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Why we should have nice things

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If all goes well, Leverkusen will end this season with a record, two trophies and three lingering existential questions. They will all date back to Wednesday, to Dublin, to the Europa League final, and they will all take exactly the same, unpleasant form: What if?

If Exequiel Palacios See Ademola Lukman coming? If Granit Xhaka No ball lost? If Edmond Tapsoba Stretched his legs? Would the final result be different? Could Leverkusen unite to beat Atalanta? Could Leverkusen coach Xabi Alonso lead the team to the treble?

Of course, this is cruel. After all, Leverkusen performs better than other teams in European competitions. Won the German Championship for the first timeAfter 120 years of trying, it finally won the championship this season. This weekend, it should add the German Cup to its trophy list. It has surpassed Benfica to become the owner of the longest unbeaten streak in European football since the First World War. In case no one has mentioned, it has done all this in Alonso’s First full season in charge.

This is the season that should be remembered. When Alonso, his players and his fans look back on this season in years to come, they should focus on what the team achieved, not where it failed. It surpassed even the most unrealistic ambitions. But should and will are different. Nothing hurts more than coming close. Leverkusen, whether they want to or not, will always be a curiosity.

There is a silver lining, though. Alonso made it clear a few months ago when both Liverpool and Bayern Munich began looking for new coaches that he would not welcome approach from either club. He was still honing his craft, he said. He had made a long-term commitment to Leverkusen and he was not going to break it at the first opportunity.

At the time – and perhaps even more so now – the feeling was distinctly countercultural. Not only has football been trained to believe that every wave is worth riding, but the economy is structured so that anything new, bright or promising is immediately embraced by the sport’s (often self-appointed) great and good.

Kieran McKenna, for example, has been in senior management for slightly longer than Alonso. He is only 38 years old. In two seasons at Ipswich Town, he took the club from League One, the third tier of English football, all the way to the Premier League. Next season, Ipswich will be in the English top flight for the first time in 20 years.

Whether McKenna will go is another matter. Brighton are desperate to appoint him as a replacement for Roberto De Zerbi. Chelsea I want to give him a chance to be fired. This time next year, Ipswich plan to offer him a better contract in an attempt to persuade him to stay, but the chance to move on and get promoted may be hard to resist.

The same may well be true of Crystal Palace, whose transformation in the final two months of the season resembled something like a cross between Guardiola-era Barcelona and Michael Jordan’s team in Space Jam, thanks not only to the expert work of new coach Oliver Glasner but also to the improvisations of Eberechi Eze and Michael Oliseh.

Crystal Palace, which was once in danger of relegation this season, suddenly became unstoppable. Glasner’s team defeated Liverpool at Anfield, beat Manchester United 4-0, and then Breaking up Aston Villa On the final day of the season, under the sunshine at Selhurst Park, one could not help but imagine what this team will achieve next season.

But of course, this could well be just a pipe dream. Tottenham and Manchester City are both chasing Oliseh. Eze has received offers to join Manchester United and Chelsea. Frankly, neither transfer is a particularly attractive proposition at the moment, but it won’t make a difference. One or both of the stars will leave, and Crystal Palace will be left with only memories of a magical spring.

This is one of the sad things about modern football: for all its glamour, glamour, hype and fanfare, its brutal economics leave most fans and most teams agonising over a series of ‘what ifs’. Most can only wonder what might have happened if things had gone just a little differently.

Leverkusen – perhaps alone – have avoided that fate for now. Alonso pledged his allegiance, and some of the team’s standout players soon followed suit. Most importantly, the team’s all-around creative centerpiece, Florian Wirtz, plans to stay for a while.

While the club defies the ruthless logic of modern football, it still has a chance to build something: not permanent, perhaps, but at least lasting.

Yet Dublin’s questions will linger. Leverkusen came so close to achieving something extraordinary that it will have some regrets. But it need not worry about where the team will go under this manager. In another year, it will have the chance to find out. Sadly, others will not have the same experience.

At this point, it looks like Chelsea did it on purpose. For much of the second half of the Premier League season, Stamford Bridge was covered in green shoots.

Mauricio Pochettino had finally begun to sketch the outlines of a team from the random raw materials provided to him by the club’s numerous owners and sporting directors. By the end of the season, Chelsea had won five games in a row and were sitting atop sixth in the table. That strange feeling was hope.

So naturally, a few days later, the club’s top brass decided to relieve Pochettino of his duties. (The official line about his departure was that he “agreed to leave” the club. Which is roughly the same way you “agree to leave” a bar when the bouncer grabs you by the arm, walks you to the door, and then throws you onto the sidewalk outside.)

I vaguely remember making the argument, semi-seriously, last summer that Chelsea’s shambolic recruitment strategy made sense if the owners stopped viewing football as a sport (where the ultimate goal is winning matches and prizes) and instead as a year-round content factory where the main indicator of success is the amount of coverage the club gets.

The decision to part ways with Pochettino just as he was beginning to find clues amid the hubbub suggests that the previous analysis was not entirely correct. It seems that the qualifier “semi” was completely unnecessary.

Frustrating news: Bayern Munich has found a head coach. Over the past few months, the club has identified (at least) five candidates to fill the vacant position for next season, only to find out that Xabi Alonso, Julian Nagelsmann, Ralf Rangnick and Oliver Glasner don’t want to stay. Even current head coach Thomas Tuchel has made it clear that he would rather not stay.

Now, sadly, Vincent Kompany – who was last present at Burnley’s relegation from the Premier League – has agreed, depriving European football, which usually takes itself very seriously, of one of its few opportunities for joy.

There is a tendency to see Kompany’s appointment as a sign of desperation for Bayern. Bayern, which had ambitions to win the Champions League each year, are now forced to pin their fate on Kompany, and this season, Bayern have won just five of 38 Premier League games. This is undoubtedly a sign of Bayern’s decline.

And yet: Kompany was considered promising enough last summer after Burnley’s successful promotion that both Tottenham and Chelsea discussed him as a potential hire.

Obviously, his experiences since then have been hard and painful, but they have also made him a better coach. His latent talent has not disappeared; on the contrary, the knowledge gained through adversity has likely solidified it. Bayern’s willingness to surpass Kompany’s achievements is more a sign of progress than a joke.

This can only be described as a small miracle and a small personal victory, I remember Last week’s newsletter Two emails omitted – Attila Yaman Not coming up with the kind of complex metaphors that I can’t resist – which usually comes up.

So, sorry for the delay, let’s talk David Nolan“Your call for a ‘Rookie of the Year’ award is all very well,” he wrote, correctly. “But it seems to run counter to your overall opposition to – or feigned ignorance of – the flaws of many American sports. What’s next? A grudging acknowledgment of the merits of the NFL?”

I want to assure David and the American people in general that I have nothing against American sports. Is the atmosphere a little bland at times? Sure. Are three hours too long for a sporting event? Obviously. Do adult teams need to be called the Tuscaloosa Longhorns? No, that’s bullshit. But are they really so bad that they should be compared to low-level football? No, never.

Courtney Lynch is also American, but she wants us to know that’s not why she’s asking. “My worldview is not as America-centric as this quote would suggest, but I can’t escape the thought,” she wrote, sounding very British with so many caveats in her question. “But isn’t it just a matter of time before MLS becomes the best and most competitive league in the world?”

Courtney’s logic goes like this: MLS has made tremendous progress over the past 30 years. More and more American kids are choosing soccer as their favorite sport. Given the commercial advantages the U.S. has, will this process end in a few decades with MLS becoming the world’s top sport?

Although few Europeans would agree with me, I do not think the general trajectory is unreasonable. Matt DizonHe wrote that MLS has everything that European leagues don’t have when it comes to the championship race — “competition is always intense and unpredictable. This is a clear advantage of MLS, and it should be heavily marketed to American fans of other leagues.”

There are some notable aspects to this idea – phrases like “Champions League”, “revamped Club World Cup” and “slow generational change” – but I wonder if this topic needs to be explored more fully than in the final paragraph of the newsletter section. Sorry for another cliffhanger, let’s come back to this in the summer when there will be slightly less newsletter material.

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