I type with fingers tingling with anticipation at the slate of football games which lie ahead of us. While English teams watch from home (or in Harry Maguire’s case, indulge in some fisticuffs in Mykonos), UEFA brings this eternal season to a close with the finals of its two mighty showcases: The Champions League (Sunday, 3 p.m. ET CBS Sports Network, Univision) and its Kevin Dillon-esque brother, Europa League, (3 p.m. ET TODAY CBS All Access, Unimas.)
I will break down both games below, but I want to say up top that I have been so grateful for both competitions’ presence in my life over the past couple of weeks. Yes, fan-less sports is a dark, terrible reality and the absence of the crackling atmosphere only European nights can give you has been strongly felt. Yet because we're all grappling with the pandemic which has forced that predicament, this Champions League has been incredible to witness. For 90 minutes, our solitary condition can be put aside, and it feels like we are connected to a surging conversation with the entire world.
I have felt the same watching the political Convention this week. The script writers typically play to trigger applause lines and foster audience energy in the theater. The virtual convention has forced them to try and connect emotionally to all the millions watching at home through the television screens in our living rooms. The result has been a profound intimacy that, at its best, can lift the spirit, touch deep into your emotions, and summon a tremendous collective power.
I am so grateful to all of the players, coaches, match officials, and broadcasters who have sacrificed and risked so much to make these games happen. I will never take their presence in our lives for granted again.
2. Men In Blazers: Like a Geyser that won’t stop emitting Hot Air
i. Our Champions League Final Preview is here! Martin Tyler used to describe his job as providing the smell of the game. We try to do that, accompanied by our traditional stink. LINK
ii. This past two week sporting diet of European football by day, NHL/NBA by night has been a spirit-lifting existence. It has been a joy, then, to re-launch our Men In Blazers on Ice series with our friends at Jagermeister, that shot of human emotion in a glass. This film we made with Flyers Jordan Hendo-equivalent, Kevin Hayes, is a bolt of wonder. It is one of my favorite things we have done all year. Whether you like sports or not, it will give you LIFE…. Now let me go and wallow in my Washington Capitals misery...
iii. Our HBO Succession Podcast keeps smashing out the hits. This week, we were elated to welcome Gerri Killman, the talented J. Smith-Cameron, who talks about what it is like to be the smartest person in a sea of toxic man boys. Alan Ruck, childhood Rog’s hero, is next on Monday, before we drop an epic Matthew Macfadyen episode. It has been a thrill and an honor to craft this series. Please SUBSCRIBE, RATE, REVIEW AND SHARE THIS BEAUTY so we can do more, more, more.
iv. We have been able to cover the Champions League and Europa League thanks to the support of DraftKings. The Best King since Bran Stark. Access its Sportsbook here.
3. To the Football
Let’s hit Sunday’s Champions League Final first. A barnstormer of a clash. German old school might against Qatari-French new cash aspiration. A complete team against a galaxy of individual stars who have mustered sufficient collective self-interest to make this clash truly fascinating. Storylines everywhere you look on that field: Neymar’s hunger for redemption. Lewandowski closing a season in which he has almost spent more time celebrating goals than playing football. Bayern’s risky defensive highline daring that peerless PSG front three to charge at Manuel Neuer who is like a one-man Don Martindale defense. Above all, I cannot wait to watch the wunderkind battle on the flank between Kylian Mbappe, who has a chance to win it all by age 21, and Canadian Tween sensation Alphonso Davies. More speed than your average Mecum Motor Auction. Here is all you need to know:
b. There is so much world-class talent on the field. The game may boil down to which superstar - Lewandowski, Thiago, Gnabry, Neymar, Mbappe, or Di Maria - seizes their moment. When I watch Bayern though, I revel in the play of elite oddball, Thomas Müller, whose avant-garde influence is captured here in this piece, “The spaceman from a different galaxy.” A galaxy called Really Good at Football.
ii. Europa League Final, that Scrappy Doo of Football, is this afternoon. It will be a mesmerizing clash, tactically and in terms of storylines. Europa League fetishists, Sevilla, five-time winners who exist to savor glory at the equivalent of The Little Caesar’s Pizza Bowl, meet Inter, led by that glorious madman Antonio Conte and his Premier League cast-offs in exile squad filled with old friends Big Rom, Piano Man Alexis Sanchez and Middlefart’s Christian Eriksen.
That’s it for today. We drop an edition of WGFOP: The Bald podcast this afternoon as a weekend preview. Enjoy the football. Savor every second. What a season it has been. Filled with more extreme human emotion than I have ever experienced. The pause was hard to live through, for both footballing and non-footballing reasons. In my darkest hours, I have leaned heavily on the music of two Australian performers, Angie McMahon and Alex the Astronaut. As this season ends, it is fitting that Alex has released her debut album today, “The Theory Of Absolutely Nothing.” (Here is a five-star review.) She sings intimately and fearlessly about emotions, yearnings and fears. Her lyrics are poetic. I am thrilled for her, even though she is a Manchester United fan (she played college football in the U.S., too.) Her music has given me a lift on countless occasions when I have needed one and I hope it will for you too. Here is a good starting point: I Think You’re Great.
“I want to say that I think you're great Your voice starts to break You say ‘Everything's changing’ It's all complicated, movers and shakers The unending race, ‘I feel like I'm fading’ But you don't always have to smile You don't Only have to cry at night When tears stain your face You're not feeling brave I'll be there again and again 'Cause I think you're great’” - Alex The Astronaut