I type with ecstatic fingers. Today is the Day. The Champions League returns to our loving arms this afternoon. I honestly can’t believe it. There were so many weeks during the darkness of early lockdown that football’s restart seemed so far away. With Italy, Spain, and then England so hard hit, the prospect of UEFA competition resuming felt like the most far-fetched prospect of all. There was one particular night when I was cleaning up after dinner and my eldest son attempted to raise family morale by unleashing one sporting tune after another on Spotify. First he cued up the Monday Night Football theme, followed by the NHL on NBC music. But then, the Champions League Anthem exploded out of our speakers with its familiar melodramatic strings and pompously formulaic choral arrangements, and it broke me.
“The Champeeeeee-ons. The Champeeeee-onssss...” By the time the self-fellating chorus propelled the song to 11, my attempts to be a stoic support for my family had been blown away by the overwhelming, searing sense of all that was dear to me which had been lost across the planet. In the darkest days, as infection rates crackled across Europe, and melancholy tenors sang from every balcony in Italy, UEFA shuffled through the motions of their tournament’s return and it all sounded as plausible as the prospect of life being discovered on Mars. Yet, where there is Curve Flattening and contact-trace strategy, there can be safe sports. And this weekend, we will be treated to Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo and Kevin De Bruyne returning to the fanless field of play in continental combat. Football at its highest level. And we will drink it in. A return that proves to us all that anything is possible.
2. Men In Blazers is On Fire
i. Thanks to the support of DraftKings, we are able to cover the Champions League this Summer. You can find our Previews of the Round of 16 HERE. DraftKings is the Best King since Joshua. Access its Sportsbook here. PS. Our Champions League preview pod is HERE.
ii. Our HBO Succession Podcast has hit episode 4, a longform and really rather uplifting conversation with Emmy-nominee Kieran Culkin, who plays Roman Roy, the louche, gutter-mouthed, broken third son of monstrous patriarch Logan. I learned so much about life by talking with Kieran, as I did with all the cast -- particularly, Jeremy Strong, whose ultra-method approach to acting means he sacrifices so much mentally and physically to bring the darkness of Kendall Roy to our screens. Please, take one second to Subscribe, Rate, Review. Your Kind Words will help us do more, more, more.
iii. More Champions League Tingling: An extended version of our Alphonso Davies interview. What a human being he is. A 19-year-old who has exploded out of Edmonton, Canada to redefine the left-back position at Bayern Munich. Meep! Meep! POD HERE and un-geo blocked version of the television hit: Part 1 HERE and Part 2 HERE.
3. To the Football. The Champions League Football…
The Big Game: Manchester City against Real Madrid. 3 p.m. ET TODAY on CBS All Access and UniMas.
A deliciously poised clash resumes. 163 days ago, City sucker punched Real in the first leg back in February with a come-from-behind victory. Yet Real have been a different team since Restart, tenaciously grinding out 10 straight victories to win La Liga. City, meanwhile, have so many weapons in attack, despite missing the injured Aguero, yet have the insecurity of a toxically vulnerable soft-center which will be tested by the buccaneering potency of Karim Benzema’s Dad Bod. This game will be worth watching just for the psychological chess match alone. Will City trust they can simply negate Real by holding them at arm’s length or will Pep believe his side must score to proceed? This one is Cobra versus Mongoose played out in cleats. One thing is sure: After nine defeats in an overwhelmingly disappointing season, Pep craves victory in this game like Big Sam craves a pint of wine and a pie.
ii. Italian champions Juventus face Lyon, coming into this match attempting to overturn a shock 1-0 deficit. The storylines swirl around dart-master Maurizio Sarri, who has reportedly fallen out with Ronaldo on account of his unconvincing tactics and nicotine-soaked ways. Defeat could be the end of him.
iv. Chelsea face Bayern Munich down 3-0 and the English newspapers are treating the tie as such a dead rubber, the only real news about the club are transfer rumors. Christian Pulisic’s hamstring will reportedly keep him out for five weeks. Lacking him, Chelsea are like “The Office” without Steve Carell. Expect the doors to be blown off their hinges by Robert Lewandowski, Phonzie Davies and Co. (I did love this long read on a lost slice of Bayern’s history BTW.)
iv. "No child in this country should be going hungry.” Why Marcus Rashford is only getting started. Rashford is my player of the year. I admire how he carries himself on and off the field so very much. 2020 has the opportunity to change football. Football resists change. Yet, Rashhford is the pathfinder I hope will blow the doors off the old, narcissistic ways of the game.
viii. Giuseppe Paternò graduated with honors last week from the University of Palermo, with a degree in history and philosophy. Mr. Paternò is 96. Can't teach heart. Just ask this dude. And Gennaro Gattuso.
ix. GFOP Chip Goines via Raven: “As someone who works in digital libraries, I am smitten by Rog's use of our curated resources. I wanted to let you know about Harvard's Colonial North America Project , a collection of more than 650,000 digitized pages from 17th and 18th century America. Go down the Wormhole!”
That’s it for today. Let’s savor this weekend’s football and never take it for granted. I am going to leave you with this delightful Twitter Thread of “Crap 1990’s Football Mascots.” They are delightfully cheap and naive. A reminder of how far football has come and how fast. The polyester innocence and toe-in-the-pool commercialism of the 1990s seems so charming and half-assed. The commercial side of football has surged since then. Proof, the game’s form is malleable and flexible. Let’s fight, fight, fight for football grounded in value, equality, empathy and love. The football of Marcus Rashford. Not of Stan Bloody Kroenke.