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Barcelona v FC Bayern Muenchen - UEFA Champions League Semi Final: Second Leg

Game in a sentence

The humiliation continued as Bayern Munich hammer Barcelona 3-0 (7-0 agg) to reach the Champions League final for a second consecutive time.

Observations

  • Bayern Munich was superiour in all aspects of the game. Defensively focused, and exceptional in midfield and attack.
  • The shocking news before the match was the absence of Lionel Messi in the starting XI, due to an ongoing hamstring problem. Messi’s bench expression and nail biting only showed how antsy the player gets when he’s not on the field.
  • But let’s not forget the trio of David Villa, Cesc Fabregas and Pedro all represent the Spanish national team as well as the recent 2012 European champions.  In other words, the absence of Messi isn’t a justifiable excuse for the poor performance. And as Pique said after the match, his inclusion would have probably not made a difference.
  • Bayern had to do without Dante, who was reportedly sick (flu), and instead Daniel van Buyten filled his shoes in centre back. Van Buyten has shown over and over again that when called upon he’s a very reliable backup.
  • The German side has scored the most goals (26) in the Champions League this season. They increased that to 29 tonight.
  • Barcelona had to draw a fine balance from the beginning. They knew they had to play an extraordinary game. To have any shot at making a comeback, the team had to play offensively, while also maintaining a very sound defensive game, especially against an attacking side of Bayern’s calibre.
  • Arjen Robben got the first great chance for his team. He broke free after Bastian Schweinsteiger feed him the ball, but Gerard Pique’s tackle prevented the Dutchman from having a clear shot.
  • Die Roten were ferocious on the right channel. They had another excellent chance that started with Robben’s pass to Schweini, who backheeled it to Philipp Lahm. The full back was in the process of taking the shot when Pique cleared the ball away.  In the first half, most of Bayern’s chances were quite wasteful, but that changed in the last 45 minutes.
  • Pique was exceptional in defence today with several tackles and clearances. That was, of course, until the own goal in the 72nd minute. Adriano and Marc Bartra also struggled with controlling Robben, Mario Mandzukic and Thomas Mueller’s advances deep in their zone.
  • The game’s pace steadily picked up a quarter into the match with both sides creating several good opportunities. As in the first leg, the Spanish side had majority possession again.
  • Barcelona had a few good chances.  Fabregas chested a pass from Dani Alves that ended in front of Xavi, but the shot went beyond the bar.  Fabregas also had a decent attempt in the 30th minute when he tried to tap it in.
  • But that didn’t deter Bayern from their plan.  They were in control for the entire 180 minutes. The Bavarians were extremely organized. Compared to last season, Bayern’s composure has been incredible this year. They don’t succumb to pressure as easily and play with an advanced sense of relaxation.
  • Defensively the German side was just as solid, clearing balls with their heads and blocking shots with their bodies.  Even when their backs were pinned against the wall, David Alaba, Jerome Boateng and the remaining back four always made sure to recover the ball and intercept the opponent’s crosses.
  • Six of Bayern’s footballers had to play cautiously to avoid missing the final including Schweini, Dante, Gomez, Martinez, Lahm and Gustavo, who were all one booking away.
  • While the pressing wasn’t as intense as in the first leg, Bayern continued to attack, making it even harder for Barca to organize. With another 45 minutes to go, Barca really needed a miracle. It’s not often that one feels sympathetic towards the Spanish side, but the sooner the game ended the better.
  • The mood at the Camp Nou went sour once Robben scored. In the 49th minute, Alaba’s long pass ended with Robben, who cut inside Barca’s penalty box. Victor Valdes stood no chance against the Dutchman’s classic driller.  Barca now needed six goals to overcome the deficit.
  • There was a very large contingent of Bayern fans at the match and were easily heard drowning out the home crowd.
  • A rarity, but Tito Vilanova decided to take Xavi and Andres Iniesta out in the second half and replaced them with Alexis Sanchez and Thiago Alcantara.
  • But the outcome only got worse. Thomas Mueller made it 3-0 in the 76th minute.  This was a very humiliating night for the Catalans.  With the quality available at Barcelona, the lack of goals became increasingly embarrassing.  This was Barcelona’s worst aggregate CL defeat in a semi-final.
  • As for Bayern, they were truly unstoppable and the superiour side in both legs.
  • Bayern’s win, alongside Borussia Dortmund, is historic. For the first time in the competition will two German teams fight for the trophy in the final.
  • Robben, however, knows there’s one more major hurdle to overcome: “The final is going to be a big one. Dortmund have proved over last two to three years they are a very good team. It will be decided on very small details.”
  • We won’t know those details until May 25, 2012 in Wembley.

Three Stars

Robben
Schweini
Alaba

Real Madrid v Borussia Dortmund - UEFA Champions League Semi Final: Second Leg

Game in a sentence

Two late goals from Real Madrid weren’t enough to advance to the Champions League final as Borussia Dortmund win 3-4 on aggregate.

Observations

  • Despite a late scare in the final 10 minutes of the match, the thrill factor was largely absent for the rest of the match. 2-0 was as much as Madrid could muster.
  • So yes, the team that has caught everyone’s imagination and adoration is heading to the final.
  • Jose Mourinho made a few changes to the lineup. He left Sami Khedira out and instead paired Xabi Alonso with Luka Modric.
  • Angel Di Maria also returned, allowing Mesut Oezil to play in his more natural position, in the centre right behind Gonzalo Higuain. The German international created many chances, but missed a crucial opportunity early in the game.
  • Di Maria surely added a level of energy and speed that was missing in the first leg. Modric also connected finely with Di Maria and created several great passes.
  • In the first 15 minutes, Higuain, Cristiano Ronaldo and Ozil all had incredible chances, but failed to convert. Higuain got the first chance for his team. His right-footer, however, was poor and Roman Weidenfeller was quick to cut down the angle and make the save with his stretched-out leg.
  • That chance was followed by Ronaldo’s attempt, which went straight to the Dortmund keeper, who managed to make the save. Ozil had another excellent opportunity for Madrid on the right side, but his attempt also went wide.
  • The majority of Madrid’s attacks came from the right flank in the first half. Alonso and Modric bonded for most of the night until Mou opted for change in the second. Modric’s effort and performance were top-notch. His passing was also very effective.
  • Madrid excelled the first 30 minutes, yet their attacks slowly subsided. Their advancements left the German side tantalized with Marcel Schmelzer and Sven Bender looking quite vulnerable on the left side.
  • Dortmund did a fine job of absorbing the Spanish side’s pressure. But the attacks also forced them to concede three corners early in the game. BVB was more reactive than proactive. Their high-tempo and high-pressing tactics were missing and only short spells of it were present today.
  • At the beginning, the German side struggled to create any chances. It was only when los Blancos’ failed to sustain the pressure that die Schwarzgelben managed to step up their game. BVB’s first good opportunity came from Robert Lewandowski in the 13th minute. He couldn’t finish though.
  • Goalkeepers were solid on both ends. Diego Lopez made several salient saves, and Weidenfeller kept his team in the game when it mattered. He produced important saves in the first 30 minutes as well as in the final 10 minutes, despite conceding two late goals.
  • Mats Hummels also had a superb game tonight. He cleared and intercepted several of Madrid’s balls. Lukasz Piszczek also kept a close eye on Ronaldo and curtailed his movement deep in Dortmund’s own zone.
  • In the 14th minute, Mario Goetze had to leave the game due to some sort of hamstring injury. He was replaced by Kevin Grosskreutz. German media reporting he’ll likely miss the match against Bayern Munich this Saturday, but should be fit for the CL final in Wembley.
  • With all the licit and illicit pre-game talk by Mou, Sergio Ramos surely didn’t miss a word of it. He was excessively physical with the Polish striker and was lucky enough to get away with the fouls. Alonso also reacted very unprofessionally towards Lewandowski and appeared to slap the player in the face at one point during the game.
  • In the second half, it was more of the same. Only now, Dortmund had the better chances, including a few by Robert Lewandowski, who just couldn’t repeat the magic away at the Bernabeu.
  • His best attempt came in the 49th minute on a slide from Marco Reus, only to hit the crossbar. Although Reus didn’t make the same exceptional runs as we witnessed in the last match, he still had a strong performance tonight.
  • The wastefulness continued, with a spectacular miss by Ilkay Gundogan in the 62nd minute. Gundogan really wasn’t as decisive as usual. When Reus slipped him the ball, he should have beaten Diego Lopez, but the Madrid keeper made a confident save throwing his full body in front of the ball. Credit to Lopez, the save was exceptional and well read.
  • With time running out and the score still level, Mou brought on Karim Benzema for Higuain and Kaka for Fabio Coentrao in the 57th. He also replaced Alonso with Khedira. The substitutions soon made their impact. It was an intelligent move playing with one less defender as Madrid came very close to possibly creating an upset.
  • The final 10 minutes were pulsating. In fact, it was so intense; that some at the game were reporting the BVB CEO Hans-Joachim Watzke reportedly left for the game once the score was 2-0 and didn’t return until the final whistle.
  • While this wasn’t the most entertaining match, Benzema’s goal brought a message of hope to a demoralized side. He scored on a pass from Oezil in the 83rd. The next 7 minutes were thrilling.
  • Madrid’s offence continued to hound Dortmund, with Weidenfeller making a series of key saves, but his defenders (and the team as whole, actually) struggled to clear the ball and Ramos eventually added another goal (with Benzema assisting) in the 88th minute.
  • Could karma hit back at BVB? Could Madrid make a comeback? Dortmund dealt with the late scare much better in the five minutes of added time, clearing the ball and holding on to the ball to kill time.
  • BVB’s unbeaten streak was finally brought to an end. They’re not invincible, after all. Despite losing tonight, they were the better team in the 180 minutes and deserved to advance to the CL final in Wembley.
  • As for Madrid, the most important development there will deal with Mou and his future at the club.
  • Perhaps, 2013 is the year of the Bundesliga. This could be the year the Germans make history and have an all-German Uefa final.
  • Choosing three stars wasn’t so easy for this match with some players on both sides having a phenomenal night. Modric was key for Madrid. Oezil’s creativity was also in full swing, just unlucky at converting. Di Maria definitely an energy boost, but couldn’t finish. Lopez with some incredible saves and Benzema of course with a goal and assist. Whereas for Dortmund, Reus was strong, Hummels just as sturdy in defence and Weidenfeller (despite the two goals) made a few very very very important saves.
  • Perhaps, the audience can choose the three best players for this game. Feel free to post them below.

Juergen Klopp has taken the English world by storm. But the current fascination is understandable. He’s reached heights only pop stars attain, and Germans too are smitten by the Borussia Dortmund coach.

The above video is Matze Knop’s 2011 parody on Klopp. Knop is a German comedian, who has an online show called Knops Kult Liga for Bild. He’s known for his brilliant parodies of not only Klopp, but Jupp Heynckes, Louis van Gaal, Franz Beckenbauer, Mesut Oezil, Cristiano Ronaldo and the list is truly endless.

The above video ‘I wanne be like Juergen Klopp’ is his rendition of ‘Usher’s Love In This Club’ and includes clips of Klopp as well as Shinji Kagawa, Nuri Sahin, Neven Subotic and fans. The video ends with Klopp and his iconic laugh. I have to say his imitations are brilliant and the resemblance is unbelievable.

Read the rest of this entry »

FBL-EUR-C1-GER-ESP-DORTMUND-REAL MADRID

Game in a sentence

Robert Lewandowski scores four goals as Borussia Dortmund hammer Real Madrid in the first leg of the Champions League semi-finals.

Observations

  • Dortmund are resilient in the face of controversy. The team didn’t allow the leaked news of Mario Goetze joining rivals Bayern Munich to destabilize their chances of reaching the Champions League final.
  • There were even reports of tighter security during Dortmund’s training session, and one report even suggested Goetze’s brother was bullied at school.
  • Juergen Klopp spoke and the players and fans listened. Klopp appealed for a special night and that is what he got. His team stayed united and didn’t allow Real Madrid to capitalize on the drama.
  • Even the atmosphere at the stadium wasn’t hampered by the news although there were earlier fears of abuse and jeering towards Goetze.
  • While all the pre-match talk was over Goetze, the game had Robert Lewandowski written all over it.
  • In the 7th minute Marco Reus made a spectacular run from the half-way line past several Madrid defenders, but couldn’t get his shot near the net. The rebound ended with Lewandowski, who should have instinctively tapped it in rather than trying to do too much with the ball.
  • A minute later, however, he made up for the earlier miss. Ilkay Gundogan passed the ball to Goetze who was waiting on the left. Goetze made the cross and Robert Lewandowski tapped it in, foiling Pepe. Lewandowski is now a top-scorer for Poland in the Champions League.
  • At best, Madrid only looked dangerous for a few minutes, especially on the counter with their speed. But the Dortmund defence was rock solid and hindered them from establishing their usual pace.
  • BVB were transitioning beautifully and pressing high up the pitch. The back-four, which at times appeared vulnerable in the past, were communicating brilliantly. Marcel Schmelzer was constantly throwing his body in front of the ball and troubling Mesut Oezil’s attempts from the right flank, who was paired with Luka Modric (Mou opted to go with him instead of Angel di Maria in the starting XI) in the centre and Ronaldo on the left.
  • The entire game, Madrid struggled to create any real chances, with several coming from set pieces, especially in the first half. Oezil and Modric lacked creativity and kept having their passes intercepted. Sami Khedira was a physical presence, but his advancements were continually held back.
  • Weidenfeller was absolutely stellar in net. He made a a few great saves on a slew of free kicks in the first 45 minutes. In the 24th minute he made a save on Ronaldo’s and then had to endure three more free-kicks from Xabi Alonso’s left side. One went wide and Weidenfeller made a double save on the third one.
  • The German side did a fine job of containing Ronaldo, denying the Portuguese his trademark dribbling and speedy runs forward. As in the group stages, Dortmund cut Alonso out of the game, denying him the creative ability to make key passes to the forward line.
  • A loss in concentration by BVB, allowed the Spanish side to score their only goal of the night. Dortmund were busy appealing for a penalty after Reus was brought down. Meanwhile Mats Hummels failed to control the ball and underhit it. Higuain was there to take advantage of the mistake and crossed it to Ronaldo, who volleyed it into the empty net. This was his 12th goal of the competition.
  • But die Schwarzgelben were in cruise control, in particular their prolific striker Lewandowski. He scored his second in the 50th minute after Reus made a pass just outside the penalty box. Madrid protested saying it was offside, but the replay showed it was onside.
  • The Polish international went on to score four goals, that’s four in 66 minutes, with one coming from a penalty kick. The penalty was awarded after Alonso pushed Reus to the ground.
  • Pepe and Raphael Varane (with the latter starting off strong) really had difficulty defending against Lewandowski, whose hat-trick was a hard-fought effort. After controlling the ball from a forceful Schmelzer shot, Lewandowski slammed it into the top of the net. Diego Lopez stood no chance.
  • Lewandowski became the first player in European football to score four goals against Real Madrid in a single game. And he almost made it five, but Diego Lopez, with probably his best save of the night, denied him that record.
  • As always, the crowd at the Westfalenstadion exploded. Surprisingly, viewers weren’t treated to another brilliant tifo before kick-off. Perhaps, next time.
  • Even after Madrid’s first goal, they failed to shift any momentum their way. BVB were incredible at controlling the game. Klopp wanted his team to play with Vollgasveranstaltungen and his team executed. It was another exciting and passionate performance.
  • Die Schwarzgelben continued to play a very compact game denying Madrid the leeway to set up a pace. BVB were counterpressing all night and swarming key players on the Spanish side whenever they touched the ball.
  • Jose Mourinho made a few substitutions in the second half, but it was pointless. Karim Benzema came on for Higuain, Kaka for Alonso and Di Maria for Modric. It’ll be hard to make a comeback now that they’re down 4-1, even with the return leg at the Santiago Bernabeu.
  • As for Dortmund, they’re the only team that still hasn’t lost a game in the CL.
  • It’ll be hard to see Dortmund next season without Goetze, who has incredible chemistry with teammates Reus and striker Lewandowski. The wunderkind played another strong game tonight and was involved in the first goal.
  • It’s on every football fans’ wishlist to keep this team intact. They’re truly something special, especially for a team that’s on a much smaller budget than any of the other European giants and even mid-table clubs.

Three Stars

Lewandowski
Weidenfeller
Reus

FBL-EUR-C1-BAYERN-MUNICH-BARCELONAGame in a sentence

Bayern Munich trash Barcelona 4-0 in the first leg of the Champions League semi-finals.

Observations

  • Initially it was hard to see Bayern Munich playing without Mario Mandzukic, who missed the game due to a suspension, but the win today only reaffirmed the depth of this team on both the domestic and the European level.
  • Before the game, Jordi Roura said, “This will be a very tight tie. It will be won because of minor details. It will be a very fast game and very intense. The team that imposes themselves on the game with have the advantage.”
  • Aside from the tight tie, Roura was correct in his analysis. But instead of his team, it was Bayern that dictated the game. The German side ripped Barcelona’s defence apart and hit the net four times.
  • Lionel Messi was fit enough to play, yet he wasn’t 100% and it was obvious his injury continued to hamper his performance. Javier Mascherano and Carles Puyol were still out due to injuries.
  • With two very excellent midfields, both teams were constantly pressing high up the pitch. While both were cautious, it was Bayern that slowly began to control the game.
  • Around the 12th minute mark, the Spanish side had a long spell of possession that nearly lasted two minutes. Yet possession meant nothing in this game.
  • Moreover, it was rare to see Bayern on the losing side of controlling the ball, but they proved today that they can also win games without leading in that category.
  • The first goal was the result of a double header. Thomas Mueller, who is possibly one of the grittiest players in football, headed the ball low into the net after receiving it from Dante’s header. Credit should also be given to Arjen Robben, who managed to keep the ball inside the penalty box.
  • From the beginning, Barca were quite vulnerable at the back four and Bayern managed to further exploit that weakness as the game went on. The Spanish side had as much trouble off the ball as they had with the ball. When the Catalans gained possession, it was tough for them to create any sort of momentum with Bayern constantly pushing forward.
  • Creating and building were two words missing in Barcelona’s game today. Xavi, Andres Iniesta, and Sergio Busquets weren’t connecting with Messi and the rest of the forward line. It wasn’t just Messi, but Pedro Rodrigue and Alexis Sanchez also weren’t exerting themselves.
  • Bayern on the other hand were a very cohesive and organized unit. They never strayed from their plan and formation. Their performance was exceptional. Even under rare moments of Barca pressure, the team remained calm and proactive. The Bavarians managed to not only create several attempts, but also net a hefty chunk of them.
  • The midfield was probably the busiest area of the pitch as both teams were trying to push each other back. But Barca seemed to struggle more than the German side and failed to build or set up from behind. When they did, there was always a red wall ready to intercept, block and counter.
  • The German side approached the game with a superior plan. They made it difficult for Barca to find any quality openings on the pitch.
  • A few minutes after the first goal, Messi was preying right in front of Bayern’s net, but a very clever slide by Dante kept the ball away from danger. The hero, who single-handedly helped win the game against Paris Saint-Germain, was nowhere to be found. For most of the match, he also appeared to play a lot deeper than usual.
  • But Barcelona’s loss wasn’t just Messi’s lack of scoring, Rodriguez and Sanchez also didn’t threaten. Even Iniesta and Xavi’s passing choked whenever they entered Bayern territory.
  • For the Germans, this was a deserved victory. It was hard to single out a few players for their remarkable performances. This was a truly beautiful team effort. Philipp Lahm and Robben were very dangerous on the right side. Franck Ribery’s speed was deadly and David Alaba provided an assist on the last goal. Javi Martinez was equally productive. He created a few excellent diagonal passes to his teammates upfront and won most of his duels.
  • Robben was also playing a more involved defensive game. He contributed a goal and helped set up the second goal for Mario Gomez from a corner. Gomez ended up volleying the ball in from Mueller’s header in the 49th minute. It was a controversial goal and appeared to be slightly offside, but it was hard to see from the referee’s angle.
  • Bayern were on a roll. They cruised to score two more goals. In the 73rd minute, the Dutchman finally scored after plenty of miserable and failed attempts in the Champions League this season, and of course, in last year’s final against Chelsea.
  • Bayern were excellent on set pieces. They had the physical advantage and looked the more dangerous side throughout the match. Ribery and Robben combined for speed and deep runs into the opponent’s side. At one point, the Frenchman could have increased the lead from a beautiful Robben pass, but his strike just missed the net.
  • Marc Bartra, who was paired with a shaved-head Gerard Pique, had two decent chances, one in the 69th and another one moments later. The first involved a weak effort and in the second one he tried to turn around, but in the process lost his grip and the resulting attempt was poor.
  • Bayern scored a fourth goal in the 82nd minute. Mueller scored his second from Alaba’s slide on the left side. The striker was very influential and hard to mark for the opponent’s defenders.
  • At the end, the German side played with consistency and determination.
  • Barcelona were sore losers and emotions took the better of Jordi Alba, who threw the ball directly in Robben’s face near the end of the match. It was a very dirty play and he’ll now miss the next match.
  • There were many fouls and handballs that went unnoticed by the referee. The centre circle of the pitch was also in a strange condition at the Allianz Arena. It was quite waterlogged compared to the rest of the field.
  • This was the first time since 2010 that the Spanish side has conceded three goals in the Champions League. Barcelona now find themselves in a taxing position. They’re up against one of the best opponents in the competition with a four-goal deficit to overcome.

Three Stars

Mueller
Robben
Martinez

Justin Fashanu of Norwich City

It was hard not to notice West Ham’s Matt Jarvis as he posed shirtless on the cover of Europe’s best-selling gay magazine Attitude a few months ago. His immaculate chest and sun-kissed skin surely helped fuel sales. But if a picture is worth a thousand words, the cover was probably worth a lot more in pounds—roughly three for the digital version—than for its impact.

Perhaps the cover’s intention wasn’t to alter society’s views on an issue, but to simply start a conversation, a dialogue about the last remaining taboo in the sport. But there’s nothing groundbreaking anymore about a straight athlete posing on a gay or niche magazine anymore, particularly as Jarvis isn’t the only footballer to have graced the cover. David Beckham and Freddie Ljungberg did so before him, with little effect in changing people’s attitudes.

That’s because covers such as these (regardless of the magazine) are in the end nothing more than eye candy, meant to persuade buyers to reach deep into their pockets. They appeal to our desires and not our intellect, as Plato might put it.

It’s certainly commendable when straight footballers take pride in their role as ‘gay icons’, but in the grand scheme of things, the progress football has made in tackling homophobia is pitiable. The sad truth is that it’s been 23 years since an active, professional footballer came out of the closet in England.

It’s not hard to see why. Justin Fashanu’s messy coming out didn’t have the same positive reaction as that of Gareth Thomas, the Welsh rugby player, who admitted he was gay near the end of his career in 2009. Instead, Fashanu was shunned by coaches, players and even some members of his family. His life ended in tragedy when he committed suicide following sexual assault allegations in the United States.

While it’s refreshing to hear the Football Association Chairman David Bernstein allay gay players’ fears of going public or Cesare Prandelli and Claudio Marchisio’s support of gay players, the road ahead is still uncertain.

The closest football recently came was when former Leeds United midfielder Robbie Rogers came out in an online letter. Yet his announcement coincided with him leaving the sport. While the outpour of support was tremendous from fans and players, it wasn’t enough to suggest a groundbreaking change in attitude.

Just last November, United’s Anders Lindegaard wrote the following on his blog:

“Homosexuals are in need of a hero. They are in need of someone who dares to stand up for their sexuality.”

Lindegaard isn’t the first player to encourage gay footballers to come forward. Three years ago, German international Mario Gomez also favoured a stronger voice from active players.

“They would play as if they were liberated,” Gomez said. “Being gay should no longer be a taboo topic.”

Liberating, definitely, but such a statement underscores the degree of complexity involved. Even though it’s refreshing to have other footballers express their solidarity towards a gay player, it’s a journey that won’t be made any easier in an environment that in some ways remains as fierce and antagonistic as it was decades ago.

A Hostile Culture and Environment

In terms of welcoming change, there’s a general consensus that the current environment is still too hostile for a player to go public with their sexual orientation. More needs to be done by the FA and the sport in general to create an environment conducive to gay footballers.

The Stonewall Report discovered widespread homophobia within the sport.

• Three in five fans believe that anti-gay abuse from fans dissuades gay players from coming out
• Almost two thirds of fans believe football would be a better sport if anti-gay abuse was eradicated
• Two thirds of fans would feel comfortable if a player on their team came out
• Over half of fans think the FA, Premier League and Football League are not doing enough to tackle anti-gay abuse

Football may not have evolved as much as we think since Fashanu’s death, something Lindegaard also recently acknowledged:

“The problem for me is that a lot of football fans are stuck in a time of intolerance that does not deserve to be compared with modern society’s development in the last decades. While the rest of the world has been more liberal, civilised and less prejudiced, the world of football remains stuck in the past when it comes to tolerance.”

But the guilty label shouldn’t just apply to fans, as the recent Alan Gordon game suspension in MLS for using a gay slur indicates. The subculture of communication among footballers, for instance, likely suggests that ignorance and insensitivity are probably more common than people suspect.

Take Liverpool player Suso’s gay twitter remark about his teammate whitening his teeth as a case in point. Despite the midfielder’s fining, the comment itself speaks volumes. Evidently Jose Enrique’s response only made matters worse, when he tweeted this in his teammates defence.

“Is amazing how FA can fine my friend Suso Fernandez for a banter thing. Was just a joke!!!”

This raises another question: where do you draw the line between ‘banter’ and discrimination?

What’s more telling of this type of attitude is the blatant use of the word gay without awareness of its offensive qualities. The ongoing acceptance of the often all too loose and generous use of the word ‘gay’ further illustrates that the sport needs to rid itself of certain elements deep-seated within its very own culture.

Luke Edwards from the Telegraph says it may be seen as harmless by some players, yet it’s very representative of the locker room environment.

“The young Spaniard argued his comments were meant to be lighthearted, although it says much about the everyday vocabulary used in dress rooms up and down the country.”

While support from some realms of the sport are on the rise, let’s not forget that only last summer during Euro 2012, Italy’s Antonio Cassano said he hoped there were no gay players on his national team.

Dealing with abuse from teammates is only one of several forms of discrimination hurled at gay players. Others can also come from management. What if some coaches hold very traditional or religious views and refuse to work with gay footballers? Would a club sign a mediocre or decent player, who happens to be gay, if they knew the coach was homophobic? What about the risk of losing sponsors and endorsements?

Luiz Felipe Scolari, for example, didn’t hide his feelings towards homosexuals.

“If I found out that one of my players was gay, I would throw him off the team.”

Yet, his homophobic views didn’t prevent Chelsea from hiring him as head coach six years later, nor did it stop Brazil from appointing him as their current national coach.

Scolari isn’t alone in his views. Another individual, who made an offensive comment while in a position of power and influence, was the former head of the Croatian Football Federation Vlatko Markovic back in 2010.

“As long as I’m president (of the football federation) there will be no gay players. Thank goodness only healthy people play football.”

The level of ignorance in this statement requires no further elaboration, but it does hit a very sensitive nerve when one’s sexual orientation is compared to a condition or illness. He eventually apologized, but it was speculated that it was likely due to pressure or to save face, or likely both.

Even Sepp Blatter was guilty of having made a comment symbolic of dormancy rather than transformation, when he said homosexuals fans should refrain from sex at the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.

The Hero Narrative

How essential is the need for a current gay hero? There are those in the football blogosphere who make the argument that gay footballers don’t necessarily need to wait for one of their own to come out.

Matt Phil Carver believes homosexual players can look to Ashley Cole, Sol Campbell and David Beckham as models to follow. Carver is essentially arguing that they should feel inspired by their respective resilience and dignity in the face of scandals and abuse. It’s the qualities that matter and not one’s sexual orientation.

It’s an argument written in good faith, yet essentially fails to situate the experience of the gay footballer in proper context. The experiences of Cole, Beckham and Campbell (and Terry to some extend) don’t mirror the reality of the types of abuses gay footballers face. Moreover, this view essentially conflates being gay with enduring the results of a self-inflicted personal scandal.

Plus, if Campbell endured so much hardship for simply being suspected of being gay, how would fans have reacted if he really were? All it took was a rumour to reach a minority of extreme fans to set the ball rolling.

Graeme Le Saux, the former England international and Chelsea defender, was also hit with a similar fate as that of Campbell’s. He went on to speak at length about his ordeal both to media and in his autobiography.

“The homophobic taunting and bullying left me close to walking away from football. I went through times that were like depression. I did not know where I was going.
“I would get up in the morning and would not feel good and by the time I got into training I would be so nervous that I felt sick. I dreaded going in. I was like a bullied kid on his way to school to face his tormentors.”

It’s also noteworthy to mention here that Le Saux wasn’t just tormented by fans, but players too, notably the infamous incident with Robbie Fowler.

Mixed Reactions

Buried between these heart-rending examples is the curious case of Anton Hysen. So far Hysen seems to be an exception to the rule. He is a Swedish fourth division player who came out in 2011 to a surprisingly warm welcome.

Although, Hysen’s case is reassuring and hopeful, it certainly can’t be compared to the top levels of the game, where the risks and repercussions are much higher. Still, it’s a step in the right direction and sends a positive message to gay athletes at any level and sport.

For others, however, coming out meant sacrificing the sport they loved. The courageous example of German second division player Marcus Urban illustrates this. In the mid 1990s, Urban decided to abruptly end his dream of becoming a professional soccer player because of his sexual orientation.

A few years ago he gave an interview to the Stuttgarter Zeitung.

“The word gay only existed for me as a curse word. I thought as a footballer one can’t be gay, and that’s the end of it.”

By the same token, there have also been current footballers discouraging players to publicly come out. Germany’s Tim Wiese and Philip Lahm don’t think it’s worth the struggle due to the backlash they’ll receive, in particular from the fans.

While some favour and others disfavour going public, within soccer there also exists a third group, the silent majority. This faction pretty much says nothing at all, at least not openly.

In the documentary ‘Britain’s Gay Footballers’ the prevalent silence among footballers, especially straight ones, to talk in detail as well as on camera about the issue shows the unsettling and forbidden nature of the subject.

This is by far one of the sport’s greatest challenges because from the bottom to the top not a single realm is immune to homophobia.

While Joey Barton predicted another gay footballer will come out in England within the next 10 years, in order for that to happen the environment and culture need to drastically change. A gay positive space will organically lead to the desired results.

Then again, there’s also the risk of essentialization. Former Leeds United player Robbie Rogers told ABC News in a recent interview he doesn’t want to be known as the gay footballer.

“Gay athletes are athletes…If I go back to soccer, I want to go back as Robbie. I just want it to be as simple as that.”

That all said, tackling homophobia in a sport with a macho culture is a staggering effort despite the mesmerizing covers, and Italian observers of the sport Giovanni Arpino and Alfio Caruso said it best, “Football is always late in making history.”

Juventus v FC Bayern Muenchen - UEFA Champions League Quarter Final

Game in a sentence

Bayern Munich cruise to victory 2-0 at Juventus to reach the semi-finals of the Champions League.

Observations

  • This match was an easy ride for the German powerhouse. They kept a clean sheet and doubled their lead. While it took them a bit longer than usual to settle into the game, once in control, victory was imminent.
  • Juventus started off strong and went into attack mode right after the whistle blew. It felt as if the tables were reversed for the first 20 minutes as the black and white flooded the Bayern side with a spell of attacks.
  • Juve was playing a higher defensive line and a much more aggressive game. The Italian side’s passing was considerably more organized than in the first leg. Andrea Pirlo was visible again. Paul Pogba, Kwadwo Asamoah and Mirko Vucinic also had a relatively strong game, despite their inability to convert.
  • Pogba’s speed and crossing skills troubled Dante and David Alaba in defence. The French man made a clever cross to the left in the 26th minute, which would have been a wonderful scoring opportunity if there was a Juve player to receive it.
  • Fabio Quagliarella had his chances, but lacked the finishing touch. Pirlo also had several free kicks, but couldn’t convert.
  • Bayern definitely lacked the fire power they carried in the previous game, but as the game went on their fierceness returned. Franck Ribery and Arjen Robben didn’t look nearly as dangerous on the flanks as in the previous match. Bastian Schweinsteiger also had a quiet game, but his silence ended in the second half when he helped set up both of Bayern’s goals.
  • Usually Bayern is dangerous on both flanks, but Philipp Lahm’s right side was more threatening pushing forward than Alaba’s today.
  • The bad refereeing in the CL continued with Mario Mandzukic booked for a terrible call. He will now miss the next match. The Croatian has been on a roll this season, but with Bayern’s depth (Pizarro and Mario Gomez) his absence may not hamper their European goals.
  • Both Buffon and Manuel Neuer were very sharp in net today. Buffon made a strong save in the 39th minute on Alaba, who shot from nearly the same spot as the goal in the first leg. Neuer, of course, didn’t concede a single goal against the Italians.
  • As for Bayern, they really came back into the game in the final 10 minutes of the first half. They took away possession and reverted to their natural passing game.
  • The Bianconeri came out strong again in the second half with two good chances. Pirlo with a free kick that deflected off the Bayern wall and Quagliarella with an explosive shot in the 48th minute that just went wide.
  • But the German side absorbed the attacks and foiled any of Juve’s attempts to steal momentum.
  • If there’s one trait we know Robben doesn’t lack, that’s faith and self-confidence. But poor Robben seemed cursed (again). He had three good chances with his famous left-foot. His third attempt in the 57th minute was his best, yet hit the post.
  • To further frustrate Juve, Mandzukic, who was probably Bayern’s best player against the Italians in the past two games, headed in the rebound in the 64th minute. Juventus’ uphill battle just got harder, as they needed four goals to get back into the game.
  • After Bayern took the lead, Antonio Conte made several drastic substitutions with Alessandro Matri, Emanuele Giaccherini and Mauricio Isla coming on, but regardless of the shake-up, the German side proved to be too tough of an opponent.
  • It was clear Bayern’s passing and possession were slowly starting to get under their opponents skins.
  • When Bayern went on an attacking spree, Juve’s comeback only faded further into the distance. Thomas Mueller had a fabulous attempt in the 77th minute, but missed the net. A few minutes later Robben had the defenders beaten but couldn’t put the ball past Buffon.
  • Claudio Pizarro, who replaced Mandzukic, doubled the lead in the final minutes with an admirable assist from Schweini.
  • Pizarro’s goal only reaffirmed the victory for the better side.

 

Three Stars

Neuer
Mandzukic
Schweinsteiger