The past weekend saw more big games in the German Bundesliga and more clarity as to the return of soccer in England and Italy. Gab Marcotti reacts to the main talking points in the latest Monday Musings.
Jump to: Soccer stars demand justice | Premier League's return | Bayern keep winning | Dissecting Icardi's move to PSG | Dortmund need another Haaland | Serie A's plans to resume season | Arsenal's big call with David Luiz
What we can learn from "Justice for George Floyd" show of support in Bundesliga
It began with Weston McKennie's armband, continued through Marcus Thuram's Colin Kaepernick-inspired single knee down and ended with Jadon Sancho and Achraf Hakimi displaying T-shirts that read "Justice for George Floyd." Three Bundesliga stars -- with the eyes of the world on them, given the near total absence of major professional sports elsewhere -- reminded us just how small our world is.
Floyd, a black man, died in police custody in Minnesota after a white police officer knelt on his neck for more than eight minutes. The incident caused so much grief, anger and consternation elsewhere that it served to remind us that distance is no longer a discriminating factor. An act this shocking -- especially if chronicled on viral video -- will ripple across the globe, because it speaks to very basic themes in our shared humanity, from identity to trust in authority.
What's different compared to the past, at least when it comes to football, is how readily these athletes seized upon their roles in the public eye to express their outrage.
McKennie said it felt good to use his "platform" to bring attention to the issue. These young men -- Thuram is 22, McKennie and Hakimi 21, Sancho just 20 -- are aware of their reach and the power it holds. Shaka Hislop, speaking on the ESPN FC show, said he believes athletes "have a responsibility to use social platforms to drive social change." Whether you agree with him or not, it's undeniable that it is happening and players feel empowered to a degree that a previous generation, perhaps, did not feel.
On the surface, this presents a problem for football (and, really, all sporting authorities) who have long-standing rules about keeping politics out of football. Broadly speaking, as a policy, it makes sense, given how politics can be hugely divisive and there is an ugly legacy of nationalism and sectarianism lurking within the game, one that can be easily validated by a gesture or a symbol or a T-shirt.
But "politics," in its loosest definition, is ever-changing. Arguing that women should be allowed equal voting rights to men might have been seen as a divisive "political" opinion before World War II in most democracies, but today it's largely taken for granted. Just as anti-racism messages are taken for granted to the point that FIFA, UEFA and other governing bodies run "No to racism" campaigns. Very few, thankfully, would regard universal suffrage and anti-racism campaigns as "political." They represent shared values and a goal towards which most agree we ought to strive.
That's why, as I see it, the messaging from these gestures over the weekend doesn't in any way violate existing rules about keeping politics out of sport. They simply argued "Justice for George Floyd."
That's all they did. Their message, borne out of the horror the world witnessed last week, is the same heard from most corners of the world. It's the opposite of divisive. It's simply a recognition that justice, like gender equality and anti-racism, is a universal human goal to be cherished.
Premier League finally has a return date
Now that we have a date, let the countdown begin. In just over two weeks, on June 17, the Premier League will return, initially with the two postponed fixtures -- Aston Villa vs. Sheffield United and Manchester City vs. Arsenal -- and then with a full league programme. There will be, of course, further hoops to jump through -- there's another Premier League vote, the issue of neutral grounds and some tweaks to the medical protocol -- but if feels as if the show is getting back on the road.
The fact that it will be the last major European league to get going is in some ways a function of the fact that the pandemic hit England harder, and later, than any of the returning countries. In other ways though, relative to Germany and Spain, it was clearly hampered by a lack of strong, visible and united leadership from the league.
Still, once things get going (assuming they do) it won't matter at all.
Bayern cruising towards another Bundesliga title
Bayern's 1-0 win over Borussia Dortmund last midweek meant they'd have to drop points in unexpected places and in stupid ways for them to not win the Bundesliga. It was never going to happen against a badly overmatched Fortuna Dusseldorf and, indeed, it didn't, as Hansi Flick's crew won 5-0.
Any suggestion they'd fall prey to the weird Bundesliga post-lockdown phenomenon that says there's no such thing as "home advantage" -- home teams have won just seven of 34 games as of Monday -- quickly went out the window as they were 2-0 up after half an hour. Robert Lewandowski, relentless as ever, took his seasonal goal tally to 43, matching a career best, while Lucas Hernandez made his first start since February of this pandemic- and injury-affected season.
It speaks volumes about Bayern's dominance that the two guys pencilled in to be their centre-back partnership this campaign -- Hernandez (who, lest we forget, is the most expensive player in the history of the Bundesliga) and Niklas Sule -- have made a combined 16 league starts between them.
Breaking down Icardi's permanent move from Inter to PSG
It's finally done. Mauro Icardi's move from Inter to Paris Saint-Germain is official -- he'd joined PSG on loan with an option to buy late last summer -- and for now at least, it feels like bottles of bubbly are being uncorked in both Milan and Paris.
PSG get a player who, for all his quirks and baggage, is a fearsomely reliable goal scorer, capable of notching 114 goals in his past 186 league games over the past five and a half seasons. He turned 27 in February and the price -- €50 million ($59.5m) rising to €57m ($63.4m) with bonuses -- is more than reasonable for a center-forward with that much tread left in the tires.
When Inter loaned him out last August, they had fixed a price of €70m ($77.8m) to make the deal permanent. But the reality is that given Icardi's wages and baggage, there was only ever going to be a very limited number of clubs who could afford him. And so once PSG started negotiating down the price, Inter had very little leverage, particularly since Icardi wanted to stay in Paris.
Still, €50m is a hefty sum during the coronavirus pandemic, especially compared to the prospect of PSG not wanting to keep him: It would have meant a return to Inter, where all his bridges were burned a long time ago. Inter hope their other prize loanee (Ivan Perisic at Bayern) will also make his move permanent. The Bavarians are likely to follow the PSG script and try to get a discount from €20m ($22.2m) agreed to last summer, but it will still be a nice little boost (and one which -- never underestimate this -- will keep his massive wages off the books).
Dortmund make it look difficult without Haaland
Borussia Dortmund created little or nothing in the first 45 minutes away to relegation-threatened Paderborn on Sunday. In fact, you were tempted to conclude that either they were already entirely dependent on Erling Haaland or that their hangover from the Bayern defeat was still weighing them down. And then they exploded for six in the second half, winning 6-1 as Jadon Sancho collected his first career hat trick, and Emre Can took over the midfield.
So much for the half-time hot takes.
Why did it take so long? It's possible Haaland's absence did have something to do with it. A striker with his skill set (size, strength and speed) and presence is simply extremely rare. It makes you play a certain way. And when he's suddenly gone and you have three attacking midfielder types leading the line, with no pure striker, it's a difficult adjustment to make. Sancho, Julian Brandt and Thorgan Hazard eventually broke down Paderborn in the most emphatic of ways, but operating a fluid front three -- especially one that hasn't played together that often, even before Haaland's arrival -- isn't straightforward. It requires time and coordination.
That's why when the market opens again, Michael Zorc's priority ought to be getting an alternative to Haaland whose style of play is similar. Obviously it will be a less gifted player technically, but it ought to be someone who can make similar runs in the same way and have a comparable physical presence.
Italian soccer's backup plans if season restart goes wrong
Italian football is also very close to returning, with the Coppa Italia semifinal second legs scheduled for June 13-14, the postponed fixtures set for June 20 and a full league program the following midweek. They aim to wrap things up by August 2, but with 124 games left to play in 43 days it's going to be tight, not least because of the current regulations if a player tests positive. Unlike other European leagues, who simply make the player quarantine for two weeks, the entire team would have to self-isolate for 14 days.
The shutdown of a squad for two weeks would obviously punch a huge hole in the schedule, making completion of the full fixture list a pipe dream. Privately, Serie A clubs are cautiously confident that the rate of contagion will continue to decline and there will be no positives. And, even if there are, they hope that by July, if the virus continues to recede, the government will have dropped its mandatory team quarantine stance. But, just in case, they've come up with a Plan B and a Plan C.
Plan B -- if everything is stopped but there is still time to play some games down the road -- involves playoffs to determine champions, European places and relegation: fewer games, fewer risks, fewer days needed. Plan C is the one nobody likes: If everything has to stop, final places will be determined using a formula that will include not just points per game, but schedule strength as well.
Details on Plan B and Plan C have yet to be announced. Typically, not everybody will be happy with them, but the most important thing right now is to start playing again and to have an agreed plan in place, all while hoping you'll never need to use it.
Arsenal face a big decision on Luiz' future
Arsenal have a big call to make on David Luiz. They paid £8m ($10m) to take him across London from Chelsea last August, and then gave him a deal worth £10m ($12.5m) a season. They also paid a hefty amount in commissions to get it done and while some claim it was in the order of £6m ($7.5m), my understanding is that it was closer to £1m ($1.25m). Initially reported as a two-year deal, we now know it was a one-year contract with an option for another ... and it expires on June 30.
If Arsenal let the Brazilian central defender walk at the end of the month, he will have cost them £19m ($23.5m) for this season and they will end up playing their last eight matches with two from Sokratis Papastathopoulos, Shkodran Mustafi, Rob Holding, Calum Chambers and Pablo Mari at the back. (Somewhat suboptimal for a team that says they're chasing a Europa League if not Champions League place.)
If they exercise the option for another season, they can at least amortise his transfer commission for another season, but that means he'll still cost them £14.5m ($18m) in 2020-21. That's a ton of money for a 33-year-old with no resale value, especially when you already have William Saliba coming on board.
The ideal option for Arsenal, of course, would be to simply extend his deal through the end of August, pay him another two months' salary and then take stock. But, of course, if you were David Luiz or his advisors, it's not a particularly attractive prospect.
Clubs are judged by the choices they make. Whatever you think of him, David Luiz was a "last-piece-of-the-puzzle" type of guy when they signed him. Now, Unai Emery is gone, and it's not about the final pieces of a puzzle; under Mikel Arteta, it's about a big rebuild instead.