COVID-19: Isolated In Foreign Lands, Learn To Deal Without Football

Aerial view of the empty Azteca stadium in Mexico City on March 22, 2020, as the Mexican football tournament was postponed to prevent the spread of the new coronavirus. ALFREDO ESTRELLA / AFP

 

 

The riches, glamour, and glory of playing football in front of packed stadiums attract the world’s top players across borders but with the European game in lockdown, many have been left isolated from their families.

Coronavirus has forced governments across Europe to impose swingeing restrictions on travel and personal freedoms.

Footballers’ daily routines have been upended with no games to play for the foreseeable future and training sessions now conducted alone at home or via video-conferencing to maintain some semblance of team spirit.

“It is a way to keep in contact with each other, to start a little bit of routine because I think that is important,” said Brighton manager Graham Potter, who has his squad doing communal morning sessions via video.

“Our guys are all here in the UK. That is why it is important for us to keep in contact and regular dialogue and make sure everyone is alright.

“They are away from families, they are missing families and that is something we understand. We sympathise with that, but we felt it was right to limit international travel and to stay at home and be safe.”

Other clubs allowed their stars to jet home. Paris Saint-Germain’s Neymar and Thiago Silva returned to Brazil and Edinson Cavani headed to Uruguay before France went into lockdown.

By contrast, Chelsea’s Spanish winger Pedro Rodriguez was stuck in London as he and the rest of the Blues squad were forced into self-isolation when teammate Callum Hudson-Odoi tested positive.

“It’s hard not to be able to see my children,” Pedro Rodriguez, whose children live in Barcelona, told Spanish radio station Cadena SER. “I imagine there are many people like me.

“I tell them to stay in the house and that I miss them.”

Birmingham boss Pep Clotet sent his family back to Spain before a state of emergency was declared in his homeland, but remained in England to do what work he could.

“I am caught between two worlds,” said Clotet. “I feel I cannot do my job properly. I keep thinking ‘Maybe I should go back?’ But I cannot go back because I am working.”

 

– ‘I sleep a lot’ –

For others, the greatest concern is filling time and the void left by no football.

“I am obviously a little bored since two weeks have passed since the beginning of the quarantine at home,” Juventus’ Polish goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny told Sky Sport Italia.

“I am alone in Turin because my family went to Poland. Having said that, however, I must say that I am having a peaceful time. I sleep a lot.”

The unexpected downtime is even allowing some players accustomed to globe-trotting extra quality time with their nearest and dearest.

Sevilla midfielder Ever Banega has spent the vast majority of his playing career in Spain, but the 65-time capped Argentine international is used to hopping back and forth across the Atlantic to represent his country.

“It’s strange because there is always football on. When La Liga stops, there are international games. Even in the summer, there is football with pre-season games,” Banega told AFP.

“You miss a lot of moments with your loved ones. Now what I am mostly doing is taking advantage of the time with my kids, my wife, enjoying the family time.”

No one knows how long European football’s unprecedented stoppage will last, with leagues still hoping to complete a truncated season when it is safe to do so.

When it does, players will return with a fresh appreciation for why they travel far and wide to play the game.

“You wake up and you don’t know what to do,” said Celtic’s French defender Christopher Jullien.

“Right now it is just a different life. You realise how life is like every day without football. I miss football.”

AFP

Bayern Munich, Other Bundesliga Clubs, Take Pay Cut

Frankfurt’s German defender Martin Hinteregger (2nd L) scores the 4-1 during the German first division Bundesliga football match between Eintracht Frankfurt and FC Bayern Munich on November 2, 2019 in Frankfurt am Main, western Germany.
Daniel ROLAND / AFP

 

Footballers at Germany’s top teams including Bayern Munich have agreed to take pay cuts to help clubs survive the economic impact of the coronavirus, media reports said Tuesday.

Newspaper Bild reports that players and club officials at champions Bayern, top of the Bundesliga when the Bundesliga season was halted on March 13, have accepted a 20 percent cut in their salaries.

Like all top European leagues the German top flight is losing income from broadcasting, sponsorships and ticket sales during the COVID-19 pandemic, with matches in Germany suspended until at least April 2.

Bayern has a massive wage bill which reached 336 million euros (364 million dollars) last year, almost half of club turnover.

Players at Borussia Moenchengladbach were the first in the Bundesliga to propose a pay cut, followed by others at Werder Bremen and Schalke 04. Borussia Dortmund and Bayer Leverkusen players are in talks over pay cut proposals with management.

At Dortmund — second in the Bundesliga — coach Lucien Favre has made a personal offer to take a pay cut while players are negotiating a 20 percent salary reduction if the season does not restart or a 10 percent cut if play resumes behind closed doors, when clubs will at least earn income from TV rights.

EPL: Liverpool Left To Wait And Wonder After Virus Strikes

Liverpool’s German manager Jurgen Klopp gestures from the sidelines during the English FA Cup fourth round football match between Shrewsbury Town and Liverpool at the Montgomery Waters Meadow Stadium in Shrewsbury, north-west of Birmingham in England on January 26, 2020. Anthony Devlin / AFP

 

Liverpool could have been crowned Premier League champions on Monday for the first time in a generation at the home of local rivals Everton. Instead, the stadium will be silent.

Jurgen Klopp’s team would have needed Manchester City to lose to Burnley on Saturday to have given them a chance to seal the deal at Goodison Park.

Regardless of whether it would have happened on Monday or over the coming weeks, Liverpool’s first top-flight title for 30 years was a mere formality.

But now fans are wondering when, or even if, they will be crowned champions after the coronavirus laid waste to the global sporting calendar.

The message coming from Liverpool is that there are more important issues than football to talk about, even with the club tantalisingly close to glory.

“I’ve said before that football always seems the most important of the least important things,” Klopp said in a statement on Friday.

“Today, football and football matches really aren’t important at all.

“If it’s a choice between football and the good of the wider society, it’s no contest. Really, it isn’t.”

Klopp’s stance won him the support of World Health Organisation chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, who thanked him for his “powerful message”.

Liverpool supporters, desperate to reclaim their position at the pinnacle of the English game, agree with their German manager, saying the pandemic overshadows football.

Supporters’ union Spirit of Shankly is focusing on the damaging fallout from the COVID-19 virus.

“In talks with @lfc we asked for assurances that non-playing staff will not lose their pay as a consequence of shifts being cancelled,” it said in a statement.

“We also need to keep in mind those most vulnerable. Cancelling football games means (foodbanks) will be hit hard.”

– Deserving winners –

Liverpool have stumbled in recent weeks, knocked out of the Champions League by Atletico Madrid and dumped out of the FA Cup by Chelsea.

But they have been peerless in the Premier League, leaving their rivals in their wake to race 25 points clear of defending champions Manchester City.

With Alisson Becker in goal, Virgil van Dijk marshalling the defence and their devastating front three of Roberto Firmino, Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane, Klopp’s men have been irresistible.

Paul Hayward, writing in the Daily Telegraph, said Liverpool should be crowned champions for the 19th time even if no more games are played.

“If a season ends too soon, its natural winning line is the point it reached before the halt was called: emphatically so, 29 games into a 38-match campaign, which is a respectable distance,” he wrote.

“‘Voiding’ the 2019/20 football season would be nonsense,” he added. “Handing over the trophy at any point where clubs were forced to give up would feel morally correct.”

Brighton and Hove Albion chief executive Paul Barber said if the season were to be “frozen” it would be unjust on Liverpool.

“Everybody in the game appreciates what a fantastic season they’ve had and what a wonderful team they are,” he told the BBC.

“But equally it would be unjust for teams to be relegated when there are still eight, nine, ten games to play of the Premier League.”

But West Ham vice-chairman Karren Brady said if the fixtures could not be completed, the only fair solution would be to declare the season “null and void”.

Writing in the Sun, Brady, whose club are just two places above the relegation zone, said: “Who knows who would have gone down or come up if the games have not actually been played in full?

“A huge blow to Liverpool, who might be robbed of their first title in 30 years.”

Nobody knows when football will return but, when it finally does, many in the game hope Liverpool are given the chance to complete their long journey back to the top.

AFP

Swiss Football Suspended Over Coronavirus

 

The Swiss football league on Monday suspended all Super League and second-division Challenge League matches until March 23 as part of efforts to contain the spread of the coronavirus.

“This Monday, at a meeting, all 20 clubs in the Swiss Football League (SFL) … decided to suspend the championships until March 23,” the league said in a statement.

The league referred to a government decision taken on Friday to suspend all events with more than 1,000 participants until March 15.

It said it ruled out the option of playing matches behind closed doors for economic reasons.

Over 20 people have tested positive in Switzerland since a first case emerged less than a week ago and on Sunday authorities announced that two high school classes and their teachers had been quarantined.

Friday’s government decision forced the cancellation of the Geneva International Motor Show and the suspension of the popular Swiss hockey championship

AFP

African Players In Europe: Sarr Sparkles As Watford Stun Liverpool

Watford’s Senegalese midfielder Ismaila Sarr (C) celebrates. JUSTIN TALLIS / AFP

 

Ismaila Sarr overshadowed fellow Senegalese Sadio Mane by scoring twice as lowly Watford won 3-0 to end the 44-match unbeaten Premier League streak of runaway leaders Liverpool.

Mane has been among the key figures as the Reds march toward a first league title in three decades, but he had to take a back seat at Vicarage Road as Sarr blossomed.

His pace and trickery unsettled Liverpool and he was rewarded with two goals before setting up Troy Deeney for the third.

ENGLAND

ISMAILA SARR (Watford)

The Hornets’ record signing was up against his idol Mane and stabbed home the opener at the near post and then showed his pace and poise to chip Alisson Becker for Watford’s second. Sarr then turned provider for the third as he teed up Deeney to complete a famous win that lifted Watford out of the bottom three.

JORDAN AYEW (Crystal Palace)

Ayew scored the only goal as Palace got the better of rivals Brighton to ease any fear of being dragged into a relegation battle. The Ghanaian’s strike took his league tally for the season to seven — matching his best tally for a single campaign in England.

MBWANA SAMATTA (Aston Villa)

Samatta did Tanzania proud by scoring in the League Cup final against Manchester City, but his diving header at the near post just before half-time was merely a consolation for Villa as City won 2-1 to lift the trophy for a third straight season.

SPAIN

YOUSSEF EN-NESYRI (Sevilla)

En-Nesyri scored a 93rd-minute winner as Sevilla beat Osasuna 3-2 to move up to third in La Liga. The Moroccan striker, who joined Sevilla from Leganes in January, opened the scoring with a guided shot into the corner before Lucas Ocampos made it two on the stroke of half-time. Osasuna came back in the second half through goals from Aridane and Roberto Torres, only for En-Nesyri to snatch victory for Sevilla in injury-time with a close-range finish.

GERMANY

RAMY BENSEBAINI (Borussia Moenchengladbach)

Algerian Bensebaini scored a crucial early goal for Moenchengladbach as they beat Augsburg 3-2 to keep pace with the top of the Bundesliga table. Bensebaini, in his first start in 2020 after returning from injury, headed home a cross from Lars Stindl to put the visitors 1-0 up. When asked how it felt to be back in the Foals’ line-up after the match, he simply replied “it was fun”.

ACHRAF HAKIMI (Borussia Dortmund)

Having made his name as one of Dortmund’s best going forward this season, the Real Madrid loanee was called on to do more than his fair share of defending against a stubborn Freiburg side. Working on the edge of a four-man midfield, Hakimi’s pace was valuable during the 1-0 win as he snuffed out several Freiburg counter attacks. He did have a shot on goal deflected in the dying stages but was unable to add to his tally of two Bundesliga goals this season.

FRANCE

STEPHANE BAHOKEN (Angers)

The Cameroon striker was rewarded with a start for his team at Brest after coming off the bench against Montpellier last weekend and scoring the winner a minute later. He delivered again in Brest, although he needed a full 43 minutes to bag the only goal of the match this time.

MAX-ALAIN GRADEL (Toulouse)

Ivory Coast winger Gradel, 32, returned to the Toulouse starting line-up last weekend for the first time in a Ligue 1 game since early December following injury. He kept his place and wore the captain’s armband but could not prevent the division’s bottom side from going down 2-0 at home to Rennes. They have now taken just a single point from their last 17 league games and are heading fast towards relegation.

KARL TOKO-EKAMBI (Lyon)

Cameroon forward Toko-Ekambi, who joined Lyon on loan from Villarreal in January, came off the bench and contributed to their 2-0 win over derby rivals Saint-Etienne. Having earlier had a goal disallowed for offside, he won the late penalty which Moussa Dembele scored to seal the victory. Toko-Ekambi had started the 1-0 Champions League last-16, first leg win over Juventus in midweek and hit the bar in the first half against the Italians.

AFP

Zimbabwe Football Stadia Not Suitable For International Games Says CAF

File Photo

 

Zimbabwe’s stadiums have been declared unsuitable for high-profile matches by the Confederation of African Football (CAF), forcing sports authorities to seek an alternative venue for an upcoming Africa Cup of Nations qualifier against Algeria.

The country’s football association (ZIFA) said Tuesday they had received a letter from Cairo-based CAF stating none of the southern African nation’s grounds met the “standards to host international matches”.

The letter was sent following a visit by CAF inspectors last November.

“CAF has made a decision to bar ZIFA from using local stadiums in all upcoming international matches,” ZIFA spokesman Xolisani Gwesela said in a statement.

“We need to put our heads together as a country to ensure that our stadiums are renovated to meet the required standards.”

Zimbabwe was due to host the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations Group H qualifier against holders Algeria next month.

The sports editor of Zimbabwe’s state-owned Herald202 newspaper Robson Sharuko has blamed inaction by the authorities.

“It’s embarrassing and, sadly, it appears there are some people who simply don’t care,” Sharuko said in an opinion piece on Wednesday.

Zimbabwe’s economy has been crippled by decades of mismanagement by former president Robert Mugabe and his successor Emmerson Mnangagwa.

Hyperinflation has wiped out savings, cash is short and basic goods such as fuel are hard to come by.

Facilities that were once a source of pride are dilapidated and most roads are ridden with potholes.

AFP

More Than Football: Kurdish Women Win Big With Syria Title

Members of the Amuda women’s team take part in a training session in the northeastern Syrian town of Amuda in Hasakeh province on February 7, 2020.
Delil SOULEIMAN / AFP

 

Samar Sheikh’s neighbours used to tell her football was not for girls but the criticism stopped when her team won the very first women’s championship in Syria.

The 20-year-old also finished top scorer at the end of a season that saw teams from all over Syria face-off over weeks before the final that was held in late January in Damascus.

“I’ve been hooked on football since I was little,” says Sheikh during a training session in Amuda, a town in northeastern Syria where part of the autonomous Kurdish administration is headquartered.

“I used to watch my brothers play and I’ve watched a lot of games,” she says, as her teammates, all wearing fluorescent bibs, jog behind the coach on the artificial grass of the covered pitch.

The young Kurdish woman, sweat pearling down her face and her ruffled hair in a ponytail, recounts how she started playing when she was 15 but had to stop “because of the criticism from her family and neighbours.”

She came back to it more determined than ever to overcome social and gender prejudice and it all paid off when it was with cheers that a crowd greeted her and her team off the bus after winning the national trophy.

– Victory parade –

With their medals around their necks, Sheikh and her teammates even went on a celebratory tour of Amuda, joined in dance by residents congratulating them and asking for selfies.

“I couldn’t believe it,” she says. “Seeing all these people in the street to celebrate our victory.”

After a week-long break the team has resumed training for two hours a day.

Dalaf Hussein faced the same challenges as a teenage girl trying to live her passion for football in northeastern Syria.

Plastered on the walls of her room are posters of her favourite players, including one of Portuguese legend and Real Madrid star Cristiano Ronaldo.

“Passersby used to bother us when they saw us play in the street because it was considered a boys’ sport, but we never paid attention,” she says.

Hussein says she also had to deal with her parents’ opposition to her playing football.

“But after our victory in the championship, there was no pushback,” she says, with a chuffed smile.

Syrian society is still largely patriarchal and conservative but women enjoy greater gender equality in areas under Kurdish control.

Hussein says she hopes football will continue to grow in her region.

“Many girls have come to sign up since our victory,” she says.

AFP

Pele Depressed, Reclusive Because Of Poor Health – Son

Brazilian football great Edson Arantes do Nascimento, known as Pele, arrives at Guarulhos International Airport, in Guarulhos some 25km from Sao Paulo, Brazil, on April 9, 2019.  AFP

 

Football legend Pele is experiencing “a kind of depression” and barely leaves home anymore because health problems have left him unable to walk normally, his son said in an interview published Monday.

“He’s pretty fragile in terms of his mobility… and that makes him suffer a kind of depression,” Edinho said of his 79-year-old father, who has had a series of health problems in recent years.

“Just imagine, he’s the ‘King,’ he was always such an imposing figure, and now he can’t walk normally. He gets very shy, very embarrassed about that,” his son said in an interview published on the sports news site Globoesporte.com.

Pele, the pride of Brazilian football and the only player to win three World Cups (1958, 1962 and 1970), is considered by many to be the greatest footballer of all time.

He has been in and out of the hospital in recent years for various health issues.

He never fully recovered from one of his hip operations, leaving him dependent on a walker, Edinho said.

“He’s doing a bit better than when he was in a wheelchair recently, but he still has a hard time getting around,” said Edinho, 49.

Pele’s public appearances have grown increasingly rare with age.

Last April he travelled to Paris for a promotional appearance with French rising star Kylian Mbappe but had to be hospitalized shortly after for kidney problems.

In 2014, he was placed in intensive care for dialysis after contracting a severe urinary infection.

The Brazilian great, whose real name is Edson Arantes do Nascimento, has only one kidney, after a broken rib during a match forced doctors to remove the other.

He has also suffered a series of hip problems.

Edinho said despite those issues his father is “doing well” physically.

AFP

Nike, NFF Unveil New Super Eagles Jersey

 

American sportswear designers, Nike and the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) have unveiled the new kit for the Nigerian football team, the Super Eagles.

Still basking in the accolades from the previous jersey which was adjudged the best of the tournament, Nike’s latest design is fashioned after the popular Nigerian ceremonial outfit locally called ‘Agbada’.

The NFF shared images of the new jersey on social media on Wednesday and many Nigerians seem to be loving it.

Some others, however, believe that the Nigerian team should pay more attention to winning more matches than to the design of the jerseys.

There’s also the category of those who think the new design is not worthy of the hype.

Well, lets know your thoughts!

Despite Goal Drought, 53-Year-Old Striker Renews Football Contract

Picture of a ball being kicked used to illustrate the story.
Picture of a ball being kicked used to illustrate the story.

 

Former Japan striker Kazuyoshi Miura, who turns 53 next month, has renewed his contract with Yokohama FC to extend his record as the world’s oldest professional footballer.

The veteran player, admiringly nicknamed “King Kazu” for his spirited onfield style, will kick off his 35th career season this year, the club announced over the weekend.

Miura, who has played for Yokohama FC since 2005, has said he won’t hang up his boots until he turns 60.

He played for the club three times last season but did not find the net.

In a short statement, he said he was concentrating on enjoying his football and keeping the club in the top league. “I’ll do my best to contribute to the team winning,” he said.

In 2017, Miura surpassed football’s previous professional longevity record and became the oldest player to score a competitive goal in a professional match. Both records were previously held by English legend Stanley Matthews.

Miura left Japan for Brazil in 1982 and signed a contract with Santos FC in 1986 to make his professional debut.

He made his Japan debut in 1990 and pushed for the country’s first-ever World Cup appearance in 1998 but failed to make the final squad for France, despite scoring 55 goals in 89 games for the national side.

He was one of the stars of the professional J-League at its 1993 launch before joining Italy’s Genoa on loan the following year.

Yokohama came second in the J-2 league last season, winning promotion to the top tier.

 

AFP

Ghanaian FA Names New Head After Corruption Scandal

Newly elected President of Ghana Football Association (GFA) Kurt Okraku gives a speech after the GFA president’s election at the Physicians and Surgeons Centre in Accra on October 25, 2019. 
CRISTINA ALDEHUELA / AFP

 

The Ghanaian Football Association on Friday named a new president more than a year after a corruption scandal forced a major shake-up of the game in the West African nation.

Kurt Okraku — chief executive of local Premier League club Dreams FC — filled the position left vacant since Kwesi Nyantakyi stepped down after an undercover documentary showed him soliciting kickbacks worth millions of dollars.

Okraku got the nod from the 120 delegates after beating former FA vice president George Afriyie at a second round of voting.

The expose by journalist Anas Aremeyaw Anas rocked football in Ghana and led to the creation of a “normalisation committee” to lead reforms in the FA before a new president could be chosen.

Ghana’s government said the  revelations in 2018 had exposed “gross malfunctioning… characterised by widespread fraud, corruption and bribery” at the country’s FA.

Nyantakyi was banned from football for life by the sport’s world governing body FIFA last October after being found guilty of bribery and corruption.

The sting also saw a string of referees banned for life in Ghana and football officials in a number of other African countries sanctioned.

AFP

Germany’s World Cup Winner Schweinsteiger Announces Retirement

(FILES) In this file photo taken on August 28, 2018 former Bayern Munich’s midfielder Bastian Schweinsteiger waves during his farewell match between his former teams FC Bayern Munich and Chicago Fire in the stadium in Munich, southern Germany, on August 28, 2018.  Christof STACHE / AFP

 

Bastian Schweinsteiger is welcome to join the Germany coaching staff, national team coach Joachim Loew said Tuesday just hours before the veteran midfielder announced his retirement on Tuesday.

“The time has now come and I will be finishing my active career at the end of the season,” Schweinsteiger wrote on Twitter.

“Saying goodbye as an active player makes me feel a little nostalgic, but I am also looking forward to the exciting challenges that await me.”

The 35-year-old former Bayern Munich and Manchester United midfielder has effectively hung up his boots as his current team Chicago Fire team failed to make the MLS play-offs.

Shortly before Tuesday’s announcement on social media by Schweinsteiger, Loew said the midfielder could join his staff.

“We will always have a place for him,” said Loew in Dortmund where Germany are preparing to host Argentina in a friendly on Wednesday.

“I don’t know what his plans are,” he said, adding “any player who has ever played in the national team, and has the goal of being a coach, is always welcome here to get a taste of what it’s like.”

Schweinsteiger’s former national team-mate Miroslav Klose was briefly part of Loew’s coaching staff, as a forwards coach, until last year’s World Cup.

Schweinsteiger retired from the national team in 2016 after making 121 appearances.

Loew heaped praise on Schweinsteiger, who helped inspire a 1-0 extra-time victory over Argentina in the 2014 World Cup final despite a cut under his right eye.

“Everyone has a picture of him in their heads: blood-stained in the Maracana (in the 2014 World Cup final), he got up again and again and gave everything.

“He is one of the greatest players in German history,” enthused Loew.

“You could always feel his will to win. He was a great player and a great personality.”

AFP