European football roundup: Anti-racism, adjusting to new normal take centerstage in the continent’s major leagues
Here are some of the key takeaways from the top five European leagues, the biggest of which was the stand taken by clubs and players against racism.
Look in the skies for God, what you see besides the smog
Is broken dreams flying away on the wings of the obscene
Thoughts that people put in the air
Places where you could get murdered over a glare
But everything is fair It's a paradox we call reality
So keeping it real will make you a casualty of abnormal normality
— Respiration, by Black Star and COMMON
The Premier League gameweek 30
Top 4 clubs:
Liverpool: 83 points,
Manchester City: 63 points,
Leicester City: 54 points,
Chelsea: 51 points
Look up in the sky! It’s most definitely a plane. More specifically, a for-hire plane flying a banner reading: WHITE LIVES MATTER BURNLEY! Seeing over the Manchester City stadium yesterday, this game week was an ungodly sight. The opposition to the #BlackLivesMatter movement couldn’t be sanitised from the football news, in a league that advertises racial equality.
For the most broadcasted sporting league in the world, the Premier League has the highest calibre of brown and black sportspeople in the world. The two among the five goals scored by Manchester City players in the trouncing of Burnley were scored by Riyad Mahrez, a brown Muslim migrant from Algeria. EU National David Silva scored one goal, while Phil Foden scored the other two.
Two out of those three people’s demographic which lives in England, their livelihoods have been leant on scornfully since Brexit. The black population has been stricken by poverty in institutionalised systems that are not designed for ethnic minorities to succeed in society, in Marcus Rashford’s words.
Yet you see Liverpool being propelled by Senegalese Sadio Mane and Naby Keita from nondescript Guinea. These two were champions-elect Liverpool’s best players vs Everton. Japanese international Takumi Minamino was sprightly as a sprite on a Nintendo Gameboy screen. Their Brazilian goalkeeper pulled off a golem-like save near the tail end of the game. Everton were like the jagged, rusty sail of tin, having threatening edges but too wavy, and ultimately blown away by a gust that emanates from Liverpool and the Netherlands' Virgil Van Dijk’s presence, like a black Thor, almost imperious. Joe Gomez served his role as Heimdall the prudent, keeping the lookout and snuffing out any half-chance that had emerged while Van Dijk was further afield.
In contrast, Liverpool’s attacking display which was a visual equivalent of what nails scratching on a chalkboard would sound like. Aesthetically excruciating, especially considering the fact that near five million people were tuned in ruining what was left of their Sunday night.
Elsewhere Brighton won 2-1 vs Arsenal at home. French midfield Neal Maupay dovetailed with Englishman Lewis Dunk to overtake Arsenal, who led in the 68th minute through Nicolas Pepe’s goal, an Ivorian international. Arsenal keep waking up feeling like Bill Murphy on Groundhog Day without and now especially with football. For them, the season could not end sooner, currently languishing in the tenth position on the table.
The Europa qualification dogfight between Tottenham (at home) vs Manchester United ended in an anti-climatic draw with United’s Portuguese international Bruno Fernandes cancelling out a clinical strike from Tottenham’s Bergwijn. Norwegian Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s team are fifth on the table (46 points) while Spurs are 4 points away, on 8th.
The Bundesliga gameweek 33
Top four clubs:
Bayern Munich: 79 points,
Borussia Dortmund: 69 points,
Leipzig: 63 points,
Monchengladbach: 62 points.
In a game vs do-it-by-the-book Dortmund and corporate-backed RB Leipzig, it was the working-class black and yellows from the mining city that took the bragging rights with a 2-0 win. Monchengladbach and Bayern Munich both recorded 3-1 wins vs Paderborn and SC Freiburg respectively. Munich look primed to take the crown of their eighth successive Bundesliga title and 30th overall.
In the backdrop, the usually savvy Bundesliga chiefs are crunching the numbers and finding ways to plug a post-pandemic deficit, with a €200 million fall in the valuation of their TV rights. But it there’s any league that can sort a crisis out, it’s the Bundesliga.
LaLiga gameweek 30
Top 4 clubs:
Real Madrid: 65 points,
Barcelona: 65 points,
Sevilla: 53 points (played 31),
Atletico: 52 points.
In Spain, there is also a new normal. While Real Madrid and Barcelona still occupy the top perches, their star powers have considerably waned, but still, have enough hegemony in their tanks to wrestle down a league. Like veteran wrestlers, they try not to overpower but to out-manoeuvre.
A spectacular outside-of the toe volley from Karim Benzema and a Sergio Ramos penalty aided in Real Madrid’s 2-1 win over Real Sociedad. Paco Alcacer-powered Villarreal held Sevilla to a 2-2 draw, a subdued encounter that had a sum total of just 16 shots. For Atletico Madrid, Vitolo scored a late goal to pip Valladolid 1-0. A stuttering Barcelona who were held 0-0 on Saturday have another chance tomorrow hosting Athletic Club Bilbao to leap over Real Madrid in the table.
Nolito lifted a struggling Celta with a golazo, while Valencia’s Gonçalo Guedes, another from Leganés’s Óscar Rodriguez lit up an otherwise meek LaLiga game week.
Serie A gameweek 36
Top 4 clubs:
Juventus: 66 points (played 37),
Lazio: 62 points,
Inter Milan: 57 points,
Atalanta: 51 points.
The conch shell was sounded by Nicolas Nkoulou in the opening match of the league: Torino vs Parma. After scoring the opening goal in the 18th minute, the Cameroonian national team captain paid tribute to the fallen George Floyd by kneeling.
Inter Milan striker Romelu Lukaku took the knee in the 2-1 win vs Sampdoria in an eerily empty San Siro. In a league that is notoriously backwards with vociferous racist fans, the Lukaku kneel with the right fist raised (signifying the ‘black power’ movement) made a statement that echoed across Italy: If the game can go on without any fans on the stand, it can certainly fare better without racist ones.
Serie A sweethearts Atalanta were on at the same time Liverpool were, and their 4-1 kerplunking of Sassuolo would have been a better watch for the neutrals. Two of their four goals were scored by a black Colombian man, Duvan Zapata.
League leaders Juventus played early last night and won 2-0 away from home to Bologna.
To sum it up
The new normal is admittedly abnormal, but we are not casualties of it. Much like artificial crowd noise being interjected through the sound system, the haptic response to this now-apparent abnormality has been unbelievably well-timed.
The Burnley captain interrupted the usual post-match lines of questioning to address the racist banner.
“We can talk about football, but what I want to speak about first is the aeroplane sign that went up at the beginning of the game… I’m ashamed and embarrassed by the group of fans. The lads in the dressing room are all embarrassed to see that. Those fans have completely missed the point (of the Black Lives Matter movement). I think these people need to come into the 21st century and educate themselves.
"This does not represent what the good in humanity is about, this message does not represent our club or the large majority of the fans. We want equality in society and in football, whether it be race, religion, gender, the LGBTQ community, everything. We are going to have to make a stand against this sort of ignorance.”
Elsewhere Van Dijk and Sari van Veenendaal, captains of men and women’s national Dutch teams, have effectively boycotted a broadcaster for a racist “blackface” stereotype aimed at a Black Lives Matter protestor on LIVE tv.
Their joint statement read: “This has nothing to do with humour any more. This is not the language of football. This is over the line. Not for the first time. Not for the second time. Time and time again. Enough is enough.”
Since then sponsors for the TV channel have threatened to pull out. The ripple has turned into a tidal wave.
Football is all-inclusive. In the age of information, ignorance isn’t an option; and separating a game as social as football from world politics is nearly impossible. Football is a meritocracy. In a community where a man is judged by the bend of a pass, the air in his lungs and not the colour of his skin. People are stronger together. To be a racist football fan is a self-defeating irony bordering on absurdity. The Burnley fans who thought it funny to undermine a global movement by flying a plane in full view of both Manchester City players and their own are guilty of selective blindness and insulting the sport they love.
It leads me to end this week’s round-up with this nugget of wisdom dropped by Liverpool manager and humanist Jurgen Klopp in the weekend:
“If football is a role model for anything in life, then it's for equality – that everybody is exactly the same. Where we come from, wherever you are from, exactly the same. It's all about who you are, not which colour you are. I know from my point of view (you think) it's easy to say that but it's not easy; it's just for us in football it's completely natural. That's how it should be everywhere.
Judge people only because of who they are and not any other things. It's so dumb. It's so unbelievably dumb not doing it like this that it's hard for me to even understand a little bit why it could be like this. But it is like this, so we have to stand up or we have to kneel. Whatever we have to do, we will do. The past we cannot change but the future we can change. That's what we all should try."
Ronald Koeman is adamant Barcelona will be better soon but he heads to Granada in La Liga on Monday under pressure, with his team accused not just of losing but of losing their identity.
The 33-year-old Lewandowski has a Bayern contract until June 2023 and despite having often been linked to a move to Real Madrid in the past, he told reporters that he "doesn't need to prove myself in another league".
Koeman's position is fragile, after Barca followed up a 3-0 defeat by Bayern in the Champions League last week with a 1-1 draw at home to Granada in LaLiga, with the team's tactics and style coming under scrutiny.