It’s that time of the year again: the summer break. Without any football games to write about, things get awfully quiet on this website and football sites across the continent.
But, thankfully, there isn’t a complete lack of football to write about. Since UEFA continued to not care about player burnout, they treated (?) us with a flurry of Nations League games right after the end of the season. And, lest we forget, summertime means that
it’s time to read about ridiculous transfer rumors every 30 seconds the transfer window is open!
There was one big trend that I couldn’t get off my mind after reading about and watching a few Nations League games last month. That is, it absolutely fascinates me to see how short the footballing cycles are in international football.
It was barely 12 months ago that Roberto Mancini and his fantastic Italian national team deservedly won the rescheduled Euro 2020 competition, playing some of the best football Italy has played in a long time. Fast forward to today and we see that most players from that winning team have either retired (Giorgio Chiellini), lost form (Domenico Berardi), suffered from some sort of injury (Leonardo Spinazzola, Manuel Locatelli), or disappeared into obscurity (Ciro Immobile).
Such short cycles aren’t uncommon in international football. Germany conquered the world in 2014 and reached the last four of the Euro 2016 tournament, but embarrassingly ended bottom of the group in the 2018 World Cup and suffered that humiliating loss to Spain in the Nations League two years later. Ex-Bayern coach Hansi Flick has steadied the ship a little bit, but they still don’t look as dominant as they used to not too long ago.
While the classy and extremely likable Gareth Southgate has worked wonders with this England team since taking over from Sam Allardyce in 2016, they were absolutely terrible during this round of Nations League games. This also comes less than a year after playing very impressive football at the Euros and winning the hearts and minds of England’s notoriously fickle fans with a memorable fourth-placed finish (and penalty shootout win against Colombia) at the 2018 World Cup.
My beloved country, the Netherlands, has been all over the place in the last decade or so. The team reached the final of the 2010 World Cup, came last in the group at the Euro 2012 competition, surprisingly came third in the 2014 World Cup, failed to qualify for Euro 2016, and suffered an early exit in last year’s rescheduled Euro’s competition. Now, Louis Van Gaal’s army (accompanied by our old friend Edgar Davids) is firing on all cylinders and looking in good shape for this winter’s World Cup.
Cast your eyes across the Atlantic, and we see one of the most remarkable revivals in international football teams that I’ve seen in a long time. Argentina, coached by Lionel Scaloni, is currently on an extraordinary 33-match unbeaten streak. It’s a run that started less than a year after their abject performance at the 2018 World Cup and could continue for a few more games given their kind group stage draw for the 2022 World Cup (Saudi Arabia, Poland, Mexico).
They’re arguably the most in-form international team in the world at the moment, as the aforementioned Italy can attest to after being comprehensively outplayed and beaten 3-0 in the Finalissima game at Wembley at the start of the month.
International football is a strange thing. I think that a combination of factors cause international teams to be so erratic from game to game:
- Players playing far too many games during the club season;
- The inconvenient timing of international games (I mean, really, four games in two weeks at the end of the season?);
- International friendlies, in general, being a real pain in the backside for everyone involved (although UEFA does deserve credit for the Nations League because that has greatly improved friendlies);
- The two- to four-year gap between big tournaments;
- And who knows what else ...
This unpredictability makes international football wonderfully entertaining and more competitive than club football. Funny enough, the unpredictable nature of international football makes fantasy football impossibly difficult to play. It’s no wonder I gave up on that.
Arrivals & Departures
Let’s zoom back into business at Juventus. Specifically, let’s review the transfers that the club completed in June and some of the juiciest rumors circulating in the sports papers.
- The rumors regarding Paul Pogba
ckandforth’s return to Juventus have continued for almost as long as last year’s meeting-marathon for the Manuel Locatelli transfer, but it seems like he’s only days away from officially becoming a Juventus player again.
- Juventus continue to negotiate with Udinese for the transfer of the impressive Argentine fullback Nahuel Molina.
- Don’t worry, Matthijs de Ligt is probably not leaving Juventus anytime soon.
- Ha! Never mind, I lied.
- And just like that, we’ve gone from “no way de Ligt is leaving” to “it’s impossible to keep players when they want to leave the club.” Lovely ...
- Although they’re no longer at the club, Giorgio Chiellini joined MLS club Los Angeles FC while Paulo Dybala seemed destined to join Inter until a last-minute change in plans left him stranded.
- Nobody knows if Argentine midfielder/winger Ángel Di Maria will join Juventus or Barcelona. If he joins Xavi’s side then the (sort of) ex-Juve winger Domenico Berardi might join the Bianconeri instead. Based on reports from the last few days, though, Di Maria is edging closer and closer to Juventus.
- Wingers, wingers, and more wingers. Juve is interested in signing AS Roma’s star forward Nicolo Zaniolo in addition to Di Maria. The Bianconeri supposedly wants to offer midfielder Arthur Melo and cash to acquire the winger.
- Juventus Women have brought young Italian striker Sofia Cantore back to the club after three years out on loan, signed the extremely experienced Iceland midfielder Sara Björk Gunnarsdóttir, and signed Dutch international Lineth Beerensteyn from Bayern Munich. I feel for commentators trying to pronounce Gunnarsdóttir and Beerensteyn’s names (regarding the latter, the “beer” part is pronounced like regular ol’ beer while the “steyn” part is pronounced like the “-stein” in Einstein’s name. Unfortunately, I have no talent in the Icelandic language so I’m no help there).
- Sergio’s favorite Juve player (no, not Daniele Rugani) has signed a contract extension till 2025. Mattia De Sciglio, uno di noi!
Adrien Rabiot, another much-maligned Juventus player, has reportedly asked for a move away from Juventus. A few Premier League clubs might be interested, though nothing concrete has emerged yet. I imagine the Frenchman wants to keep playing Champions League football, which means that the likes of
FC A Whole Lotta MoneyNewcastle United would be out of the running.
- We talked about what Rabiot’s departure might mean for the Juventus midfield on Episode 104 of the podcast.
- Juventus is close to signing 22-year-old Italian wingback Andrea Cambiaso for €4 million and young defender Radu Dragusin.
- Despite brief signs that they might decline to sign him, Atalanta have exercised the option to sign Juventus midfielder Merih Demiral permanently for a reported €20 million.
- It seems increasingly likely that the ever-so-likable Spanish striker Álvaro Morata will not be a Juventus player next season.
- After declaring that he not only wants to stay at Juventus, but also fight for a place in the starting lineup, Nicolo Fagioli is apparently close to signing a contract extension with the club until 2026.
The mirror of society
I’ve always said that football is the mirror of society. That is, society’s problems manifest themselves on the pitch and in the stadiums. Unfortunately, this theory became a very uncomfortable reality last season.
I was shocked to read about the numerous high-profile cases of stadium violence and pitch invasions that occurred during the 2021-22 season. In England, we saw Crystal Palace coach Patrick Vieira have an altercation with a fan on the pitch at Goodison Park after his side lost 3-2 to Everton. A Nottingham Forest fan then attacked Sheffield United striker Billy Sharp after fans invaded the pitch following United’s penalty shootout defeat in the Championship play-off semi-final.
After Manchester City’s dramatic comeback victory over Aston Villa helped them snatch the title on the final matchday of the English Premier League, City fans invaded the pitch to celebrate the win. However, not all fans were in a festive mood as Aston Villa (and former AS Roma) goalkeeper Robin Olsen told the reporters that fans attacked him during the invasion. Many fans also chose to vandalize the pitch, cut out parts of the goals’ nets, and basically demolish the place.
Interestingly, we’ve seen a surge of crowd violence in France — Lyon, St Etienne, Lens, Nice, Montpellier, Angers, Metz, and Marseille are just a few of the clubs that have been involved here. The problem has become so serious that France’s sports minister Roxana Maracineanu said that it “threatens the future of French football.”
Even the Netherlands, usually known for its peaceful people, hasn’t been immune to this wave of violence. Riots occurred after the dramatic Eredivisie promotion game between ADO Den Haag and Excelsior, which ADO lost on penalties after surrendering a 3-0 lead at home. Another game in the second division was also marred by violence. And I’m sure there are numerous more incidents across the continent (and planet) that I missed.
As we all know, life is pretty unpleasant for a lot of people nowadays. Inflation, wars, a very probable recession, the erosion of democracy; many people are feeling scared, angry, and sad these days. It seems that a lot of people are expressing this anger and frustration in football stadiums, which tends to be a place where people go to escape the reality of their regular lives.
Whenever I see two things happening at the same time, I’m tempted to conclude that A caused B. But I’m quickly reminded of one of the most fundamental laws of social science: correlation is not causation. Just because A and B happen together, doesn’t mean that one caused the other. There could be (and usually are) many other factors that we don’t know about that contribute to A and/or B happening. So I don’t want to make a knee-jerk, armchair scientist’s conclusion that society’s problems are the definite cause of the problems I just discussed.
But that doesn’t eliminate the serious concern I have about people releasing their personal frustrations and anger in football stadiums. Moreover, I don’t think this makes it invalid for me to say that these problems are societal problems, not football problems. It’s just that I can’t say for sure what’s causing these issues.
Whatever the root cause of these problems, though, we need to fix them before people get seriously hurt or, worse, lose their lives.