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    The Manchester United Sale Rumors Are False. For Now.

    The Glazer family isn’t soliciting bids for United. But selling a piece of the team could set the price for all of it.Manchester United is not for sale. But it kind of is, in the same way that everything is for sale if the offer is high enough.The rumors started this week with a tweet, a bad joke by a billionaire that he quickly shot down himself. But almost as soon as Elon Musk walked away, the sharks were circling.Jim Ratcliffe, a British billionaire, was first out of the blocks, saying he would be interested in buying the team if it was, in fact, for sale. An American private equity firm, Apollo Global Management, was reported to be in talks about acquiring a minority stake. Money would not be an issue. Ratcliffe, the chairman of Ineos, is one of the world’s richest men. Apollo has roughly half a trillion dollars under management.But lost in the swirl of breathless reports seemed to be an important caveat: Manchester United wasn’t actually for sale.Or was it?These would not seem like top-of-the-market times at United. The team is in last place in England’s Premier League, off to its worst start to a season in more than a century. It employs a squad of players who inspire more ridicule than reverence. Its fans now hold weekly protests against the team’s Florida-based owners, the Glazer family. Yet, despite its struggles, there may not be a more coveted sports franchise anywhere on earth than Manchester United.Manchester United is last in the Premier League after a 4-0 defeat at Brentford on Saturday.David Klein/ReutersIt is one of the biggest teams anywhere that can be owned outright. It plays in the most popular soccer league in the world. Its reach extends to every corner of the earth. Quite simply: There are few brands in any sector as powerful as Manchester United.But assets that rare are famously hard to value through traditional market fundamentals. United’s share price, for example — it is listed on the New York Stock Exchange — would suggest the club is worth $2.23 billion, a figure well below the record $3 billon a group led by the California-based fund Clearlake paid this spring for its Premier League rival Chelsea F.C.But Chelsea is not Manchester United, not in any meaningful sense. Yes, it has been successful. Yes it also employs some of the world’s top players. But in terms of global reach, popularity and brand power, the club does not compare with United. What Chelsea’s sale price proved, though, is that when it comes to elite soccer club valuations, what is on the balance sheet rarely counts.Chelsea lost more than $1 million a week under its former owner, the Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich. It needs a new stadium and will require tens of millions more in spending each season to keep its roster competitive. Its purchase price followed a highly public auction that drew interest from around the world.For Manchester United, the list of suitors will be even longer, and even more public. Ratcliffe and Apollo may have been the first. They will not be the last.The British billionaire Jim Ratcliffe said he would be interested in buying United “if it was for sale.”Eric Gaillard/ReutersThe Manchester United co-chairman Avram Glazer and his siblings have given no hint they plan to sell.Toby Melville/ReutersRatcliffe’s approach is perhaps the most instructive of what is likely to come. He appears to have made no effort to contact the Glazers directly, or even reach out to their bankers. Instead, he went straight to the news media, and suggested he would be open to buying even a piece of United, with an eye on one day acquiring it all.“We are interested in the club, if it is up for sale,” is all a spokesman for Ratcliffe was willing to tell The New York Times on Thursday. The tactic unleashed a groundswell of popular support, and heaped a new round of abuse on the current owners.For the Glazers, who have been under siege for most of their tenure, selling a minority might make sense. It might allow them to soothe growing fan hostility — many supporters have never forgiven the Glazers for heaping debt on the previously debt-free club in their 800-million-pound leveraged buyout in 2005 — while simultaneously bidding up the team’s overall valuation. That figure is almost certainly going to be higher than United’s share price might suggest.Despite nearly a decade of underperformance, United still earns more than nearly every other team in world soccer. Revenue has tripled under the Glazers, reaching a high of 627 million pounds ($756 million) in 2019. If Chelsea is worth $3 billion on the open market, United, because of its fame, its earning potential and its iconic status, is worth far more, perhaps even double, some experts contend.At the same time, the scale of the negative sentiment among Manchester United supporters toward the Glazer family is hard to overstate. For more than a decade, fans have rallied against them at matches and in street marches; once, they even burned an effigy of the family’s late patriarch, Malcolm Glazer. And when the club flirted with joining a proposed European Super League last year, United fans broke into the team’s stadium and protested on the field.But through it all — for almost two decades — the Glazers have hung on, keeping hold of what in many ways is as an asset as rare as a priceless painting, thrilled to watch the value of their investment go skyward and with the cachet that comes with owning one of the most famous teams in the world.United fans at a protest in April. Ed Sykes/Action Images Via ReutersIt is unclear if all six Glazer siblings who were parceled ownership of the team by their father when he died share the same commitment to owning Manchester United. The brothers Joel and Avram are the most hands on, directly involved in the team’s decision making. But a partial sale might allow less-invested family members to cash out at a premium price, and leave those that remain with a valuation that is almost certain to be the highest price ever paid for sports franchise.For the moment, the Glazers, as has been their custom for nearly two decades, have not uttered a word publicly about their plans. A Manchester United spokesman declined to comment on Thursday.And now, at least officially, Manchester United is not for sale. The Glazers’ banker, the 200-year-old London-based advisory Rothschild & Co., is not actively soliciting bids. But neither was Abramovich, even as he spent years quietly directing offers that arrived to the New York banker, Joe Ravitch, who ultimately sold Chelsea this spring.That is very likely how things will go at Manchester United. There will come a moment when the time and the price are just right, for the most unpopular owners in English soccer history to cash out of what will go down as one of the most profitable deals in sports history.It has already cost Manchester United more than one billion pounds — in interest, debt repayments and dividends — for the right to be owned by the Glazer family. Most fans will consider billions more, this time in the form of one final check, a price worth paying to be rid of them. More

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    Bayern Munich and the Myth of Competition

    In several of Europe’s top leagues, it already feels like the title race is over. But is dominance what fans really want?Just like that, it was over. For two months or so, there had been just the slightest flicker of hope for the clubs of the Bundesliga. They had not felt it in some time. They did not want to admit to feeling it now, not publicly: It was fragile, guilty, most likely forlorn, but it was hope nonetheless.Robert Lewandowski was gone. Serge Gnabry, for a time, seemed as if he might follow. Thomas Müller and Manuel Neuer were another year older. For the first time in a decade, Bayern Munich seemed not weak — Bayern Munich is never weak — but just a little diminished, just a little more human.At Borussia Dortmund, at Bayer Leverkusen, at RB Leipzig, the thought would have formed, unbidden and silent. What if Dortmund’s reinforcements worked out? What if Florian Wirtz flourished? What if Christopher Nkunku was only just getting started? What if this were one of those years, the in-between ones, the liminal ones, when Bayern fades and another rises?And then cold reality intruded. Bayern’s first game of the season was at Eintracht Frankfurt: an intimidating stadium, packed to the rafters, cheering on a team that had won the Europa League only a few months earlier. It was no gentle start. Not for the first five minutes, anyway.Then Joshua Kimmich scored. Five minutes later, so did Benjamin Pavard. Then, on his debut, Sadio Mané, and Jamal Musiala, and Gnabry himself, and now the Bundesliga season was precisely 43 minutes old, and all of the hope had been extinguished and all of the what ifs had been answered. Just like that, for another year, it was over.Sadio Mané needed precisely one game to open his Bundesliga account at Bayern.Christof Stache/Agence France-Presse — Getty ImagesHope is, of course, a little hardier than that. Nobody, not even Bayern Munich, wins a championship in August. Its defeat of Eintracht was only one game. Perhaps, in the months to come, Julian Nagelsmann’s tactics will go awry. Perhaps Bayern’s squad will break out in full-scale mutiny. Perhaps it will be afflicted by an injury epidemic. Perhaps, as outlined in this space last week, the World Cup will cleave the season into two halves, both of them beset by randomness.Still, the impression left by that opening day rout was indelible. The departure of Lewandowski, and the lingering sense of generational shift that it has engendered at Bayern, has done nothing to change the power dynamic in the Bundesliga. The destiny of its championship feels preordained, if not from the moment the season started, then certainly from the 43rd minute.That, of course, has come to be seen as German soccer’s fatal flaw. Bayern has the most fans, the most commercial clout and the most Champions League prize money, and so it has a supremacy that now circles the absolute. It has won every title for the last 10 years. Sometimes, the gap to the nearest contender stands at 25 points. There is no drama. There is no doubt. It does not feel quite right, at the top of the table, to describe the Bundesliga as a competition.Germany is, at least, not alone. In France, Paris St.-Germain started its season by scoring three in 38 minutes against Clermont and ended up running out 5-0 winners. P.S.G. has won eight of the last 10 available titles in France. Its budget, swollen by Qatari beneficence, bears no relation to any of its rivals. The air in Ligue 1, too, is thick with inevitability.In theory, of course, this not only reflects badly on both of these leagues, but also limits both their appeal and their ambition. Sports, we are led to believe, require two things to retain old fans and attract new ones, to fill stadiums, to command the attention of drifting and distracted television audiences.They are related (and often confused) but distinct. One is what is generally called competitive balance: the idea that a number of entrants to a tournament might, in the end, win it. The other is known, academically, as the uncertainty-of-outcome hypothesis: the belief that an individual game within any given competition is only attractive if fans feel — or at least can trick themselves into feeling — as if both sides stand a chance.Lionel Messi, Neymar and Co. are already atop the Ligue 1 table.Mohammed Badra/EPA, via ShutterstockThe best measure of how important these concepts are held to be by leagues themselves comes in the form of the Premier League’s deeply hubristic, though undeniably successful, marketing strategy.In England, the top flight’s sense of self is inextricably bound to the idea that not only can any team beat any other team at any given moment, but also that it alone boasts a multiplicity of challengers for the ultimate crown.Germany and France, after all, have only one. Spain has a paltry three: Real Madrid, Atlético Madrid, and whichever bits of Barcelona have not been sold off to sign Marcos Alonso. Italy’s contenders might stretch to four these days, but that is only the case because Juventus very kindly decided to spend three years self-imploding.England, though, has no fewer than six, a full half dozen teams that go into the season with a shot of winning the championship that is at least more than theoretical. The reality, of course, is substantially more complex: not just because some of the six are more equal than others, but also because having a comparatively broad swatch of contenders means a less predictable season but more predictable games.But the truth, in this case, matters less than the belief. The Premier League’s success is down, it is broadly accepted, to the fact that it is less processional than all of its rival competitions. It follows, then, that the prospect of yet another season in which Bayern Munich and P.S.G. amble to their domestic crowns is a black mark against the leagues that home them.The Premier League sells stars for sure. But it also regularly offers something more valuable: jeopardy.Frank Augstein/Associated PressThis, to most fans, feels right. It feels just. It is obviously a drawback to know, almost from the start, which team is going to emerge triumphant. Like going to a movie in full knowledge that one lover lets the other drown despite there being plenty of space on the raft, or actually the guy is a ghost, there is not much point staying until the end. There should be competitive balance. There should be uncertainty of outcome. That, after all, is why we watch.Except that, as it happens, it isn’t. A paper published in 2020 by researchers at the University of Liverpool — and drawing on a welter of academic investigation into the motivations of sports fans — found that there was no correlation between how uncertain the outcome of any game was and how many people watched it. The link, they wrote, was “decisively nonsignificant.”That is not, it turns out, why most people watch sports, whether we want to admit it to ourselves or not. According to the researchers, there was a connection between viewership and the quality of player on show. Even more significant, though, was the name of the teams involved. The power of brand, they wrote, tended to “dominate any contribution to audience size.”Those two conclusions suggest that, rather than diminishing the appeal of the Bundesliga, Bayern’s victory did the precise opposite. Here, after all, was a team with a famous name and an established brand packed full of highly talented players. This, it would seem, is what fans want.That is the thinking that has convinced P.S.G. to try to blind the rest of Ligue 1, and much of Europe, with its sheer star power. It is the argument regularly trotted out by the Bundesliga to defend Bayern’s unimpeachable hegemony. Soccer’s dirty little secret is that it cherishes not balance, but dominance; it claims to want diversity, but nothing draws like dynasty.And yet, there is one other finding in that 2020 report that is worth noting. “A match with the highest championship significance observed in our data set would be expected to attract an aggregate audience size 96 percent higher than one with no implications at all for the prizes to be awarded at the end of the season,” even if the teams involved were the same, the researchers wrote.In other words, what fans really want — more than competitive balance, more than uncertainty of outcome, more than famous faces and powerful names — is jeopardy. They want, we want, as much jeopardy as we can get: games when it feels as if everything is on the line. That is what sells leagues. That is what attracts fans.Ultimately, neither Germany nor France can offer that. It is what is growing rarer by the season in the rest of Europe’s major leagues and quite a few of its minor ones, too, given the distorting effects of Champions League revenue throughout the continent.But that is what we want, more than anything. Seeing Bayern and P.S.G. ride roughshod over all and sundry offers a short-term hit, the fleeting satisfaction of awe but at the cost of the greater prize. There will, most likely, be no decider in the Bundesliga this season. There will be no ultimate showdown. How can there be, when everything felt settled 43 minutes in?Difficult NegotiationJorge Mendes: center of the universe.Enric Fontcuberta/EPA, via ShutterstockThe most fraught transfer of the summer, without doubt, was not the one in which a coterie of Europe’s biggest clubs sought to seduce Erling Haaland, or Manchester United’s futile pursuit of Frenkie de Jong, or even Real Madrid’s heartbreak at being rejected by Kylian Mbappé. It is, instead, Gonçalo Guedes’s move to Wolves from Valencia.Each step, after all, would have been full of snares and traps and pitfalls. First, the agent who retains a close bond with the Wolves owners, Jorge Mendes, would have had to get in touch with the agent most aligned with Valencia’s owner, Jorge Mendes, to see if the player was interested in the move.Next, those agents would have had to reach out to the player’s agent — Jorge Mendes — to see if his client was interested in the move. Guedes would then have had to get in touch with the Wolves manager, Bruno Lage, to discuss his role at his new team, perhaps through Lage’s agent: Jorge Mendes.And finally, politeness would have dictated that Guedes convey his desire to leave to Valencia’s new coach, Gennaro Gattuso. Gattuso, doubtless, would have been furious. He had tried to sign Guedes only last year, while Gattuso was (briefly) at Fiorentina. This was his chance to work with a player he so clearly admires. We can only imagine that he would have expressed his frustration at losing him in no uncertain terms to his agent. Jorge Mendes.CorrespondenceMark Cuban: N.B.A. owner and newsletter fixture.Kevin Jairaj/USA Today Sports, via ReutersAn abundance of emails arrived in the inbox this week, addressing an impressive variety of issues. On the ongoing Mark Cuban debate, Vincent LoVoi offers a handy rule of thumb: “A kid will last at a baseball game about as many innings as their age. A nine-year-old should enjoy a whole game, don’t bother taking a toddler, and be ready to leave mid-game with a four- or five-year-old.”That fits nicely, as it happens, with the suggestion from Joey Klonowski for parents of children who prefer TikTok over sports. “Take them to the game,” he wrote. The best way to assess these concepts, I think, is to test them in the wild. My son’s first taste of live soccer will come in September at our local (professional) team, Harrogate Town. He’s almost five, and I reckon he can do an hour, with snacks. I’ll report back.Joanne Palmer, meanwhile, was not alone in noticing an omission in last week’s discussion of next year’s World Cup. “Curious that Canada did not merit a mention, given that Canada beat the United States at the Olympics,” she wrote, and she is of course correct. Canada — like Australia and Brazil — will be a contender in 2023. It’s the U.S., though, that has represented the watermark for women’s international soccer for the last decade, regardless of the defeat last year, and it’s the U.S. that will offer the best gauge for where everyone else stands.As for the other World Cup, the one charging onto our horizons, Charles Kelley pointed out that it might not make this season all that strange in comparison to the 2019-20 campaign. “Temporary suspension of matches, ‘temporary’ rule changes, rescheduling of tournaments, empty stadiums, compacted schedules, emptying coffers, desperation player moves, and no kids to accompany players out onto the pitch,” he wrote.And that leads us nicely on to competing views about the World Cup itself. S.K. Gupta wanted to reflect the benefits of holding the tournament in Qatar. “It expands the game to a geographical region where it has never been held, encouraging the sport’s growth in the Middle East,” he wrote. “It will give ordinary people an opportunity to experience the culture of the Middle East and get beyond the stereotypes. Also, by having the World Cup in the Middle East, it would be feasible to have it broadcast live to most of the world during waking hours.”These are all absolutely valid, of course, though whether they are a counterweight to the fairly substantial “cons” column — the process by which the World Cup was acquired, the human rights issues, the sense that not everyone is entirely welcome in Qatar — is a matter of personal taste.To that list, we can add Juuso Sallinen’s (also valid, though not especially important) complaint. “Has anyone thought about the lack of partying in the country that will win the World Cup? The players are back in training only a few days after the final. It hardly leaves room for any proper celebration in the winning country itself.”I don’t think it’s especially shameful to think this is less than ideal, Juuso. These victories should be savored. The blame for that one, though, does not so much lie with Qatar as with everyone else in soccer, since they proved completely unwilling to sacrifice anything in order to make space for the tournament. More

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    World Cup Worries Mount With 100 Days (Give or Take) to Go

    A last-minute request to change the tournament’s start date is only the latest bit of uncertainty surrounding soccer’s showcase event.At a flashy ceremony on Nov. 21 last year, some of Qatar’s most senior officials, including the Gulf nation’s prime minister, joined the FIFA president Gianni Infantino, top soccer executives and invited guests for a celebration. They gathered on Doha’s corniche, the sweeping promenade that hugs the city’s shimmering waterfront, to unveil an ornate countdown clock and to mark a milestone: the day they were celebrating was precisely one year before the opening of the 2022 World Cup.Infantino, who now resides in Qatar, offered exultant praise for his hosts. He said their preparations for the event — roughly $200 billion in investments since Qatar was awarded the tournament in 2010 — were beyond compare: So good, in fact, that Infantino, a veteran soccer administrator, declared that he had “never witnessed anything like what is happening here.”Infantino’s bullish language might now better describe something few in soccer have seen before: the state of uncertainty and rising concern that surrounds several elements of the tournament affecting fans, sponsors and broadcasters. Not least of them? The day the World Cup will actually begin.World Cup organizers this week made an unprecedented request to reschedule the start date of the tournament in order to give Qatar, as the host, pride of place in the opening match. They asked for a ruling by Thursday, only months before the tournament and a matter of hours before a series of events marking 100 days to kickoff is set to begin.FIFA President Gianni Infantino was asked only this week to approve a change to the World Cup schedule.Mohammed Dabbous/ReutersThe request to play the first match on Nov. 20 — a day earlier than previously announced — is expected to be approved. But moving the date of the opening game, and shifting the kickoff time of another match the next day, will disrupt plans made by teams, fans, sponsors and broadcasters and even the tournament’s marketing staff, which has spent millions of dollars buying advertising space around the world to mark the 100-day countdown to the World Cup — a day now cloaked in questions — in signage wrapping buses and taxis in major capital cities around the world. All of those campaigns, as of Thursday, could now launch with the wrong start date for the tournament.The late schedule change, though, is only the latest high profile question that is adding to a growing air of uncertainty, inside and outside Qatar’s World Cup organization, about the ability of the tiny gulf nation — the smallest ever to host the World Cup — to pull off a tournament for which organizers have had 12 years to prepare.Three months before the tournament, for example, Qatar has yet to unveil concrete plans about the kind of experience fans can expect during their visits, including what they will need to enter the country; where they will stay when they arrive; how the police will handle violations of Qatari laws about public behavior; and where and how fans will be able to consume alcoholic beverages in Qatar, a conservative Muslim country where the sale of alcohol is tightly controlled and where the public consumption of it is almost nonexistent.London cabs decorated to mark 100 days until the start of the World Cup. The date on the door, though, soon may be wrong.How the tournament — with more than one million visitors expected to visit — will be secured also still has not been articulated. Qatar has signed policing agreements with several nations, notably Turkey, which in January said it would be providing more than 3,000 security personnel, including riot police, for a tournament in which fans of the 32 competing nations — some of them bitter rivals — will rub shoulders for weeks in an area smaller than the state of Connecticut.Read More on the 2022 World CupA Last-Minute Change: Only months before the tournament, FIFA is considering a request for the event to start one day earlier, allowing Qatar to be featured in the first match.Chile’s Failed Bid: The country’s soccer federation had argued Ecuador should be ejected from the tournament to the benefit of the Chilean team. FIFA disagreed.Golden Sunset: This year’s World Cup will most likely be the last for stars like Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo — a profound watershed for soccer.Senegalese Pride: Aliou Cissé, one of the best soccer coaches in Africa, has given Senegal a new sense of patriotism. Next up: the World Cup.Unofficially, Qatari officials have said the imported security officers will not be in direct contact with fans. But so far — and unlike for previous World Cups — scant detail on that matter, and several others, has been publicly available. Asked two days ago for clarification on questions about several World Cup topics, Qatari officials have yet to respond.There have also been concerns about accommodations, with delays in the release of rooms to the public and fans reporting a lack of availability on a portal reserved for ticket-holders, who are expected to be the only foreigners who will be allowed to enter Qatar during the monthlong World Cup. (This guidance, too, remains unclear as of this week.)Those who have managed to find accommodations, which can only be booked after fans have paid for tickets, have complained about high prices even in the rare cases where they have found availability.Ronan Evain, the executive director of Football Supporters Europe, an umbrella organization of fan groups, said the numbers of official fan groups traveling to Qatar to support European teams most likely will be significantly lower than for the last World Cup, which was held in Russia. The defending World Cup champion France, in one example, expects only 100 fans to attend as part of its official supporters group.Other fan groups, Evain said, are considering flying in and out of Qatar for matches because they have concluded doing so would be cheaper, and easier, than staying in Qatar. Germany’s fan club has already said it will be commuting to games from Dubai. “I don’t think they realize how problematic their accommodation situation is,” Evain said. “The whole system to book accommodation is so unclear ticket-holders are reluctant to book.”At the same time, representatives of some participating teams are discovering that finding space for players to socialize outside of their hotels in such a small geographic area has been an issue. “I don’t know if they get out of the hotel, they will be surrounded with thousands of fans,” said Iva Olivari, the team manager for Croatia.“I cannot tell you exactly what we are facing,” she added. “We will have to deal with it when we get there.”Warning: World Cup timing is, for now, not set in stone. Mustafa Abumunes/Agence France-Presse — Getty ImagesFor FIFA’s partners, the continuing uncertainty has been an unrelenting challenge. The last-ditch plan to change the tournament’s start date in particular will create chaos for the plans crafted months in advance by sponsors, according to Ricardo Fort, the former longtime sports marketing head at Coca-Cola.“They invited and confirmed hospitality guests, booked flights and hotels, and contracted with all necessary logistics,” Fort wrote in a Twitter post. “Imagine changing it all!”Officials in Qatar’s organizing committee have by now gotten used to such last-minute and sometimes inexplicable revisions to plans that were months in the making. In 2019, for example, staff members who had prepared a detailed marketing and communication plan to announce the opening of what was to be the al-Wakrah stadium were stunned to discover — only minutes before the country’s emir arrived to open the venue — that he had taken to social media to say it would instead be called the al-Janoub stadium.At other times, Qatar and its ambassadors have been their own worst enemies. Asked on a call with reporters last year about how many migrant workers have died on construction projects, a question that organizers have faced since work first began on World Cup projects almost a decade ago, Nasser al-Khater, the chief executive of the organizing committee, appeared to guess at the number before being corrected by a staff member. In April, World Cup officials had to provide clarifications after a senior security official told a reporter that rainbow flags, a symbol of gay rights, could be seized from fans for their own protection.To help tell its story, Qatar also enlisted — at great expense — a group of former soccer players, most prominent among them David Beckham, the former England captain. But despite receiving millions of dollars to bless Qatar’s World Cup project with his fame, Beckham has proved to be a reluctant advocate, preferring to attend events only when the news media is not present. Beckham has never said publicly why he signed up to endorse the tournament, and his spokeswoman did not respond to a request for comment.This week brought a new crisis over the tournament’s start date. FIFA’s secretary general, in the letter sent to top soccer leaders requesting the change, said FIFA had assessed the commercial and legal effects of moving Qatar’s opening game against Ecuador forward one day and “determined that any risk is sufficiently outweighed by the value and benefits of the proposal.”Some fans, though, will be left disappointed. In addition to shifting Qatar’s game, FIFA also proposed moving the time of a game between Netherlands and Senegal set for the original opening day, Nov. 21, to an evening kickoff from its original afternoon start.Martín Bauzá, a New Yorker, said that would mean he could no longer use the tickets he has bought for the Netherlands game, because he also has tickets for the United States-Wales match that begins an hour after it ends. And he probably will not be the only one grumbling.“I would imagine it would cause a few headaches for broadcasters,” said Graham Fry, chairman of IMG’s production unit, a veteran of major event coverage.“They would have already planned programming for that day, scheduled previews for the World Cup,” he added, noting such decisions often must be made months in advance.Another issue of direct interest to many fans — the plan to serve alcohol at the World Cup — has still not been articulated, despite months of discussions and even though one of FIFA’s biggest partners is Budweiser, which expects its products to be available to supporters across World Cup sites.The most recent proposal, which has yet to be made public, is for beer to be sold after the security check outside stadiums but not inside the stadiums themselves. Fans also will be able to drink at fan parks, but at the moment that privilege will only be available at certain times of the day. Which times? World Cup organizers still have not said. More

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    FIFA Seeks Late Changes to Qatar World Cup Schedule

    In a letter sent only months before the tournament, organizers have requested that the World Cup start one day earlier and allow Qatar, the host nation, to feature in its first match.Qatar has had 12 years to plan for the World Cup. Now, with the first games of the tournament just over 100 days away and the intricate match schedule announced months ago, organizers have requested changes that would make the event start a day earlier so the host nation can have a featured place in the opening game.In recent years, the World Cup host nation has appeared in the tournament’s first match, as the headliner in the monthlong event’s elaborate opening ceremony. But this year, in a break with that tradition, organizers took the unusual step of scheduling Qatar’s first game as the third of four matches on a busy first day of competition on Nov. 21.Now a proposal to move Qatar’s game to Nov. 20 has been sent to the most senior officials of FIFA, soccer’s global governing body and the organizer of the World Cup. Those officials, a group that includes the leaders of soccer’s six global confederations and the FIFA president, Gianni Infantino, will decide whether to approve it.It is unclear why organizers — and FIFA — had not originally planned for Qatar to play in the tournament’s opening game, a stage reserved for every tournament host since the World Cup was staged in Germany in 2006. Before then, the defending champion was customarily granted the honor of opening the tournament.“It has been a longstanding tradition to mark the start of the FIFA World Cup with an opening ceremony on the occasion of the first match featuring either the hosts or the defending champions, a factor that is considered to have significant value from a ceremonial, cultural and commercial point of view,” FIFA wrote in a letter to members of the bureau that was reviewed by The New York Times.The Lusail stadium, the largest of the eight arenas built or renovated for the World Cup, is set to host 10 matches, including the final.Pawel Kopczynski/ReutersIn addition to changing the date of Qatar’s opening game against Ecuador, the proposed adjustment would affect another match set for the tournament’s opening day: Senegal’s game against the Netherlands, which would be moved out of its afternoon time slot into an evening window.Planning for the Qatar World Cup has been bumpy. Granting the hosting rights to Qatar eventually required FIFA to move the event to the Northern Hemisphere’s winter because the searing summer temperatures in the Gulf were deemed to pose a potential health risk to players, officials and the hundreds of thousands of fans expected at the tournament.The switch has upended the soccer calendar, leading to an unprecedented midseason interruption to the European league season and other competitions around the world. Negotiations with clubs — furious about the weekslong disruptions to their league schedules and television contracts — resulted in the tournament’s being played in fewer days (28) than any other event since it was expanded to 32 teams in 1998.“As the tournament approaches, the FIFA administration is now fully aware of the various sporting, operational, commercial and legal implications of this uniquely compressed schedule,” FIFA wrote in its letter.FIFA told officials that it would like them to approve the change by Thursday evening European time.The sudden push to change the date of the opening game has only added to concerns about Qatar’s readiness to stage the World Cup. Already fans are complaining about a shortage of accommodations and a lack of clarity over the consumption of alcohol during the tournament.Should the switch of the opening match be approved, overseas ticket-holders who had planned to attend would face the potential challenge of changing their travel plans and rebooking hotel rooms, and any players competing in European leagues — Ecuador at times has more than a dozen — would have one fewer day to travel and prepare.The plan has already caused disquiet among ticket holders, with the proposed changes making some combinations of games all but impossible for visitors to attend. New York-based Martín Bauzá told The Times he had secured tickets for the game between Senegal and the Netherlands and the United States opener with Wales later that day. FIFA switching Senegal’s game to the later slot means he would not be able to attend both games, with the second game starting an hour after the first ends.“I did purchase Senegal/Netherlands specifically because of the time difference between matches and in accordance with the FIFA ticket rules that require 4 hours between matches (i.e., cannot purchase tickets to back to back matches) which is now the scenario I will have to deal with,” Bauzá said in a message.World Cup organizers said they had consulted with Qatar and the soccer associations of the two affected teams before proposing the change. Its letter suggested neither national team objected to the change.Separately, a FIFA appeals committee is considering an appeal by Chile to throw Ecuador out of the World Cup over accusations that Ecuador had fielded an ineligible player. Several Ecuadorean players based in Europe would only have six days to prepare for the tournament, fewer than any others involved in the World Cup.“The FIFA administration has assessed the commercial and legal implications of the proposal — including the impact on contractual commitments across media rights, sponsorship, and ticketing and hospitality — as well as the impact on traveling fans, and has determined that any risk is sufficiently outweighed by the value and benefits of the proposals,” FIFA said in the letter. More

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    Unai Emery Is Back for More

    NEW YORK — It has been more than three years now, but Unai Emery still remembers the moment as if he had just witnessed it. When he brings it up, all the frustration he felt on that day in March 2019 comes rushing back.Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang has just claimed the ball, the clock has ticked beyond the 90th minute and the referee has brought calm to the chaos. Arsenal has won a penalty, a last-gasp opportunity to win the match. It is also a chance for Emery, in his first season as Arsenal’s coach, to drag his team into the Champions League at the expense of the club’s bitter North London neighbor, Tottenham Hotspur.But Aubameyang, usually a lock from the penalty spot, fails to score. That shot, that missed opportunity, was the moment, as far as Emery is concerned, that ended not only Arsenal’s hopes of playing alongside European soccer royalty, but also his hold on his job as Arsenal’s manager.“We played a good season, and we were very close, but this moment…,” Emery says, allowing the sentence to trail off. He has made his point.For Emery, now two seasons into what has been by most metrics a hugely successful effort to rebuild his career at the Spanish club Villarreal, it is not only soccer games that are defined by moments: a missed penalty or a late save, a blown lead or a match-winning goal. Entire careers, he knows as well as anyone, can also be upended — or sent off on new, unexpected trajectories — by a single moment here or there.Emery, 50, did not fall all the way down the ladder after his firing at Arsenal. He was out of work only months before he landed the next summer at Villarreal, where he has directed a golden run that he believes has once again established his credentials for one of the sport’s top jobs. At least one Premier League club has come calling. (He said no.) More big clubs will follow. Emery sounds like a man who is ready to listen.“I think I recovered my level to keep in future my challenge high, high, high,” he said, raising his hands above his head. “I am very ambitious.”Emery with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang in 2019. Player, Coach and Arsenal fans know what happened next.David Klein/ReutersHe has already been to soccer’s heights, after all: victories in three European finals with Sevilla, two seasons coaching Paris St.-Germain in the Champions League, then that call to go to London to manage in the Premier League.In 2018, Emery was tasked with leading Arsenal into the future, with managing its transition from 24 years under Arsène Wenger. The Emery era started well enough, with 11 consecutive victories, the club’s best run of form in more than a decade. But then came the botched penalty, the failure to leapfrog Tottenham in the standings, the bitter loss to Chelsea in the Europa League final. Emery survived the summer, but in November, after an extended winless run, Arsenal showed him the door.His morale-sapping departure has been traded for a two-year adventure in western Spain, a thrill ride that has delivered Villarreal’s first major trophy, moments of glory against some of soccer’s mightiest teams and proof, at least to Emery, that he can still be considered one of the game’s finest coaches.His most eye-catching successes came last season, when he took his team — a mix of rugged veterans, big-club castoffs and promising youngsters — on an improbable jaunt through the Champions League. Villarreal eliminated Juventus and Bayern Munich before threatening a comeback of cinematic proportions against Liverpool in the semifinals.That journey, Emery said, was built on players who rose to the occasion when their moment came. Much of Villarreal’s success was forged on the training field, he said, by practicing set pieces and counterattacks, by drilling into players the idea that they had to dig in and stick to a plan.“That is the difference you can reduce with other teams,” Emery said. In his view, coaches can improve their players and their teams by 10 or 15 percent. The rest is up to them, to a blend of preparation, belief and poise in critical moments.“How can I explain it?” he said. “Last year, we were worse when we played against Arsenal in the semifinals of the Europa League. We were worse than them. They were better than us. But our work before arriving to play against them — we created a very good mentality, and that is when one coach could make his team better than one that has better players.”It was a formula he brought to bear again in the Champions League last spring. Before each two-legged tie in the knockout rounds, Emery said, he told his players that they should expect to suffer and be outplayed for large spells, but that they should believe their chance would come to unsettle the opponent, either defensively or offensively. “When they start to suffer,” Emery said, “is when you can win.”Villarreal’s Pau Torres scoring against Juventus in the Champions League.Antonio Calanni/Associated PressAfter beating Juventus, Villarreal went on to eliminate Bayern Munich, too.Massimo Pinca/ReutersThe moments were unforgettable. A 3-0 victory at Juventus. A stunning first-leg victory over Bayern Munich in Spain, and then an 88th-minute goal to eliminate the Germans on their home field. Against Liverpool, Villarreal overturned a 2-0 first-leg deficit within 41 minutes to leave its opponent shaken and its stadium rocking.Liverpool regained its footing and survived — other teams get to have their moments, too — but the Champions League run has raised the profile of Villarreal’s best players. Some will move on. Their coach admits he probably will as well one day.He has already knocked back the advances of some suitors, including an approach from Newcastle United after the Premier League club was acquired by Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund. “It was not the right moment,” Emery said of his decision last November. Newcastle, for all its new riches, was last in the table at the time, and Villarreal was in the Champions League.That competition, he and his players knew, could change perceptions in ways that success in the Spanish league could not.“I’m in a very good environment to feel strong, to feel confident again, adding confidence in my work,” Emery said of his post at Villarreal. “And then, a new challenge.”Friedemann Vogel/EPA, via ShutterstockAt the beginning of his tenure, Emery said, he had planned to focus on the league. “But when we beat Atalanta and when we played against Juventus, the Champions League was, for me, more important,” Emery said. The club was getting recognition for its successes, and for players and coaches alike the performances could catapult their careers in new directions. “I know I have individual challenges as well,” Emery said.Emery had arrived at Villarreal bruised by the nature of his Arsenal exit. Those wounds are not completely healed. He described the departure in Spanish as a golpe — a blow. By the time he was fired, Emery was facing criticism that at times felt more personal than professional: Long before the end, former players and parts of the news media had taken aim at his command of English.Those criticisms still smart: When a fan at a preseason match in England recently goaded Emery by asking him to say, “Good ebening,” the coach responded with an obscene gesture that went viral.At Villarreal, the team’s wealthy owners have provided Emery a platform to find balance in his life, as well as a space to rebuild a belief in his style of coaching. But Emery said he was certain that his success was not a case of a coach’s finding his level, of a leader most comfortable one rung below the elite. “I’m in a very good environment to feel strong, to feel confident again, adding confidence in my work,” he said. “And then, a new challenge.”His determination to return to the top is perhaps best demonstrated by his extracurricular activities: While he has been re-establishing his credentials in Spain, he has also been working hard on his English. He described his summer trip to New York as a learning opportunity as much as a vacation with his son, Lander. It is perhaps a tacit admission that not all of the criticism during his time at Arsenal was wide of the mark.He has been ruminating on those moments at Arsenal when he could not quite get his message across, or those crucial early conversations with key players when linguistic barriers made it hard to create the type of coach-player bond essential to winning teams.“The next time I will arrive with better English,” he said.That time may come soon. For now, though, Emery is prepared to bide his time, to wait for the right moment.Jackie Molloy for The New York Times More

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    Premier League Players Will No Longer Take a Knee Before Every Game

    The gesture, begun by players in 2020 as part of an effort to highlight racism, will continue, but only before certain matches.While Premier League soccer players will continue to take a knee to protest racism this season, they said Wednesday that the gesture would no longer take place at every game.Players will kneel, for example, at the Premier League’s season-opening games this weekend; on Boxing Day (Dec. 26); during two weeks dedicated to racism awareness in October and March; on the final day of the season; and before the F.A. Cup and League Cup finals.“We remain resolutely committed to eradicate racial prejudice and to bring about an inclusive society with respect and equal opportunities for all,” the team captains said in a statement released by the Premier League. The players said they believed the gesture would have more impact if performed less frequently.Premier League players began kneeling for a few seconds after the opening whistle when matches resumed after a pandemic hiatus in June 2020. The protest coincided with Black Lives Matter protests in the United States and the aftermath of the killing of George Floyd by the police in Minneapolis.The gesture was inspired by the former N.F.L. quarterback Colin Kaepernick and other American athletes who had taken a knee before games or during the national anthem, and was widely adopted in leagues and sports in Europe and elsewhere. Players on dozens of teams have taken a knee before international matches, and women’s squads — though not all of them — did the same during the recently completed Euro 2022 championship.England’s Georgia Stanway and two Swedish players before their Euro 2022 semifinal last week.Molly Darlington/ReutersPremier League players had continued to kneel before every game, and players at many games in lower-tier leagues in England have done the same.The gesture brought praise in some quarters. “I feel the power every time the players drop down and show solidarity,” said Troy Townsend, the head of development at Kick It Out, a nonprofit organization that promotes equality and inclusion in soccer. But a few Black players dismissed it as a mostly empty gesture that did little to bring real change. Wilfried Zaha of Crystal Palace, who grew up in England but plays for Ivory Coast’s national team, stopped kneeling in early 2021. He said the protest “has just become a part of the prematch routine.”The kneeling occasionally drew boos, both in England and more frequently when English teams traveled abroad. England fans were jeered by some of their own supporters before games leading to last summer’s European Championship.And in June, when the England players knelt before a game in Hungary, they were jeered by a crowd largely made up of children under 14; most adults were barred because of racist chanting by Hungary fans at earlier games.The kneeling was not universal, either. Many teams from other nations did not kneel before games, making for a sometimes incongruous sight at Champions League and international matches: the players from English teams and clubs on one knee before kickoff, while their opponents stood only yards away, waiting for them to rise so the game could begin. More

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    England Exults After Women’s Euros Soccer Win

    The dramatic 2-1 victory over Germany in the European Championship final touched off celebrations that have been more than 50 years in the waiting.LONDON — For over 50 years, English soccer fans have hoped, prayed and sung that a major trophy would “come home.” Now it finally has. And they can hardly contain themselves.Thousands of supporters screamed and chanted on Sunday at Trafalgar Square in central London and at other viewing parties around the country, where the final of the women’s European Championship was displayed on big screens.On Monday, pictures of the Lionesses, as the team is known, dominated the front pages of British newspapers after their 2-1 win over Germany at Wembley Stadium in London, the headlines lauding them as “game changers” or “history makers” and declaring “No more years of hurt.”Politicians and royals sent messages and congratulations to the team on its victory — a dramatic conclusion with parallels to England’s last major championship, in 1966, when the country hosted the men’s World Cup and its team defeated Germany in the final.But the success held the potential to go beyond national pride and euphoria, with women’s soccer occupying the public consciousness in Britain like never before.“I think we really made a change,” said the team’s Dutch coach, Sarina Wiegman, at a news conference after the match. The team had done a lot for the sport but for the role of women in society, too, she added, a sentiment that was echoed by others.“It’s been an amazing month and an amazing day yesterday,” said Mark Bullingham, the chief executive of the Football Association, England’s governing body for soccer.“I think it will really turbocharge everything we have been doing in the women’s game,” he said in an interview on “BBC Breakfast” on Monday, adding that the organization had invested heavily in women’s soccer over the past few years.“There is no reason we shouldn’t have the same number of girls playing as boys and we think it will create a whole new generation of heroes who girls aspire to be like,” he said.There’s certainly room for improvement. A report published in March by “Fair Game,” a collective of 34 English soccer clubs, found that a gaping gender divide in soccer clubs throughout England and Wales kept the sport “living in the Dark Ages.”Only 11.1 percent of board members at Premier League clubs are women, and two-thirds of the league’s teams have all-male boards, the report said. Significantly fewer women were attending games in England compared with other countries.“This is at a time when public attitudes toward sexism and misogyny are changing, and football needs to change too,” said Stacey Pope, an author of the report.That change felt possible as the Lionesses emerged victorious on Sunday from a match that was attended by a record number of fans — the crowd of more than 87,000 was the biggest for any European Championship final, men or women.Queen Elizabeth sent a message of congratulations to the team, writing that while the athletes’ performances deserved praise, “your success goes far beyond the trophy you have so deservedly earned.”“You have all set an example that will be an inspiration for girls and women today, and for future generations,” she wrote.Kevin Windsor, a graphic designer in London, watched the match with his 3-year-old daughter, who was wearing a princess gown. “My daughter doesn’t have to have an interest in football. She just has to know that it’s an option,” he wrote on Twitter. “That she can become anything she sets her little heart on. From a princess to a lioness. And everything in between.” More

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    Hello, World. It’s Been a While.

    On the pleasures and pains of joining up with other people after a long, quiet time in the Covid doldrums.I am traveling on a train, reading a book, glad to be alive.Reading a book while traveling on a train is my favorite thing to do in the world; the well-being derives from staring out the window as the scenery rushes past, knowing that if I drop my eyes a book will be there to catch them. This is as good as it gets. Or better.Today, the book is Rupert Everett’s “To the End of the World,” the actor’s characteristically waspish diary of the making of his directorial debut, “The Happy Prince,” a film in which he also cast himself in the lead role of Oscar Wilde. It is not yet 9 a.m., and I find myself alone in the rear carriage with “something sensational to read in the train.” I am not merely glad to be alive; I am jubilant.For obvious reasons, over the last couple of years there hasn’t been much opportunity to do my favorite thing in the world. Today I am doing it en route to London, where I am going to do my second favorite thing in the world: sit in a darkened room all day with strangers — and a few friends — watching old films and television programs.To mark the centenary of the birth of the pioneering British writer Nigel Kneale, the Picturehouse cinema in Crouch End is hosting a daylong celebration of his work. There will be screenings of shows like “The Quatermass Experiment: Contact Has Been Established” (1953) and “Murrain,” a rare episode of the little-seen television series “Against the Crowd” (1975). There will be panel discussions with experts from the British Film Institute and a reading of a “lost” radio script by Kneale. In something of a coup for the organizers, the actress Jane Asher has agreed be quizzed about her part in the folk-horror classic “The Stone Tape” (1972).I fully anticipate the sort of event where audience members shout “WOW!” when shown a comparative presentation of digitally upgraded 35-millimeter film stock. Not only am I jubilant, therefore; I am actively jubilating.The first fans of Arsenal Football Club to join the train do so at Sittingbourne. Six ruddy-faced men in red and white replica shirts settle themselves nearby, noisily opening cans of strong lager they pronounce to be palatable — no, not palatable, delightful! — though not in those exact terms. It is 9:08 a.m.As I get up to move seats, trying not to draw attention to myself, I recall that, as a writer, Nigel Kneale was fascinated by the tension between the individual and the crowd, a tension I feel squarely between my shoulder blades as I exit the carriage.The same thing happens at Rainham, the next stop down the line, and again I get up to see if I can find a quieter seat. Ever more Arsenal supporters join the train, bantering and shouting and proposing a morning toast to their team’s fortunes with Special Brew. (In a few hours’ time, Arsenal will play a football match against a rival team called Manchester United, hence the influx of “Gooners” this early in the day.)With all this commotion, I am finding it increasingly hard to focus on “To the End of the World” by Rupert Everett. “I love trains,” he writes on page 282. “Oscar is all about trains and absinthe.” I try adopting a Wildean attitude toward my fellow passengers. After all, what is Special Brew if not the absinthe of the masses?But when, at Chatham, I have to relocate for a fourth time, I do so petulantly. The little metal tray table in front of me bleats tinnily as I jab it back into place. I hasten from the scene muttering failed epigrams. When I plonk myself down again, two carriages along, I realize I have misplaced my glasses, without which I cannot read a word, and I feel too embarrassed to go back and look for them. This is a fugue of my favorite thing.Most discussions of whether it is better to travel or to arrive fail to take into account a third option, which is that perhaps it would have been better to stay at home. In common with many people, I have found it more difficult to return to the world than I had thought I would in the doldrums of 2021. Was everything always this tiring? Another epigram bubbles up: “What’s the point of going out? We’re just going to wind up back here anyway.” Thank you, Homer Simpson.I may not be able to read my book, but I can still gaze out of the window. Rochester Castle, with its 12th-century keep, glides past, and already there are children playing on the grounds. We cross Rainham Marshes and I spot scattered groups of bird-watchers who have been at it since dawn. Coronavirus remains rife; the economy is lurching out of control; the planet is on fire; there is war in Europe. As more travelers join the London service, some bound for the football, others to go shopping at Westfield Stratford, it occurs to me that no one on this train is ever going to return to normal, because normality isn’t where we left it. But who would blame us for trying?As if to confirm this unexpected epiphany of fellow feeling, a tap comes on my shoulder. I look up. Holding out my glasses to me is a man in an Arsenal shirt.Later, safe in the dark of the Crouch End Picturehouse, there will be a screening of “Quatermass and the Pit” (1967), the film adaptation of Kneale’s 1958 teleplay. The original version concludes with words from Professor Bernard Quatermass delivered amid the smoking ruins of the capital city: “Every war crisis, witch hunt, race riot and purge is a reminder and a warning. We are the Martians. If we cannot control the inheritance within us, this will be their second dead planet.”I’ve seen this film before. I go to the pub instead.Andy Miller More