Born in Dakar, Senegal, in 1981, Evra moved to France before he could kick a ball properly. He went on to captain both France and Manchester United. In 2014, Juventus paid a meager transfer fee of £1.5 for the 33-year-old left back. In his first season, Evra contributed to a memorable campaign that saw the bianconeri win the League and Cup double and lose a close Champions League final to Barcelona.
Last Sunday, in an interview after Juve’s 2-0 win away to Atalanta, the Frenchman made some insightful comments about the difference between England’s Premier League and Italy’s Serie A. Evra’s thoughts seemed particularly timely since they came on the heels of widely quoted remarks made by Claudio Ranieri, the Italian manager of Premier League leaders Leicester City.
Ranieri reportedly told the Corriere della Sera that his Leicester players were “afraid of the Italian tactics” and so he quickly decided to “talk very little about tactics” and instead emphasized fitness, hard work, and building trust between members of the squad. Ranieri’s open-minded approach has worked spectacularly well for Leicester, as they are five points clear of Spurs with nine matches left to play.
In the video clip posted here, Evra (speaking in functional Italian) thinks back to his arrival in Turin and what another international star who played with both Manchester United and Juve shared with him. “I remember that [Carlos] Tevez told me: ‘to score a goal here, you need at least 100 chances because they defend so well’.” That is why, Evra says, “even at 34 years of age, I’m learning great things.”
“In England, it’s more of a show. It’s more like two boxers who go at it and then the first guy who gets tired, falls down. But in Italy, it’s more of a game of cesto [unclear what Evra meant here, possibly “chess”]. If you are not tactically good, then you can’t play. Here [in Serie A] you need more intelligence, let’s say, than talent.”
In the end, it doesn’t matter whether we prefer England’s glamorous Premiership or Italy’s crafty Serie A. That’s a question of personal preference, loyalty, emotion, and memory (or is it nostalgia?). What is more interesting about Evra and Ranieri’s recent interventions is their nuanced understanding of how local forces shape the global game. Without such valuable cultural knowledge, professional frustration and sporting failure can never be too far away.
Bob Vassen’s passing fills me with immense sadness.
A great friend to those of us who had the privilege of knowing him. A courageous South African who fought for the freedom of his country, at home and in exile as a member of Umkhonto weSizwe (The Spear of the Nation). A committed teacher who mentored thousands of students, young and not so young, internationally. An intellectual who was as incisive as he was humble. Consider his masterful editorial work in Ahmed Kathrada’s Letters from Robben Island, published by Michigan State University Press.
And Bobby, as his friends called him, was also a football man. Like his father before him, he had played for one of Johannesburg’s oldest teams: Moonlighters FC, founded by Indian service workers in 1892. Growing up in Fordsburg and Doornfontein, gritty working-class neighborhoods in Johannesburg, “to have a football was to have arrived,” he recalled.
A few years ago, I had the honor of interviewing him about his football life. You can watch the full interview here.
Our heartfelt condolences go out to Ursula and the entire Vassen family. We miss you Uncle Bobby.
Qatar’s successful 2022 World Cup bid and the role of the now-disgraced ex-FIFA ExCo member Mohamed Bin Hammam came under close scrutiny. The authors’ reliance on leaked FIFA electronic files called attention to the challenges and opportunities for scholars working with “big data.” There was discussion about discourses of Western bias and even racism against Africans and Asians (especially Arabs) that are sometimes perceived to be embedded in corruption allegations. Another topic tackled during the event was the intriguing question of whether there should be a universal standard of human rights required for nations to host the World Cup.
The session closed with important contributions related to the upcoming FIFA presidential ballot. Will Sheikh Salman or Gianni Infantino win? And what kinds of reforms might the new leadership deliver? What is the likelihood that any changes introduced will meaningfully transform the structure and governance of the much-maligned world body? In a climate plagued by corruption and cynicism, is there any hope for a better future?
An audio recording of the session is available here.
The investigative reporting of Blake and Calvert drew extensively on a huge volume of leaked FIFA files they received from a whistleblower within the organization. The book explores the Machiavellian ways in which Qatar won the right to host the 2022 World Cup. The story centers around the actions of now-disgraced FIFA Executive Committee member Mohamed Bin Hammam. The evidence and allegations in the book are striking. In unveiling cash-for-votes schemes and more, the book raises profoundly troubling questions about football governance and the likelihood of the February 26 election yielding meaningful institutional reforms in a post-Blatter FIFA.
For more information about the Football Scholars Forum and to join the February 11 online conversation, email Alex Galarza (galarza DOT alex AT gmail).
Ghanaian football legend Charles Kumi Gyamfi, who passed away in September at the age of 85, was honored on Friday, December 18th, with an official state burial in Accra.
Gyamfi began his top-level playing career at Cape Coast Ebusua Dwarfs in 1948-49. After one season, he joined Kumasi’s Asante Kotoko, staying until 1954 and then transferring to the Porcupines’ archenemies: Accra Hearts of Oak. In 1960, Gyamfi became the first Ghanaian to play in Germany, with Fortuna Dusseldorf.
After hanging up his boots, Gyamfi returned to Ghana and coached the national team, the Black Stars, winning three African Nations Cup titles (1963, 1965, 1982).
The video above honors the life of one of Africa’s greatest players. RIP CK.
Now, in a compelling BBC Panorama documentary, Jennings updates the story by digging deeper into FIFA’s most recent and spiraling crisis. The documentary takes viewers to FIFA headquarters in Zurich, and then to the U.S., Brazil, Trinidad, and South Korea.
One of the most interesting revelations in the BBC piece is that the FBI has in its possession potentially damning written evidence alleging that outgoing FIFA President Sepp Blatter has long been aware of the nature and scope of corruption in world soccer.
Another intriguing insight is that Qatar may have paid $117 million to buy votes and win hosting rights for the 2022 World Cup.
In typically relentless and confrontational fashion, the documentary focuses on Jennings’ probe of the ongoing FBI investigation of corrupt FIFA officials and associates from North America, the Caribbean, and Latin America.
He discusses mounting evidence of kickbacks and bribes paid to acquire TV and sponsorship rights—the charges at the heart of the U.S. Department of Justice’s indictment of high-ranking FIFA men, two of whom have already pleaded guilty to racketeering. Several other FIFA Executive Committee members are in the process of being extradited to the United States.
With the Court of Arbitration for Sport’s decision this week to uphold the 90-day FIFA suspension of both Blatter and Michel Platini (head of European soccer body UEFA), it is no wonder that Jennings believes the scheduled February 2016 FIFA presidential election is “descending into farce.”
On December 1, 2015, the Football Scholars Forum held its 33rd session. The Michigan State University-based online think tank pre-circulated a shared list of readings that formed the basis for a wide-ranging, highly engaging discussion about the impact and aftermath of the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup.
Thirteen fútbologists from the United States, Canada, Britain, Argentina, and Lebanon went well beyond the usual focus on the U.S. triumph (its first world title since 1999). The group reflected on the media coverage and scholarly writing about the tournament. Gender discrimination at both FIFA and national FA levels brought out a collective agreement about the dire need for meaningful institutional reform and for much greater funding of women’s football.
Partly reflecting the participants’ interests and expertise, the women’s game in Latin America and the effect of global inequalities attracted considerable attention. Also, the technical, tactical, and physical aspects of the game on Canada’s plastic pitches was scrutinized. Some participants celebrated the individual magic of Marta (Brazil), Necib (France), and Rapinoe (USA) and of teams like Colombia. Others noted the detrimental impact of certain (male) coaches on the games and seemed more critical about the overall playing styles.
I was shocked to learn that in Mexico the most reliable venue for watching Women’s World Cup matches was the local Hooters franchise. Seriously.
In thinking about the aftermath of the World Cup, the group was reminded of the accomplished Australian team that went on strike shortly after the tournament in pursuit of a decent wage. Gaby Garton in Buenos Aires related her experiences of playing in the most recent Copa Libertadores femenina. Her intervention personalized the story of women’s football, past and present: it is not a story of linear progress and perpetual improvement. In fact, it is very much a story of ebb and flow. Clearly, so much work remains to be done, on and off the field.
An audio recording of the session is available here.