Americanism into the game.

This, some have warned, will prove to be the skinny end of the wedge. Before you already know it, there can be playoffs for the Champions League places, every game will last three hours and for some reason everyone will stop using contactless card readers and demand on paying for things using a PIN.

The thing with traditions, though, is that they’ve to begin somewhere. The last time the 2 leading teams in Italy couldn’t be separated was in 1964, when Bologna and Inter Milan each ended the season on 54 points. Italian soccer didn’t have a longtime tiebreaker, so the sport’s authorities needed to improvise. Their solution? A winner-take-all playoff. Perhaps it was goal difference and head-to-head records that were the intruders all along.

We start this week with one other entry within the ledger marked “two nations, separated by a standard language.”

“Why do English papers confer with players getting paid nevertheless many thousand kilos per week,” Jerome O’Callaghan asks, though he’s in no way the primary. “An annual amount I could understand, but this weekly thing could be very vague. Do I take that weekly amount and multiply it by 52? Why the obsession about weekly paychecks?”

That is one in all those conventions that I’m blissful to confess I’ve never really thought of; it’s just the Way Things Are Done. I can’t be entirely certain — and I’d welcome other analyses — but my instinct is that it’s an echo of the era wherein players were treated like industrial staff.

Until the Nineteen Sixties, their pay was capped at £20 per week; the very fact it was measured by the week, I think, was because that’s how most factory employees were paid. Even after the so-called maximum wage was abolished, the tradition stuck: Players’ salaries, from that time on, were understood as and presented in weekly amounts.

“I’m wondering if you may have any comment on the serial snubbing of Son Heung-min by the P.F.A. of their award nominations,” Glenn Gale wrote. “I’ve read articles claiming various explanations (he scored lots of his goals late within the season and so forth). One thing I haven’t seen mentioned is any suspicion of bias against him as an Asian player. Is that this the proverbial elephant within the room no one desires to mention?”

I’ve at all times shared that suspicion, Glenn: It has appeared to me for some time that Son is neglected just a little due to the incontrovertible fact that we ascribe star quality way more easily to players from certain countries than we do others. We wrote about it, in truth, a number of years ago. On this case, I’m wondering if perhaps the more pressing issue is that everybody on the Tottenham team is seen as a supporting actor to Harry Kane; it could be that which prevents Son from getting his due credit.

And at last, a succinct one from Shawn Donnelly, presumably prompted by the Bale news. “Does anyone in England watch M.L.S.?” he asked. Some people must — the league has a broadcast deal here — but, like anything that will not be the Premier League, the numbers are most definitely quite small because England stays a really insular soccer culture. There aren’t vast audiences for Serie A, either, for instance.

The higher news, perhaps, is that by way of awareness, M.L.S. has made major strides. That might be attributed, partially, to the fleeting presence of the likes of Bale, Ibrahimovic, Wayne Rooney and the remaining, but more significant is the (relative) success of players like Miguel Almiron. The medium-term way forward for M.L.S. is as a league that players come from, in spite of everything, fairly than a spot that, after they hit a certain age, they go to.

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