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    The Lost Days of Raúl Jiménez

    Pool photo by Catherine IvillRaúl Jiménez does not remember rising for the header that nearly ended his career.His partner, Daniela Basso, can never forget it.For 45 minutes, she feared he might be dead.Now she must cope with seeing him play again.The Lost Days of Raúl JiménezRaúl Jiménez remembers arriving in London with his Wolverhampton Wanderers teammates. He remembers walking onto the field at the Emirates Stadium an hour or so before that November game against Arsenal, briefly taking in his surroundings and heading back inside to get changed. He would, as usual, be leading the Wolves attack.After that, everything is blank.All he has of the five days that followed are snapshots, fuzzy and inchoate. He knows he was in the hospital. Nurses brought food to his bed and accompanied him to the bathroom. There were tests to check his balance. His girlfriend, Daniela Basso, spoke to him in video chats so he could see their 6-month-old daughter, Arya. Those are, he said, his días perdidos, his lost days.Basso would be forgiven for craving the peace not of having forgotten but of never having known. She remembers every single minute with an aching, piercing clarity. She has to pick through the story carefully, as though she can process only a little of it at a time. Every so often, she glances at Jiménez, sitting beside her on a video call, as if to reassure herself that her darkest fears were not realized.She was at home in Wolverhampton when Wolves’ game kicked off on Nov. 29. She had just finished bathing Arya. She was trying to settle her to sleep. The game was only a few minutes old when Arsenal won a corner kick.Jiménez, a Mexican striker on defensive duty, glanced the ball clear as David Luiz, the Arsenal defender, raced in. Luiz’s forehead smashed into the side of Jiménez’s skull. The sound of the collision was loud enough to be heard through the television broadcast. Jiménez crumpled to the grass.Raúl Jiménez’s Wolverhampton teammates wore shirts with his name onto the field for their Premier League game at Liverpool on Dec. 6, a week after he sustained a skull fracture in a match at Arsenal.Pool photo by Jon Super“In that moment, unfortunately, my first thought was that he had died,” Basso said. “Normally when players fall and get hurt, they react.” She can bring herself to smile at this point. “That is when you know if they’re faking or not. But that time: nothing. I couldn’t see anything. I couldn’t see his eyes.”She grabbed her phone and called anyone she could think of: the medical team, which she could watch on television placing Jiménez into a breathing apparatus, gently placing him on a stretcher and rushing him to a hospital. She tried the club’s player liaison officer, then the physiotherapists. Eventually, she got through to the club secretary. All he could do was tell her he would let her know as soon as he had news.“It was 45 minutes until I knew he was alive,” she said. “Not until I knew that he was well, or that he would be OK, just alive. Imagine 45 minutes where I had to try to keep myself calm and tell myself it would all be all right.”Eventually, she got through to the club doctor. He alleviated her worst fears. Jiménez was on his way to a hospital. The relief, such as it was, was short-lived. The doctor told her Jiménez would be operated on immediately. She asked if she should go to London. He said yes. “That was the second shock,” she said. “The doctor knew I had a baby. When he said yes, I knew how serious it must be.”The club sent a taxi to collect Basso and Arya and take them to London. The trip took almost three hours. She remembers that Arya would not sleep throughout the journey. But not once, Basso said, in that unfamiliar car in the middle of the night, did her 6-month-old cry. “Everything goes through your head,” she said.The couple does not have family in Wolverhampton; their only support network, as Jimenéz put it, is their two dogs. Basso, an actress whose relationship with the striker has seen her relocate first to Portugal, then Spain and now England as his career has progressed, was the point of contact for everyone. “Our families and our friends in Mexico were bombarding me,” she said. “I had to be strong. I had to tell them it was going to be OK.”By the time she and Arya arrived in London, Jiménez was in surgery. She waited. For two or three or more hours. The time blurred and warped. When the surgery on his fractured skull was finished, she was permitted to see him, but only for a couple of minutes. He was still sedated. “They told me it had gone well,” she said. “But because of Covid I couldn’t stay with him.” When Basso and her daughter arrived at a hotel, at 8 a.m. the next day, Arya finally went to sleep.Jiménez and Daniela Basso, months after the surgery that repaired his fractured skull.Courtesy Topnotch ManagementJiménez stayed in the hospital for a week, though he remembers little of that, too. His contact with Basso and Arya, because of restrictions in place because of the coronavirus pandemic, was through video calls. “Nobody could see him,” Basso said. “We spoke to him just to let him know we were near. So he knew he was not alone.” The sight of him walking, unaccompanied, out of the hospital the next Friday was, she said, “the best thing, just to have him with us.”For Jiménez, the next few weeks passed slowly. His doctors warned him to take it easy. It might take a while, they said, for his balance to come back. He tired quickly, and admits now that he had “a couple of siestas a day.” There were visits to the hospital for scans, to check for any swelling in the brain and to make sure the fracture in his skull was healing. Apart from that, all he could do was wait.Basso, on the other hand, was struck by the speed of it. “It was hard that first week, but the week after, it was impressive,” she said. “I would have taken five months to recuperate, but he seemed to get better quicker.” She wonders if the fact that he is an athlete helped accelerate his recovery.Not quite three weeks after surgery, Jiménez returned to the team’s training facility, just to feel the turf beneath his feet again, to reconnect with his teammates. Within a month, he was taking his first steps toward playing again: first in the gym, working on his mobility, his coordination, his balance.A few weeks later, he was back on the field, first to run and then, by early March, to train. When he will play again is not certain — the 30-year-old Jiménez had hoped to be able to return this season or for international commitments with Mexico this summer, but there is no definitive timetable — but simply feeling like a soccer player again feels like a major triumph to him.“You feel like part of the team again,” he said. “You’re training with them, keeping the same schedule as them. At the start, I would arrive on my own, train on my own, and then by the time I’d finished, the rest of the squad had gone. It was hard at the start. It’s when you’re training with them that you feel part of the team again.”His involvement is governed by strict rules. He has been told not to head the ball, at least not yet. It is one of the strengths of his game, one of the things he loves about playing. When that is eventually permitted, he will start with a softer, smaller ball, to help his skull build resistance. There are benefits, though. “They told my teammates to be careful with me,” he said. “It is weird for them, and weird for me. I get the ball, and nobody can touch me. It’s like being Messi.”Jiménez returned to training in March but said it was strange. “Nobody can touch me,” he said. “It’s like being Messi.”Harry Trump/Getty ImagesWhat he never doubted, not for a second, was that he wanted to come back. Basso never saw him deflated or infuriated, even in those difficult first days. More than once, she said, she told him he should cry if he felt like it. He told her there was no need because he knew he would play again.“I never thought that I didn’t want to go back,” he said. “It is what I have done for as long as I can remember. It is the thing that brings me most happiness. Playing again was my motivation. I wanted Arya to see me play, and that is the best motivation I can have. I was always confident. If the skull heals well, if the brain is completely recovered, I can play again.”For Basso, it is more complex.Her priority, of course, is that her partner “is here with us, and he is OK, whether he plays again or not.” But she still struggles with the memories of what she saw and what she felt, the “horrible” moments when it all comes rushing back. She has to remind herself that Jiménez is at home, that the surgery was successful, that his doctors are confident there was no lasting damage to his brain. “When I think about it, I see that he is here, and it settles me,” she said.She has had to wrestle, too, with the worry of what it would mean to see him out on the field once more, in a game where there are no rules telling opponents to go easy on him, to avoid contact, where he would not only be allowed to head the ball — albeit, most likely, with some sort of protective cap — but actively encouraged to do so.The conclusion she has reached, though, is that she trusts the doctors overseeing his recovery, and she trusts Jiménez. She has taken strength from his absolute conviction that he will return. “If he decides to play, then he has to go with everything, to go without fear,” she said. “The moment you have fear is the moment that accidents happen. If you decide you can’t do it, it is fine to say you can’t. But don’t do it for fear. Whatever his decision, here I am.”She has thought, too, about whether she will ever be able to do what she did that evening last November: idly sit down to watch him play, free of worry, not fearing the worst. She has always enjoyed watching his games, and she worries now that she will “have my heart in my hands” every time he takes the field, the echoes of what she heard and the flashbacks of what she saw never dimming.But if and when he does return, she will, she thinks, watch. Jiménez misses plenty of things about soccer. “The journey from the hotel to the stadium, the feeling of going out on the field to play,” he said. Most of all, what he misses is “scoring a goal, the most beautiful feeling, the satisfaction of doing your job, of helping your team.”The next time he does it — and Basso, like Jiménez, is confident there will be a next time — she will be watching. “I trust him,” she said. “I will watch the games, and I will enjoy the goals. And my daughter will enjoy watching her dad score a goal.”Wolves has three games left in its season. If his doctors clear him, Jiménez could play in one. If not, he could make his return to the field with Mexico this summer.Pool photo by Catherine Ivill More

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    A Barcelona Star on Style, Substance and Another Champions League Final

    Lieke Martens and Barcelona will face Chelsea on Sunday. Both have their sights set on raising the standard for success in the women’s game.In many ways, the trajectory of Lieke Martens’s career has mirrored the growth of professional women’s soccer in Europe.In the past four years alone, she has scored as the Netherlands won a European title, played in a Champions League final, been crowned the world’s best player and come within a victory of a World Cup championship.Along the way, Martens, the Barcelona and Netherlands star, has ridden the wave in popularity for a sport that not so long ago struggled to gain attention and sponsors, fill stadiums or even provide a viable career path for many of the most talented players in the game.The Barcelona team became professional in 2015, and in six years has grown to become the most dominant one in Spain. This season, it scored 128 goals and allowed five as it cantered to the league title, winning all 26 games it has played so far. Its dominance, and that of longtime women’s soccer powers like Olympique Lyon and Sunday’s opponent, Chelsea — not to mention more recent investments from deep-pocketed newcomers like Manchester City and Real Madrid — is reshaping the women’s club game on the continent.Martens and Barcelona eliminated Paris St.-Germain to reach the final.Lluis Gene/Agence France-Presse — Getty ImagesAt Barcelona, women’s soccer is here to stay. While the program’s budget of 4 million euros, almost $5 million, is dwarfed by its investment in the men’s roster, the team’s managers are determined to inculcate the players with the same philosophy of technical excellence and the possession-based system that is the hallmark of Barcelona soccer from the junior ranks to the pro leagues.“To play and to compete in the way we want, in the standard we want to compete in, for that, the best players are the ones that grow with us and are perfectly adapted to that style,” said Markel Zubizarreta, the executive responsible for women’s soccer at Barcelona.Barcelona now has 13 players on its roster who have come through its academy, but in a manner reminiscent of how a Dutch great, Johan Cruyff, led the men’s team to glory five decades ago, it is Martens who carries the star power. Days before she will lead Barcelona against Chelsea in Sunday’s Champions League final, Martens, 28, discussed the growth of women’s soccer, the changes she has seen during her decade in the sport and the power of belated (but significant) investments in the women’s game.This interview was condensed and edited for clarity.What are the emotions like three days before the biggest game in women’s club soccer?It’s a bit different. The full focus is on this one big moment for the club. In the end, we shouldn’t change anything because we have done so well this season. We have to continue what we have been doing.Not so long ago, there were very few fully professional clubs in Europe, very few opportunities to forge a successful career, and now we are seeing unprecedented investment and interest. Can you describe this period?I think people are really interested in watching women’s soccer now, whereas five years ago people were not really that interested. Now people are really excited to see those big games, like the final. How have you noticed this increase in interest?If you see the media attention, for example. This week, it’s amazing the number of requests we got. Yesterday I was busy. I’m busy today. The focus has never been as big. If I see, for example, the national team, how many people came to the stadium before the pandemic — it was always sold out. Those things are amazing. When I play here in the Johan Cruyff stadium, it is always full. People want to come and see us and support us. It is really different to a few years ago.Amandine Henry, right, and Lyon humbled Martens, left, and Barcelona, 4-1, in the 2019 Champions League final.Tobias Schwarz/Agence France-Presse — Getty ImagesSweden was once the vanguard of growing the women’s professional game, and you played there before joining Barcelona. But teams like Rosengard and Kopparbergs, which shut down in December, can no longer compete with the world’s wealthiest clubs. Is the changing dynamic a bittersweet one?Kopparbergs, Rosengard, those clubs were needed. They really put the effort in, really supported the women’s game. But of course at the end we have been really waiting for the big clubs to believe in women’s football. And it’s progress. We’ve had to wait for it, but it also helps us to reach a better level, to make women’s football more interesting.What is the difference in environment you encountered at Barcelona?Rosengard had a really good staff, and things around us were really good, but it was only a women’s club. But I think it’s impossible to compare with the big clubs. It’s a really good thing that we finally have all those big clubs in it. I’m really happy that Real Madrid is also joining now. That’s what we need in the women’s game.Can you see a qualitative impact of all this investment on performance?I’m so happy to play against really good players. That’s what we need. Before, those players were amazing, but now we have so many more really good players, and that’s so cool. I think in the future it’s going to be even better because all those girls that are at the highest level now didn’t have the best training when they were a little girl. Little girls now are getting the same practice boys do at the same age.How important is the Barcelona style, the values the club instills in its players, to the performance we see on the field? Some people say not sacrificing the style in the 2019 final led to Barcelona being overrun by Lyon that day.I think that’s why they are really specific with who they bring in. They want people who will fit into the Barça style, and, like you said, in the final in 2019 it was already 3-0 after 50 minutes, but it had been a really good experience for us. We take that into this Sunday as well. I think it will be a totally different situation. How have you coped personally with the sudden fame your success with the Netherlands and Barcelona has brought you?After winning the Euros in 2017, I got recognized everywhere in the Netherlands and even overseas. Off the field my life has changed, but I have to deal with it. It’s part of it, and that’s what men’s football has, and that’s what we wanted. I always said it would be nice to get the recognition. And now we have it.Martens and the Netherlands lost to the United States in the 2019 World Cup final. The teams are both in this summer’s Olympic tournament.Piroschka Van De Wouw/Agence France-Presse — Getty ImagesDo you think you will use that higher profile to lead on issues beyond the field, in the manner of, say, Megan Rapinoe?Actually, I haven’t used it that much. I should use my voice a bit more. I will do that in the future. Barcelona went unbeaten in the league this season. Do you, perhaps, wish the other teams were better, and the league more competitive?By doing well in the Champions League, we are showing Spain really invests in women’s football. I think it will also help the Spanish league to get better, but we have to be patient. It just needs a bit more time. We are moving in the right direction, if you see what we have done, in a couple of years in Barcelona. And I’m really happy with what Real Madrid is doing. The level is getting higher, but you can’t go from zero to 100.This season’s final — Chelsea-Barcelona — is a marked change from when Lyon was the only show in town. (Lyon had won the Champions League five years in succession before losing in the quarterfinals this year.)Lyon has a really good team, but it’s really good that other teams are in the final. It’s really exciting to see other teams have also improved a lot. They have invested in women’s football, and it’s paying off. More

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    2021 N.F.L. Schedule: A 17-Game Season and Quarterback Showdowns

    Tom Brady and the Buccaneers will begin their Super Bowl defense against Dak Prescott and the Cowboys in the season opener.A 44-year-old Tom Brady will begin his quest for an eighth Super Bowl victory when the Tampa Bay Buccaneers play the Dallas Cowboys in the N.F.L.’s first game of the 2021 regular season on Sept. 9, a Thursday. The veteran quarterback Brady will face a team led by quarterback Dak Prescott, who will be 16 years Brady’s junior when he makes his expected return from a gruesome ankle injury that caused him to appear in only five games last season.The league on Wednesday released its regular-season schedule, which incorporates the addition of a 17th game for each of the 32 teams. It is the first expansion of the N.F.L.’s regular season since 1978. The change was approved by team owners in March even as some players expressed their opposition.To make way for the added game, the league moved the Super Bowl by one week, to Feb. 13, and shrank the exhibition preseason to three games from four. In Week 18, ESPN and ABC will broadcast two games with playoff implications on Saturday, Jan. 8, 2022. The opponents will be decided after Week 17.The N.F.L. will return to London for two games after canceling its overseas trips last season because of the coronavirus pandemic. The Atlanta Falcons will play the Jets there on Oct. 10 and the Jacksonville Jaguars will face the Miami Dolphins on Oct. 17, both at 9:30 a.m. Eastern time at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium.Week 1 will showcase two multibillion-dollar stadiums that opened in 2020 but will host N.F.L. fans for the first time this season. On Sept. 12, a Sunday, the Los Angeles Rams and their new quarterback, Matthew Stafford, will open the $5 billion SoFi Stadium in Inglewood, Calif., against the Chicago Bears in an evening game.The Raiders will host fans at the $2 billion Allegiant Stadium the next day, when they face the Baltimore Ravens on “Monday Night Football.” The jet-black venue, nicknamed the Death Star, opened in 2020 but did not have fans in attendance for N.F.L. games because of restrictions last year. The team will make up for it in Las Vegas fashion with a lower-level section that offers a “nightclub experience” with bottle service, DJ booths and large television screens.Fans have already shown a desire to attend. Early data compiled by SeatGeek, a ticket-purchasing company, show the Raiders as its top-selling team.Other interesting games in Week 1 include a matchup between the Green Bay Packers, possibly led by the disgruntled quarterback Aaron Rodgers, and the New Orleans Saints in the first game of their post-Drew Brees era. The Kansas City Chiefs and the Cleveland Browns will also face off, in a rematch of a division-round playoff matchup last season.Perhaps the most anticipated matchup will happen three weeks after the start of the season. On Oct. 3 at 8:20 p.m., Brady will do what he did many times over 20 seasons — play a game at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass. But this time, he will be an opponent as the Buccaneers (the team Brady just led to a Super Bowl title over Kansas City) face the Patriots (the team Brady led to six Super Bowl titles).If Brady wins, he will have defeated every N.F.L. team in his career. Brees, Peyton Manning and Brett Favre are the only other quarterbacks in league history to accomplish that feat. If the Patriots win, it will be a significant victory for the team, which struggled to a 7-9 record and missed the playoffs last season.With few exceptions, the Detroit Lions and the Cowboys have hosted games on Thanksgiving annually since 1934 and 1966, respectively, and the tradition continues this season. The Lions play the Chicago Bears, their N.F.C. North division rivals, on Nov. 25 at 12:30 p.m., while the Cowboys play the Raiders afterward. That night, the Buffalo Bills, fresh off their first A.F.C. championships game appearance since the 1993 season, will face the Saints.Other notable matchups include a showdown between the first two draft picks, the Jaguars quarterback Trevor Lawrence and Jets quarterback Zach Wilson, on Dec. 26 at 1 p.m.; an A.F.C. championship game rematch between the Bills and the Chiefs on Oct. 10 at 8:20 p.m.; and the Packers against the San Francisco 49ers, who are expected to have key defensive players back from injury and could potentially start quarterback Trey Lance, the No. 3 overall pick, on Sept. 26 at 8:20 p.m.Regarding the 17th game, teams will play an interconference opponent based on last season’s divisional standings. For instance, the Packers, who won the N.F.C. North, will face the Chiefs, who won the A.F.C. West, on Nov. 7 at 4:25 p.m. The additional home game will rotate on a yearly basis, starting this season, with A.F.C. teams hosting nine games. More

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    DK Metcalf Learns Football Speed Doesn't Equal Track Speed

    DK Metcalf, the All-Pro Seattle receiver, finished last in his heat on Sunday in his first 100-meter race against professional sprinters.WALNUT, Calif. — DK Metcalf launched slowly from the starting blocks, faded over 100 meters and learned in 10.363 seconds on Sunday that elite football speed does not translate easily to elite track speed.An All-Pro receiver for the Seattle Seahawks, Metcalf is impressively fast for a football player. He delivered one of the most memorable plays of the last N.F.L. season, exceeding 22 miles an hour while wearing his helmet and pads to chase down an Arizona defensive back who intercepted a pass.But in what he said was his first 100-meter race, Metcalf finished last in his preliminary heat against second-tier professional sprinters and did not qualify for the final at the Golden Games, a tuneup for next month’s United States Olympic track and field trials.“These are world class athletes; they do this for a living,” Metcalf said after finishing 15th out of 17 competitors in two preliminary heats in cool, overcast conditions. “It’s very different from football speed, from what I just realized.”Still, he challenged himself against top athletes from another sport after only two or three months of sprint training and did not embarrass himself. And he did finish ahead of two competitors in the preliminary heats. Cravon Gillespie won the final in 9.96 seconds.Why do this? Metcalf was asked. “Why not?” he replied.None of the four best American 100-meter runners participated in the race in a stadium without fans because of pandemic-related restrictions. It hardly mattered. Metcalf’s time was notable for an N.F.L. receiver but not for an elite sprinter. It did not rank among the fastest 20,000 performances ever in the 100 meters, according to an all-time list compiled by World Athletics, the sport’s governing body.There remains a vast gulf between football speed and world-class sprint speed. Compared to Usain Bolt’s world record of 9.58 seconds, Metcalf’s time was nearly eight-tenths of a second slower, which might as well be an hour in an event often decided by hundredths of a second.Metcalf running to score a touchdown in 2019.Scott Eklund/Associated PressNor did Metcalf challenge the national high school record of 10.00 seconds, often considered the threshold for world-class speed. Most importantly, he did not reach his goal of 10.05 seconds, the time needed to gain automatic entry into the Olympic trials in Eugene, Ore.Other competitors welcomed Metcalf to the meet held at Mt. San Antonio College. For his football celebrity, which drew interest to a sport that gains little attention apart from the Olympics. For his willingness to compete against professional sprinters. And for the lesson delivered that running 100 meters is a far more technical endeavor than simply running as fast as you can from the start line to the finish line.“Fans have been egging this on for a long time, that our speeds are comparable; they’re not,” said Noah Lyles, who could potentially win the 100 meters (personal best 9.86 seconds) and 200 meters at the rescheduled Tokyo Olympics in July and August.Sure, there have been some extremely fast football players. Most notably, Bob Hayes, a Hall of Fame receiver for the Dallas Cowboys, won the 100 meters at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. But most football players “don’t have any clue” about elite sprinting, said Mike Rodgers, a 2016 Olympian and a gold medalist on the United States 4×100-meter relay team at the 2019 world track and field championships.Football players seldom run the length of the field in a straight line. And their 40-yard dash times — Metcalf ran that distance in 4.33 seconds at the 2019 N.F.L. combine for prospective players — are widely discounted in track circles. There is no reaction to a starting gun to precisely gauge speed. At a fan exhibit at the 2019 Super Bowl, the retired Bolt casually matched the N.F.L. combine record of 4.22 seconds while running in sweats and sneakers.Metcalf, who is 6-feet-4 inches and weighs 229 pounds, was a superb hurdler in high school, but did not run track at the University of Mississippi. His lack of formal training at 100 meters was evident on Sunday.“There is as much strategy running 100 meters as running a marathon,” Lyles said.No one can accelerate for a full 100 meters. Speed must be distributed strategically. The mechanics of the event require a low, explosive start from the blocks. Sprinters must avoid popping up too quickly and losing momentum or braking by striking the ground too far in front of their bodies.Then comes the acceleration phase. Speed is a function of the length and frequency of strides. Top speed is reached at about 60, 70 or 80 meters. The challenge becomes trying to hold as much speed as possible while decelerating to the finish line.The outcome of a 100-meter race is essentially an optical illusion. The winner is not speeding up the fastest but slowing down the slowest.“You can only for five or six seconds produce maximum contraction” of the muscles, said Olivier Girard, an exercise physiologist who studies sprinting at the University of Western Australia. “After that, the energy-producing system is not as efficient. That’s why we cannot maintain the top speed and have to slow down.”Asked if he would run another 100, Metcalf demurred. When someone else asked what was next for him, he smiled and said, “Football. It’s time for minicamp.” More

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    Champions League Final: Meeting Set on Move to London

    UEFA officials and the British government will discuss shifting the Manchester City-Chelsea game from Istanbul to Wembley to sidestep coronavirus travel restrictions.European soccer’s governing body will hold talks with the British government on Monday about moving this month’s Champions League final to London because travel restrictions related to the coronavirus pandemic have made it almost impossible for domestic fans of the finalists — the Premier League rivals Manchester City and Chelsea — to attend the match at its scheduled site in Istanbul.The final, which is planned for May 29 at Ataturk Olympic Stadium in Istanbul, is the biggest day on the European club soccer calendar; like the Super Bowl and the Wimbledon final, Champions League final is one of the tent-pole events in global sports every year.Questions about where to hold the match have been growing since Turkey announced a lockdown late last month. They intensified on Friday, days after City and Chelsea clinched their places in the final, when the British government announced that Turkey was among the countries to which Britons should avoid all but essential travel.Officials from England’s Football Association already have opened talks with Europe’s governing body, UEFA, about moving the game, and they will be present at Monday’s meeting, when UEFA will outline its requirements for relocation. A decision most likely will be announced within 48 hours.If an agreement cannot be reached to move the final to London, a backup choice will be considered, most likely Porto, Portugal.UEFA’s demands are likely to present a dilemma for the British government, which will have to balance the popular appeal of bringing a major sporting event featuring two English teams to the country against the continuing public health need to control the spread of the virus.Among its demands, UEFA is expected to request that Britain waive quarantine requirements so its staff members, international broadcasters, sponsors, suppliers and officials can adjust their plans and attend the game.UEFA also is seeking guarantees about spectators. Fans can start attending soccer games in England later this month, but that figure is capped at 10,000 — a number that is far lower than the 25,000 fans that Istanbul has said it could accommodate. The British government relaxed that rule by saying 20,000 can attend the F.A. Cup final on May 17 at Wembley Stadium in London. UEFA will demand a similar accommodation.English officials have indicated to UEFA that the game can be played at Wembley, even though the stadium is already booked to stage promotion playoffs for the lower leagues that week. Those matches will be relocated to new venues or played on different dates. Two Premier League clubs have approached UEFA about staging the Champions League final at their stadiums, but UEFA is expected to insist that if the game is to be moved to England, it will have to be played at Wembley, a neutral venue familiar to both clubs and one that satisfies UEFA’s requirements for hosting major games.A market street in Istanbul, where a strict lockdown has closed shops in an effort to slow the spread of the coronavirus.Emrah Gurel/Associated PressThe decision would mean pulling the game from Istanbul for the second year in a row. Last year’s decisive Champions League matches — the tournament was postponed on the eve of the quarterfinals last spring to curb the spread of the virus — were played in a so-called bubble environment in Lisbon. They were moved only after Turkish officials had agreed to surrender their coveted role as host of the final in exchange for a promise that Istanbul would host the final this year.Officials in Portugal have told UEFA that they could accommodate this year’s final on short notice, too, perhaps in Porto, after the British government on Friday included Portugal in a list of countries its citizens could travel to without having to quarantine upon their return.Turkey has recently entered a new lockdown amid a rise in virus cases, and the country has been placed on the red list, a group of countries and territories for which travel from Britain is actively discouraged. Turkey, a popular destination for British tourists, had said it would lift its lockdown on May 17 — 12 days before the Champions League final — but government officials had warned soccer fans to stay home.“First of all, it does mean with regards to the Champions League, fans should not travel to Turkey,” Grant Shapps, the British lawmaker responsible for transport, said at a news conference after announcing the new regulations for travel in and out of Britain.Making matters more complicated is a 10-day quarantine requirement for individuals who return to Britain after being cleared to travel from red list countries. That would mean more than a dozen players on both squads potentially being ruled out of preparations for the European Championship, the quadrennial Continent soccer championship, that begins on June 11.“We are very open to hosting the final, but it is ultimately a decision for UEFA,” Shapps said, adding, “Given there are two English clubs in that final, we look forward to what they have to say.”For UEFA, there is sympathy for Turkey, which may now lose the final for the second straight year. One option being considered to appease Turkish officials is an offer for the final to be played in Istanbul in 2023, to coincide with the centenary of the Turkish republic.Both Manchester City and Chelsea would have brought large traveling parties and potentially thousands of fans to Turkey for the game, in addition to the hundreds of journalists and others who normally attend the final. Their supporters from outside Britain — who might have been allowed to attend the match in Turkey — most likely will not be included in the eased travel restrictions if the game is played in England.Manchester City, on course to clinch its third Premier League title in four years this weekend, claimed its first berth in the final on Tuesday, when it eliminated Paris St.-Germain, a finalist last summer in Lisbon.Chelsea, which won the Champions League in 2012, earned its place a day later by ousting Spain’s Real Madrid.In a quirk of the Premier League schedule, City and Chelsea met in a league game on Saturday in Manchester, with Chelsea delaying City’s domestic championship celebrations by securing a 2-1 victory. More

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    As Women's Soccer Grows, So Does Its Competitive Divide

    The success of a handful of top women’s teams is a testament to their clubs’ commitment. But a growing competitive divide should be addressed before it’s too late.MANCHESTER, England — It is remarkable, really, what you can fit into that time when there is time for one last chance. A corner whipped in, a header flashed toward goal, a finger outstretched to divert its flight just enough so that when the ball lands, it is on metal rather than nylon.The last chance, it seemed, had come and gone. As it turned out, that was just the first of the last chances. The second fell to one of the world’s finest players, almost surprised to be all alone in an ocean of space, unable to react in time. And then the third: the most ruthless striker in the game running clean through, the championship within reach. There was time, still, but space was suddenly at a premium.And then the whistle blew. A game drawn, gratification delayed. Manchester City Women and Chelsea Women had fought each other to a standstill, 90 minutes and a little more of high drama and impeccable quality delivered by a collection of superstars and punctuated by four goals, shared evenly. It was the perfect title decider in all but one sense: It did not decide anything.Instead, the draw meant that the race to crown this season’s Women’s Super League champion would go to the wire. Both City and Chelsea had two games left; Chelsea led the table by only two points. If Emma Hayes’s team — simultaneously managing its quest to reach the Champions League final — slipped, Manchester City would be there to pounce.Both have played once since, and both won. Which means that everything is at stake on Sunday afternoon, the final day of the season. Chelsea will be home against Reading, and should, in all probability, claim its fifth title in seven years. But while City is on the road, it has the (theoretically) marginally easier engagement, at West Ham.Chelsea’s women, like its men’s team, have advanced to the Champions League final.John Walton/Press Association, via Associated PressFor the W.S.L., it is the perfect denouement to the season. Not simply because great tension always generates great sport, regardless of the circumstance, but because these two teams have done more than any others in recent years — Arsenal apart — to drive the standard of the league skyward.Between them, Chelsea and City have drawn some of the world’s best players to England. Chelsea paid a world-record fee to sign the Danish forward Pernille Harder from Wolfsburg, not long after it had reportedly made Sam Kerr, the Australian striker, the best-paid female soccer player on the planet.City, meanwhile, has tempted Rose Lavelle, Abby Dahlkemper and Sam Mewis, three members of the United States’ World Cup-winning squad, to Manchester. They count a group of England internationals among their teammates, including the striker Ellen White and — brought home from Lyon, for so long the leading light of the women’s game — the defenders Alex Greenwood and Lucy Bronze.It is no surprise, then, that the W.S.L. is now seen by many as the finest, strongest women’s league in the world. And while it is a little harder than normal to gauge interest levels in the midst of the pandemic — there are, after all, no attendance figures to report — viewership is growing. Last year, a weekly highlights show on the BBC, despite a late-night slot, attracted an average of half a million viewers.Sam Mewis is one of three top Americans at Manchester City, which will need a win and a Chelsea defeat on Sunday, the final day of the season, to claim the title.Jennifer Lorenzini/ReutersIn theory, that pattern will hold. In March, the cable network Sky agreed to pay more than $10 million a year for the domestic broadcast rights to W.S.L. games, with some remaining on the free-to-air BBC. The league signed deals last year to showcase its games in Italy, Germany and the United States. According to a survey by RunRepeat, a data analysis firm, that increased exposure should meet a willing audience.But that progress also presents a pressing challenge. It is to their immense credit, of course, that Manchester City and Chelsea have invested so much in their squads, but it has — with rare exceptions — left them severely overmatched against the rest of the league.Between them, the clubs account for all but one national title since 2014. This year, Arsenal and Manchester United, each with a cadre of high-class recruits, have just about been able to keep pace, but the rest of the W.S.L. has been cut adrift, and the gap that has opened between the leaders and the pack is stark.In January, Manchester City beat Aston Villa, 7-0, one week and then Brighton, 7-1, the next. Bristol City, battling relegation, has conceded eight goals in a loss to Manchester City and nine in a defeat at Chelsea. The day before that particular humbling, back in September, Arsenal scored nine against West Ham.Bristol City sits last in the Women’s Super League, having won only twice all season.Andrew Boyers/Action Images, via ReutersIt is the same across much of Europe. Later this month, Chelsea will face Barcelona in the Champions League final. Barcelona’s domestic record this season is simple: 25 played, 25 won. It has scored 127 goals and surrendered only 5. In one 17-day stretch in April, it won consecutive games by scores of 7-1, 9-0 and 6-1.Juventus has won all 19 of its games in Italy, scoring six against Florentia and nine against Bari. In France, Lyon has lost once all year — to Paris St.-Germain, the team that is on the cusp of denying Lyon a 15th title in a row. Even that is relatively unusual: Until that defeat, Lyon had not lost a domestic game since 2017.None of that is to blame the clubs who have invested in their women’s teams. It is strange, in fact, that more teams cut off from success by the economic disparity in the men’s game have not poured more resources into their women’s sides, where glory comes much cheaper. Chelsea’s Harder, the most expensive player in the world, cost somewhere in the region of $300,000, which is not quite what Arsenal’s Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang earns in a week.The commitment from Chelsea and City and the rest has, without question, been not only a completely valid business decision, but a driving force behind the sustained growth of the women’s game, capitalizing on the boom generated by the success, in particular, of the 2019 World Cup. The task for the leagues, though, is to ensure that their competitions have breadth, as well as height.In Continental Europe, the answer is simple. Spain’s top flight, for example, is not yet fully professional; the expectation is that, as more teams go full time, they will be better placed to start to reel in Barcelona. In England, the hope is that the imminent television deal will not only swell coffers across the board, but also encourage those clubs that have been wary of investing that they will see a return on their money.Lieke Martens and Barcelona are unbeaten in the league for two years running.Joan Monfort/Associated PressAs dangerous as it can be to compare the dynamics of the women’s game with the men’s, though, the evidence suggests it is not always quite that straightforward. One of the dangers of the model employed to grow the W.S.L. — using the renown of brands from the men’s game to kick-start the women’s — is that, ultimately, the thinking remains the same. What worked, or was perceived to work, for the men is applied unthinkingly to the women. That is, after all, how it is done.The risk is that it is not only the successes that are copied, but the mistakes, too. The greatest challenge facing the men’s game is the lack of competitive balance both between and within leagues: the presence of an entrenched and unreachable elite slowly eroding first the hope and then the interest of everyone else.There is no reason for the women’s game to be forced into that same pitfall, for the W.S.L. to split into the same miniature divisions that fracture the Premier League. Whether the mechanism to prevent it is financial (a tweak to the distribution of revenue) or sporting (some sort of draft model) is not clear, but it is worth discussing.That meeting between Chelsea and Manchester City, the game with all those last chances, was as compelling as any there will be in any league, anywhere in the world, this season. Its drama was exquisite, its cast stellar, its execution flawless. It was the sort of game that should be spread around the many, rather than monopolized by the few.The Country That Cried WolfThere are many, within soccer, who resent England’s tendency to, at the slightest opportunity, wheel out that rusty old cliché about being the sport’s home. It is bad enough that it does so when bidding to host a tournament far in the future — witness the slogan for Britain and Ireland’s 2030 World Cup campaign — but it is barely tolerable when the effort is dressed up as not just a chance to return the game to its roots, but an act of charitable salvation, too.It happens, essentially, for every major tournament. It happened before the World Cups in South Africa and Brazil: Neither could afford it, so play it in England. It happened before the World Cup in Russia: Putin is bad, play it in England. And it has been happening for 11 years about the World Cup in Qatar.None of the lawmakers, observers or, yes, fans who offer the suggestion seem to appreciate not only the degree to which they are offering an almost offensively easy solution for enormously intricate geopolitical issues — “To solve the human rights problem in Qatar, I would simply play the World Cup in England” — but also how presumptuous it sounds. Mostly, though, they do not seem to get quite how annoying it must be for everyone else.It is somehow fitting, then, that the first time there is a case to be made for their reflex argument, nobody wants to hear it.It’s not coming home.Matthew Childs/Action Images, via ReutersAs previously noted in this newsletter: It would make sense, in the midst of a pandemic, to host this summer’s European Championship entirely in England. And it would make possibly even more sense to play this year’s Champions League final — currently scheduled for Istanbul, on May 29, but contested by two Premier League teams — in England (or maybe Wales). Turkey has just entered a new lockdown, after all. Its coronavirus rates are troubling. Encouraging around 10,000 English fans to travel across Europe for a game of soccer, in the current circumstances, is ridiculous.As things stand, though at least one English club has offered to step in, and though at least one of the finalists has asked UEFA to contemplate moving the game, it is unlikely anything will be changed. It is too late, too complex, too sensitive: Istanbul was, after all, supposed to hold the final in 2020. Forcing the city to wait another year would be unpalatable.But it is hard not to wonder if perhaps the entreaties of the English would be given more than a cursory hearing if the same demand had not been made quite so often over the last two decades. It creates the impression less that this is a coolheaded response to a unique set of circumstances, and more that it is fairly typical opportunism. It is a shame. For once, there is good reason to play something in England. It’s just that nobody has any reason to listen.Real Friends Ask QuestionsEden Hazard suffering against Chelsea. It was his smiles afterward that rankled some.Toby Melville/ReutersThe music was funereal. Josep Pedrerol, the host, sat in a television studio, cast in silhouette. When he spoke, his tone was somber, his cadence grave. A non-Spanish speaker might have assumed that he was pronouncing on some national sorrow, some unthinkable loss, or that he had just learned a close friend had recently eaten a beloved pet.He was, instead, telling his viewers that Real Madrid had been eliminated from the Champions League, and that they might like to blame Eden Hazard — overweight, apparently, and unforgivably caught smiling with some of his former Chelsea teammates. Hazard, Pedrerol said, had “laughed in the face of the Madrid fans.” After this brazen transgression, Hazard “could not play another second for Madrid.”It would be easy to laugh off the show that Pedrerol fronts — El Chiringuito, a gaudy staple of Spain’s late-night television schedule, the place that Florentino Pérez bafflingly chose to pitch his European Super League to the public at large — as a bombastic and overblown outrage factory. It is, in fact, not much of an outlier.This sort of thing does not happen only in Spain, of course; let those who are in glass houses cast the first accusation of underperformance and all that. But there has long been a strand of coverage of Real Madrid in general, and the Real Madrid of Pérez in particular, that adopts this sort of tone: utterly jubilant in victory, a toddler’s temper tantrum in defeat, with the blame always, reliably, directed away from the man who runs the club.Pedrerol knows his audience, of course. He is doubtless sincere in his views. There is an appeal, too, for fans to see their own disappointment reflected back to them. On Wednesday night, Pedrerol was manifesting what many of them were probably feeling. But if these outlets have Real Madrid’s best interests at heart, it is difficult to see how, exactly, they are helping.Is demanding Hazard be sold at the first opportunity the best way to encourage him to give his best to Real Madrid? Is treating every defeat as some sort of crime against nature likely to foster the sort of environment that allows a team to be built smartly and sensibly?And, most of all, is refusing to suggest that Pérez might in some way be accountable — given that he is more than happy to take the glory when times are good — really going to address Real Madrid’s issues at their roots? It feels unfair to describe the journalists who work at these outlets as little more than Madrid’s “friendly” news media, but there are times when it goes beyond that. They give the impression of being mere clients. Real friends, after all, ask questions.CorrespondenceA rare image of Donny van de Beek, right, playing for Manchester United.Pool photo by Laurence GriffithsLast week’s column on Dutch soccer has opened the floodgates. Well, the trickle-gates. Well, just this email from Jos Timmers:“Last year, Donny van de Beek went to Manchester United for an enormous amount, but he hardly ever plays. Now his participation with the Dutch national team in the European Championship is in danger. He is just one of the many talented players who are lured into a megacontract by the clubs with the deepest pockets and then languish on the reserve bench or, worse still, in the stands. I cannot understand how they are capable to cope with this situation.”The conundrum van de Beek — and the many others like him — faces, I think, is that it is hard to turn down the opportunity (sporting and financial) to play for one of the game’s modern giants. Players believe in their abilities. They have the confidence to assume that they will play, no matter how high the standard around them.But I also think this is an area where soccer could, perhaps, take administrative action to make the game a little less unequal. ESPN’s Gabriele Marcotti has suggested reducing the number of players any team can register in its squad to 19 or 20, rather than the current 25, with players under age 21 exempted. This would, he argues correctly, spread talent around more evenly: to make Manchester United less likely, in other words, to stockpile players of the talent of Donny van de Beek.I wonder if you could go farther, though. What if every player’s contract had a clause in it saying that they would be available for sale at a set price (or even for free) if they failed to play a specified percentage of games over the course of the season? At the end of the campaign, they would be allowed to move on (if they chose to do so), rather than being consigned to another year as a squad filler by a team with no real use for them.Hansi Flick, right, will hand Julian Nagelsmann a Bundesliga-winning team, and the expectation that he keep it on top.Christof Stache/Agence France-Presse — Getty ImagesSabine Brettreich asks how Julian Nagelsmann will fare at Bayern Munich, where he will take over from Hansi Flick this summer. I could be cheap and say I would guess that Nagelsmann will win the league, but that is perhaps to downplay how interesting the appointment is.Nagelsmann’s career has been unusual: no playing background to speak of, but a lot of coaching experience for someone so young. Bayern has always seemed his natural destination, but it is also a test: Will a playing squad of that quality afford him the respect that he deserves? My instinct is that it will work, but that is not, I think, guaranteed. More

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    The Super League Founders Are Now at War With One Another

    Real Madrid, Juventus and Barcelona are threatening to extract damages from their former partners in a doomed European Super League.Less than two weeks after they became partners in a superleague project that would have cast aside the structures and organizations that have underpinned European soccer for a century, a group of the sport’s biggest clubs are now engaged in another pitched battle behind the scenes.This time, their fight is with one another.At the heart of the new battle are two letters: one renouncing the project, a short-lived Super League, and recommitting the teams to Europe’s existing system, and another threatening any club that walks away.European soccer’s governing body, UEFA, is demanding that the league’s founding clubs sign the first letter, which would complete the formal demise of the Super League and begin the smooth of repairing the clubs’ broken relationship with European soccer. Eight of the teams already have agreed to do so.But three of the 12 Super League founders — Real Madrid, Juventus and Barcelona — are refusing to let the project die. Doubling down in a letter of their own, they are threatening to pursue legal action against their former partners to extract millions of dollars in penalties if any teams follow through on plans to withdraw from the league.The Super League, announced by its 12 founding teams in a late-night news release on April 18, collapsed 48 hours later amid a popular and political backlash. In the days and weeks since that humiliating retreat, club presidents and owners have held emergency meetings with leaders of soccer in their own countries and with UEFA to try to limit any punishment they might face for being part of a breakaway that would have devastated the value of leagues and clubs across Europe.UEFA has said it will treat repentant clubs more kindly than those that refuse to back down. Those that refuse, it has warned, risk the most severe penalty available: a two-year ban from the Champions League.Fans angry with the owners of Manchester United invaded the team’s stadium on Sunday, forcing the postponement of a Premier League game against Liverpool.Oli Scarff/Agence France-Presse — Getty ImagesDocuments, messages and conversations with executives involved in the talks suggest that eight teams of the 12 original Super League members have agreed to sign a declaration legally distancing themselves from the breakaway competition, one short of the number required to force through the liquidation of a company set up in Spain to run it.The three holdout clubs, though, are warning others of severe legal and financial consequences if they break the commitments they made when they signed up.The dispute is an indication of just how badly and how quickly relations between the top teams have soured, and underscores how even after its demise the Super League continues to tear at the fabric of European soccer.A majority of the breakaway teams have told UEFA they will sign on to a letter confirming their intent to walk away. But in a draft of the letter, which was reviewed by The New York Times, they point out that if all 12 teams do not come to an agreement, efforts to revive the competition may be outside their control.UEFA shall “promptly receive” details of what formal measures each club has taken to break free of its obligations, the letter says.Despite the popular backlash to the project, opinions have hardened among the three clubs — Real Madrid, Juventus and Barcelona — that were most committed backers of the project. They have vowed to press ahead with legal action to prove soccer’s current rules are incompatible with competition and free trade laws.In their letter, sent on Thursday, the clubs accused the teams that have publicly declared their intention to leave the Super League with committing a “material breach” of the founders agreement. Amplifying that damage by signing a declaration pledging their allegiance to UEFA would open them to significant damages, the letter warns.The Super League started to wobble even before the formal announcement of its creation. Within a day, some of teams started to make private entreaties to UEFA, acknowledging that agreeing to join had been a mistake.Less than 48 hours after the league was launched, Manchester City became the first team to officially announce its intention to withdraw. That started a cascade, with all six Premier League teams releasing public statements revealing their plans to withdraw.The defections left teams in Spain and Italy acknowledging the league was no longer viable in its original form, but not formally declaring they would not try to revive it.Two weeks later, as many as eight teams had told UEFA they were committed to walking away from the Super League project, and ninth, A.C. Milan, was on the verge of making the same decision. According to the Super League contract, the withdrawal of nine clubs can force the liquidation of the entity that was created to run the competition. That dissolution is one of UEFA’s requirements to put the entire chapter to rest for the clubs involved.The breakaway attempts continue to roil soccer on a domestic level, too. In Italy, the national association has introduced new regulations aimed at preventing any new breakaway attempts, while in England discussions are taking place over similar rule changes and also about how to punish teams whose actions threatened the interests of the Premier League.The Premier League is expected to announce the result of its consultation within days. One plan involves securing long-term commitments from member clubs not to join any unsanctioned competition, or to withdraw from the domestic competition, with severe penalties — including fines of more than $50 million — if they do.Finding a suitable punishment is proving difficult, however. Soccer’s leaders are aware that the collapse of the Super League owed much to the public opposition of fans of the English teams that had agreed to join it; punishing the teams in ways that do not anger those same fans is now the goal.That means clubs are unlikely to be hit with sporting sanctions, but rather with financial penalties aimed at the owners that backed the Super League plan. For now, one tangible response has been ostracism: Officials from the six breakaway clubs have been removed from the league’s internal committees. More

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    Manchester City Beats PSG, Advancing to Champions League Final

    With a win over Paris St.-Germain, City worked past some demons and headed to the Champions League final.MANCHESTER, England — In those last few minutes, even with the game sealed and a place in the final secure, Manchester City’s staff members and substitutes could not sit still. They pulsed with energy. They roared at every poor challenge. They demanded action from the referee for every transgression. They cheered every completed pass.As the clock ticked into injury time, they fretted and fidgeted when Paris St.-Germain won a free kick within sight of Éderson’s goal. They cheered when it sailed over. The voice of Mark Sertori, the club’s longstanding masseur, bellowed out across the empty Etihad Stadium. “No chances,” he shouted. There were no more than 30 seconds left, and P.S.G. needed to score three times.To the rational brain, there was nothing to worry about. Two goals from Riyad Mahrez had long since put the outcome beyond doubt. The distant prospect of a P.S.G. revival had evaporated entirely when Ángel Di María, its Argentine wing, had kicked out at Fernandinho and duly been sent off. City had been home and dry ever since.But the rational brain goes quiet when the stakes are quite so high. For all that City has achieved in the past 13 years, as it has been transformed from hardscrabble makeweights to the pre-eminent force in English soccer, soon to be winners of three of the past four Premier League titles, and five of the past 10, the Champions League has become something of an open sore.Like P.S.G., City was built, at considerable expense, to win the Champions League. Not in the sense that it is the game’s final frontier, a team’s greatest ambition. It is that for City — this iteration of City, anyway — this competition is the ultimate purpose.It is why Pep Guardiola, the standout coach of his generation, was hired; it is why the people who hired him — his former colleagues at Barcelona, Txiki Begiristain and Ferran Soriano — were hired. It is why he has been granted the chance to gather a squad that meets every single one of his demands at a training facility built to enable him to work in absolute serenity.Soccer does not, of course, work according to a formula, no matter how much money and expertise go into its construction. They have learned that at City the hard way.The long slog of the Premier League has proved easy to master in comparison with the chimera of the Champions League. There is, as Guardiola said, “something in the stars” in this competition, and it is hard to disagree: He has spent most of the past 10 years in charge of either a powerhouse Bayern Munich team or a Manchester City side of the most exquisite brilliance, yet this will be his first appearance in the final of this tournament since 2011.Riyad Mahrez scored both goals for Manchester City on Tuesday. With his team already at an advantage coming into the match, Mahrez left no doubt which team would advance.Martin Rickett/Press Association, via Associated PressThe disappointments have been startling in their variety, compelling in their unpredictability. Under Guardiola, City has been caught cold by a youthful and unheralded Monaco, and then blown apart by a surging and hungry Liverpool. It has had its heart broken by Tottenham and its brain frazzled by Lyon.And now, after a decade of trying, it has shattered that ceiling. What this game means for soccer is a question that — for all that the fans of both City and P.S.G. will resent its being asked — the sport must continue to contemplate.This, after all, involved two teams backed by the untrammeled wealth of Gulf States competing for a place in soccer’s most glamorous, most exclusive club competition. it should not be controversial to suggest that the motives behind their current primacy are not uniquely sporting.This may have been the first time they have met on a stage quite this grand, but the simple economics at play — particularly in the aftermath of the pandemic — suggest it will not be the last. They have spent their money differently, P.S.G. on individuals and City on the broader squad, but they have spent it in sums that few, if any, of their rivals can match.Ángel Di María of Paris St.-Germain was sent off after kicking Fernandinho during an altercation on the sideline.Laurence Griffiths/Getty ImagesBut while the geopolitics and the morality and the broader ramifications matter, they do not matter — not in the moment — to the players and the staff who have been tasked with carrying Manchester City to the place where it wants to be. That is not the story they are part of, not to them.Instead, theirs is a story of personal ambition and childhood dreams and professional satisfaction, of seeing decades of dedication rewarded not by a lucrative contract or a high-profile transfer but by the long-anticipated chance to reach what is, in almost every sense, the pinnacle of their careers.That is why, a few minutes before the end, Kevin De Bruyne trooped from the field, his face flushed and his body heaving, and slumped into a chair. He, almost alone, did not spend the final few minutes bellowing and barking and chivying and chiding: There was not a drop of energy left in his body.He had spent it all chasing down P.S.G.’s defenders as they tried to play their way out of Manchester City’s relentless, lupine press, and haring back to snuff out danger on the rare occasions that Neymar threatened to pick a way through. He seemed, at one point, to lose his cool just a little, reacting to P.S.G.’s provocations, unable to resist the temptation to meet fire with fire. He had been cautioned already; he may have been removed for his own benefit.Manchester City Manager Pep Guardiola with Phil Foden.Phil Noble/ReutersWhen the final whistle blew, he walked gingerly to the field, his legs heavy. His teammates were embracing in front of him. Guardiola’s coaching staff had arranged themselves in a line to greet every single player as they came off the field. Rúben Dias was shirtless in the bitter cold of what is in theory spring in Manchester, howling in the face of whomever he could find.Manchester City has waited more than a decade for this: the culmination of a project, the realization of a plan. Guardiola has waited 10 years to get back to the final of the competition that he, for one, cherishes more than any other. His players, though, have waited far longer. They have waited their entire lives, in fact, for this one shot. And that, in that moment, is what it meant. More