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It is 5,500 miles, more or less, from Rome to Baku and back. That’s as the crow flies, though a cursory search suggests that crows fly substantially straighter than most major international airlines. They tend to divert through Munich or Istanbul or Moscow, even, which adds considerably to the distance.
If it is not a journey many make all that often, it is a route that several thousand will become familiar with this summer. Rome and Baku are the two host cities for games in Group A at next year’s European Championship. Italy, the one team already assured its place in that pool, will play all of its game on home turf, in Rome.
The three teams that will join the Azzurri in the group when the draw for the tournament is made in Bucharest on Saturday, on the other hand, will all have one game in Italy, and one in Azerbaijan. At some point, their players will have to make that long journey. More important, so too will hundreds, if not thousands, of fans.
There are many things to hate about Euro 2020, and there have been since Michel Platini, then the president of UEFA, European soccer’s governing body, unveiled his grand idea for it in 2012.
For the first time, the tournament would not be held in one country, he revealed. It would, instead, be held all over Europe: a celebration, he said, of 60 years of the European Championship, and not in any way a brazen method of keeping as many of his clients in various national associations as happy as possible.
It has led not only to a total lack of sporting integrity — like Italy, Denmark, Spain, Germany, England and the Netherlands will play all of their group games at home, which is, and this shouldn’t need saying, an entirely artificial advantage — but to the ridiculous situation where fans, many of whom are not paid as much as UEFA executives or elite players, are being asked to schlep to and fro across a continent for no apparent reason.
But the biggest problem, by some distance, is that it is completely irresponsible, bordering on negligent, to ask them to do so at a time when it’s generally accepted that we should be trying to cut down on air travel in an attempt (perhaps futile) to reduce our carbon footprints.
By generally accepted, it should be pointed out, I mean: accepted by UEFA. “There is overwhelming international scientific consensus that human activity is the principal cause of global warming,” a statement released by the organization said this week. “If action is not taken to significantly reduce harmful greenhouse gas emissions, the impacts of climate change will continue to put future generations at risk.”
In UEFA’s defense, those sentences appeared in a media release detailing the extensive — and expensive — plan the organization has to offset each of the 405,000 or so tons of carbon that the itinerant Euro 2020 will cause to be released.
UEFA’s president, Aleksandar Ceferin, has announced a partnership with South Pole, a sustainability consultancy, to invest in so-called “gold standard” emission-reduction programs; some 60,000 trees, UEFA has said, will be planted across the continent, by way of apology to the atmosphere and those future generations who will not get to enjoy watching Wayne Hennessey play international soccer.
That is praiseworthy, but it highlights something that, at some point, soccer — and all sports, as it happens — will have to confront. In the face of the ongoing climate emergency, can we justify the huge amounts of carbon expended in order to help teams, and fans, travel across continents?
One study at the University of Manchester, released this week, estimated that the nominees for this year’s Ballon D’Or were responsible for 500 tons of carbon being released through their flights alone. Roberto Firmino used up enough energy to power six homes for a year, according to the report’s math. Heung-Min Son could have charged almost six million smartphones, and I’m sure he would have, if he’d known. (Neymar, it turns out, could have driven eight cars for a year; the study did not ask if they were all his cars).
“The nature of the football sector is a recipe for a high carbon footprint, and when you take into consideration football fans also sometimes traveling by air, the impact will probably be several magnitudes bigger,” said Andrew Welfle of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research.
There is no question, as Welfle said, that clubs and leagues should do more, and UEFA’s awareness of the problem is a step in the right direction. But at some point, and not one too far down the line, we will have to ask what other changes need to be made, beyond minimizing travel during major tournaments.
It is not an easy subject to discuss. There are no easy answers. But it is one that we cannot ignore forever, and one that cuts, really, to the heart of the whole problem around climate change: how much of what we enjoy, of what we are used to, are we prepared to change, and possibly to sacrifice, for the benefit of the future?
In Case You Missed It
You may have avoided the phenomenon that is AFTV — Arsenal Fan TV, to most, despite the club’s objections — and if so, congratulations. It’s worth examining, though, and especially today, on the heels of Friday morning’s firing of Manager Unai Emery, because there’s an intriguing, and I suspect quite important, tension between what makes the channel a success and what makes Arsenal a success. The channel says it is by fans, for fans. But where, exactly, does the club fit into that?
How Wide Is an Ocean? Marcelo Gallardo May Find Out
Marcelo Gallardo will get his statue anyway. His River Plate team might have lost the Copa Libertadores final last Saturday — and in the sort of circumstances that fans of Bayern Munich’s 1999 vintage might find harrowing — but he has earned his immortality. He has won the Libertadores twice already, two of 10 trophies he has collected during his time at River. He is the most successful coach in the club’s history, and it is quite a history. He is also, as it happens, 43.
All of which makes you wonder what comes next. It would be perfectly valid for Gallardo to decide that he doesn’t much fancy working in Europe — not everyone has to come to Europe — but, equally, I suspect few in Argentina would begrudge him being tempted by the challenge. Europe is, after all, where the best coaches in the world are, working with the best players. They also earn the most money.
It’s intriguing, though, to wonder whether clubs on this side of the Atlantic might see Gallardo as a risk. There is no shortage of Argentine coaches on the continent, of course, but most of them have earned their spurs in Europe: Mauricio Pochettino, for example, has never coached in his homeland. Diego Simeone did, but even he had a spell at Catania, in Italy, before he got his move to Atlético Madrid, a club where he was idolized as a player.
The last South American coach to make the leap without any prior experience in Europe, I think, was probably the Chilean Manuel Pellegrini, who joined Spain’s Villarreal from River in 2004. Would Gallardo take a job like that, or is his résumé now too gilded? Would one of the elite see his success in the Libertadores as a likely guide to how he would fare in the Champions League? If he does decide to come, it would be a fascinating test case of how Europe sees South American soccer.
Best of … Not Friends. But Not Enemies, Either.
This week offered a rare chance to see the two defining figures of the Premier League season in the same room when Pep Guardiola and Jürgen Klopp, the coaches of Manchester City and Liverpool, attended a gala dinner for the English Football Writers’ Association at a hotel in Manchester on Sunday night.
Watching them at close quarters, it was hard not to be struck by the differences between them. Guardiola’s genius is that of the inventor: he has a restless energy, an impatience, almost, to get back to work. Klopp is more comfortable, I think, in company, a more natural orator. Both gave speeches. Both were funny, warm, engaging. Klopp went first. “You have no idea how hard it is to give a speech after Jürgen,” Guardiola the said after he walked onstage.
But what stood out even more was the admiration they have for one another. We focus a lot on whether rivals like each other because, I think, at heart we are all teenagers, desperate for gossip about the most popular kids in class.
Are Klopp and Guardiola friends? No. Could they be, given the competition between them? Probably not. But does their relationship mirror the increasingly puerile atmosphere between their clubs? Not in the slightest. Each one recognizes the other for what he is: a genuine peer, a fearsome competitor, a respected rival. It doesn’t detract from how much they want to beat each other. It would be nice if that sort of approach were more common.
When he wrote a few days ago, Conor McArdle was still in mourning for Tottenham’s coach, Mauricio Pochettino. I have a feeling a couple of wins against West Ham and Olympiacos won’t have changed Conor’s mind. “Under his chipper veneer, I’m wary that Mourinho is likely the same antagonistic character, and I’m unsure I’ll ever warm to him,” he wrote. “His history of indiscretions is, I feel, at odds with that nebulous ‘Tottenham philosophy’ of glory and style and panache.”
This is what makes the Mourinho appointment so interesting, at least to those of us not invested one way or the other in either party. How much can a fan base forget all that it thought it knew? How much history does loyalty erase? Mourinho is unlikely to change; really, he has no incentive to change. So what does he have to do to persuade Spurs fans that the monster is O.K. as long as the monster is on your side?
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