Galatasaray’s captures and our temporal distortion

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There comes a point in your life when two and a half years seems like “the blind of an eye.” That’s because you’re old. As an infant, two years is monumental – the time you’ll learn to speak, walk, and do basic life tasks that will carry you through the rest of your life. In adolescence, it’s the difference between fifth grade naiveté and seventh grade micro-maturity. In high school, it’s the span between freshman innocence and junior-year consequences.

When you grow up, there’s no difference between 26 and 28, 35 and 38, 62 and 64. The spans that redefined your younger self become worryingly irrelevant. You’re too busy trying to stop time and avoid birthdays to see those small increments dissolve. The type of changes that spanned two teenage years take decades to manifest as adults.

Two and a half years ago, Wesley Sneijder was being billed as one of the best players in the world. He had just let Internazionale to titles in league, Europe, and Inter’s domestic cup. He’d also been a focal point for a Netherlands team that made the World Cup final. Ten months after being deemed surplus to requirements and Florentino Perez’s second attempt to make the Santiago Bernabeu cosmic, Sneijder was completely redeemed. The potential that compelled Real Madrid to pry the savant from Ajax finally manifested its brilliance in Italy.

Memories of 2010 resurfaced last week when the 28-year-old moved to Turkey, a long-rumored link to Galatasaray finally coming good. This weekend, Sneijder made his first Turkish appearance in an Istanbul derby against Besiktas, coming off the bench in Gala’s 2-1 Sunday victory. Though celebrated, the debut was the denouement of a mini-saga born of a huge contract, fueled by a lingering perception, concluded by the paradox of a move both inevitable and surprising.

Sneijder has never really been the player he showed in 2009-10, even if expectations always cast him as such. But it was failure to meet those expectations that  left out of Manuel Pellegrini’s team after the Chilean’s 2010 arrival at the Bernabeu. Failed hope led him to be sold to Inter at a loss, to get one of the biggest contracts in Italy after one breakout season, and to being one of the worst deals in Serie A when he couldn’t maintain his outlying form. They also let to the gasps, awes, and shock of fans when Sneijder’s Turkish move was finally confirmed, Inter also taking a loss.

source:  Nerazzurri fans who followed the Sneijder saga weren’t surprised by the move, but for others whose relationship with Wesley was still anchored in South Africa, the transfer illustrated our flawed perceptions – two-year-old images subject to the same dilations that separate our infancy from adulthood. As far as time is concerned, professional soccer players may as well be infants for whom and a half years is huge. The time can make Arsenal snipers into Manchester United linch pins, modestly competitive Bundesliga club into enviable projects, and talented right wingers into the best player of all time.

They can also defy our assumptions and make Serie A’s best player into a competitive irrelevancy. Some memories want to hold on to visage of Sneijder as an elite player, but with that player now lodged in the annuls of Nerazzuri history, the move to Turkey made sense. The world in which Sneijder was a poor fit for Gala was a reflective, mental one – outdated knowledge that reminds us how old we’ve become. Too expensive for his talent, too young to be giving money back, Sneijder was always destined to end up somewhere that would defy his reputation.

Today comes word that Gala’s made another perception-challenging splash, the Turkish champions reaching an agreement for Chelsea icon Didier Drogba. Given his age and the fact that he’s been away from Europe for eight months, Drogba’s no longer a bank-breaking capture. With Shanghai Shenhua having reportedly failed to pay Drogba for three months, the Ivorian becomes a bargain for the Turkish champions who will reportedly not have to pay a fee for his services. A $5.4 million signing bonus on top of a $2.7 million annual salary makes Drogba’s signing worth the marketing alone.

MORE: Former Chelsea star signs with Galatasaray

As the news gets assimilated, expect the same bewilderment the met Sneijder’s capture to greet word of Drogba’s new home. On one level, fans newly interested in the Super Lïg will not only wonder how Gala captured the duo but how good the team can be. How were they able to get two of the world’s biggest stars? And matched up against Schalke in Champions League … oh just imagine how far they could go.

On another level, that kind of reaction is just another of the same temporal distortion that portrayed Sneijder’s move as a shock. The Dutch midfielder is too good for Galatasaray, the thinking goes, because of the player he was two years ago. And despite the fact that few have seen him play in the last eight months and he’s yet to have an impact on the Africa Cup of Nations, some will let perceptions from last May convinced them Drogba can buttress a Champions League threat. There is, after all, a reason a club like Juventus was thought to be pursuing him (or not).

source: Getty ImagesIt’s a vision of Drogba that overlooks that mere 13 goals in 35 all-competition games he scored last season. Or the 13 in 46 he scored the season before that. We think of his header in the Champions League final and his Europe-winning penalty kick and remember Drogba as the player who scored 37 in 44 during the 2009-10 season. But as is the case with Sneijder, our image of Drogba is nothing more than a strange distortion that’s prevented us from recasting our heroes.

Maybe we’re all getting lazy. Maybe we’re tired of trying to stay up-to-date or we’ve run out of room in our imaginations, space that could had conceived a world with a changing Didier Drogba and Wesley Sneijder. Perhaps the metronomic consistency of the Lionel Messis, Cristianos Ronaldos, and Xavi Hernándezs deceived us into believing soccer’s stars are immutable, a notion that explains our continued fascination with Kaká and Steven Gerrard.

But as we move farther and faster from the world that created Sneijder and Drogba’s stars, we fall deeper into this time dilation. The last World Cup cycle speeds farther from us, we allow ourselves to dwell on the outdated images that lead to our empty shock. If our minds were in 2012 instead of 2013, we’d take Sneijder and Drogba’s captures in stride. Our stubborn focus on that retreating world means we’ll never have an accurate view of yesterday’s stars.

Maybe all of us, as a soccer culture, have become so old that two and a half years still seems like a yesterday. Our younger selves would have never got hung up on this before. Maybe a less mature soccer culture wouldn’t have gotten hung up on why stars are moving to Istanbul.

Ligue 1: PSG return to comfort zone, thrash Strasbourg

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PARIS (AP) After falling short in the Champions League, Paris Saint-Germain returned to its French league comfort zone and beat Strasbourg 5-2 on Saturday.

Edinson Cavani netted twice, and Julian Draxler, Angel Di Maria, and Neymar also scored to ensure PSG stayed 12 points clear of second-place Monaco at the top.

But not without a fright.

Strasbourg took the lead in the sixth minute and pulled back to 3-2 as PSG continued to show alarming signs of weakness at the back. Strasbourg had a late goal incorrectly ruled out for offside after PSG’s defense was again easily breached, although it was already 5-2 by then.

PSG lost at Real Madrid 3-1 on Wednesday in the first leg of the last 16. The way PSG capitulated by giving away two late goals heaped pressure on coach Unai Emery over his team selection.

“The atmosphere was a bit tense. That’s normal,” Cavani said. “We have to look forward now. We played well today, although at times we could have been better.”

Emery was booed by sections of the home crowd when his name was announced over the loudspeaker before the game. Later, Cavani stopped short of giving Emery his personal backing when asked if the under-fire coach has the full support of the players.

“We’re a team and big teams stick together in the important moments,” Cavani said. “That’s the only way you can win.”

Strasbourg beat PSG at home in December, and stunned the crowd at Parc des Princes by taking the lead when midfielder Jean-Eudes Aholou was left completely unmarked near the penalty spot.

PSG hit back hard and was 3-1 up after 23 minutes thanks to Draxler, Di Maria and Neymar’s 19th in 19 league games.

Stephane Bahoken scored against PSG for the second time this season after a quick counterattack. Strasbourg poured forward but the hope didn’t last for long.

Cavani gave PSG some breathing space with an assured finish in the 72nd, clipping the ball over goalkeeper Alexandre Oukidja, then lobbed him for his league-leading 23rd goal.

“It was important to win after Wednesday’s match. We have to get our fans ready for the games to come against Marseille (next weekend) and Real Madrid,” Emery said. “We have to show we can maintain this level of play against better sides, with all due respect to Strasbourg.”

To celebrate Chinese New Year, PSG players’ names were written in Mandarin on the back of their shirts and a Chinese dragon paraded around the pitch. PSG says it has 1.3 million Chinese followers.

In order to better serve the soccer market in Asia, the league match between Nice and PSG on March 18 has been moved forward to 1 p.m. local time (1200 GMT).


Marseille players will also have their names in Mandarin for Sunday’s home game against Bordeaux at Stade Velodrome. Marseille recently launched an account on Chinese social media site Weibo.

Striker Giovanni Sio’s second-half equalizer gave Montpellier the point it needed to take fifth place after drawing with Guingamp 1-1.

Two goals from newly signed striker Diafra Sakho gave Rennes a 2-2 draw at Caen, which missed two penalties.

Saint-Etienne won at Angers 1-0, Troyes beat last-place Metz 1-0, and Amiens drew with Toulouse 0-0 in another relegation scrap.

In Sunday’s other games, fourth-place Lyon goes to Lille, and Nice hosts Nantes.

Pardew ‘furious’ after four WBA players steal taxi in Spain

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At least when you’re bottom of the Premier League table and appear headed for relegation, as West Bromwich Albion now find themselves, you can take the positive approach that “the only way to go from here is up.”

[ FA CUP: Man United advance, drawn against PL opposition in QF ]

Alternatively, four of your most senior players — Jonny Evans, Gareth Barry, Jake Livermore and Boaz Myhill, in this case — might have other ideas and elect to steal a cab during a late-season training camp in Barcelona. That’s the current state of affairs for the Baggies and manager Alan Pardew, who openly admits he was “furious” and felt “let down” — quotes from the Guardian:

“This is obviously not ideal. They broke the curfew and that’s unacceptable and I feel a bit let down by that.”

“It’s difficult for managers. Obviously, I was furious with what happened but at the same time I’ve got to stay faithful to the players and give them a chance to remedy the situation.”

The night’s timeline reads something like this: the quartet wanted to go out in the city center, but everything was closed late at night; they got a taxi to a McDonald’s by the Barcelona port; the driver left the car, at which point the players decided to drive back to the team hotel around 5:30 a.m.; the care was returned to the cab driver around 8 a.m.

Evans was stripped of his captaincy for Saturday’s FA Cup fifth-round defeat to Southampton. The players have since released the following statement through the club’s website:

“We felt it important we identify ourselves as the players involved in an incident which occurred during the training camp in Spain this week out of respect for team-mates who otherwise could be implicated by association. We freely acknowledge and apologize for the break of curfew which we accept represented a breach of the standards of professionalism required of us as representatives of West Bromwich Albion.

“The club has informed us that it will now conduct its own inquiry into the incident and we will cooperate fully. In the meantime, we would like to assure our supporters that this incident does not reflect the determination and resolve we possess to do all we can to recover a difficult season.”

With 11 games left to play, West Brom currently sit seven points adrift of safety; Pardew’s position grows more and more tenuous with each point dropped; and three of their final 11 games are against Manchester United, Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur.

Serie A: Turkish youngster Under fires Roma back into 3rd

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ROME (AP) The rapid development of 20-year-old Turkey winger Cengiz Under is playing a big role in Roma’s revival.

Under scored his fourth goal in three matches and Roma won at Udinese 2-0 for its third straight win in Serie A on Saturday.

Roma moved into third place, two points ahead of Inter Milan, which lost at Genoa 2-0.

It’s a drastic improvement from where Roma was a month ago, when the Giallorossi were mired in a five-match winless streak that risked dropping them out of contention for the Champions League places.

“We’re getting back on track to where we were in the first half of the season,” forward Diego Perotti said.

Roma went ahead when Under unleashed a powerful, rising shot from beyond the area in the 70th.

Perotti sealed the victory in the 90th with an angled effort after Udinese gave the ball away near midfield.

Under is having a breakout month.

First, he scored after 43 seconds when Roma ended a five-match winless streak by beating Hellas Verona 1-0. Then he had a brace and also delivered an assist in a 5-2 win over Benevento last weekend.

All this after not being involved in any goals in his first 14 matches with Roma.

“He plays far more for the team than himself,” Roma coach Eusebio Di Francesco said of Under. “His greatest strength is being able to prepare his shot with great speed, making him difficult to close down.”

Added Perotti, “He’s very humble and he doesn’t speak Italian yet but he’s well behaved and is a great kid. He deserves all of this.”

On Wednesday, Roma visits Shakhtar Donetsk in the first leg of the Champions League last 16.

“We’ve got to make the most of the fact they’ve had a winter break and might not be match fit,” Di Francesco said of the Ukrainian side. “They have a lot of quality in attack and are dangerous, but we shouldn’t change our attitude.”


Inter’s defense was in shambles against Genoa.

The hosts took the lead before the break when a failed clearance attempt from Milan Skriniar ricocheted off of a stunned Andrea Ranocchia, who was charged with an own goal.

Then former Inter striker Goran Pandev was left unmarked to score from the center of the area midway through the second half.

Inter hasn’t won at regional rival Genoa in more than seven years.

Chievo Verona took a big step toward avoiding relegation with a 2-1 win over visiting Cagliari.

Emanuele Giaccherini and Roberto Inglese scored late for the hosts before Leonardo Pavoletti pulled one back for Cagliari.

Chievo moved up to 14th, level on points with Cagliari, eight points above the drop zone.

La Liga: Barca’s 31-game unbeaten run ties longest in club history

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A roundup of all of Saturday’s action in Spain’s top flight…

[ FA CUP: Man United advance, drawn against PL opposition in QF ]

Eibar 0-2 Barcelona

Barcelona, the last remaining unbeaten side from Europe’s five major domestic leagues, warmed up for Tuesday’s Champions League round-of-16 clash with Chelsea by dismantling seventh-place Eibar side away from home on Saturday and extending their unbeaten run to 31 games in the league, tying the club’s all-time record in the process.

The Blaugrana took the lead after 15 minutes, when Lionel Messi slotted an inch-perfect through ball for Luis Suarez who rounded the goalkeeper and slotted home (WATCH HERE) for his 17th league goal of the season (20 in all competitions).

Messi played his part in Barca’s second goal, which came three minutes before full-time. The Argentine’s shot was initially saved, but Jordi Alba arrived on the scene moments later to clean up and finish off the 10-man Basque minnows.

The victory sends Barca 10 points clear of second-place Atletico Madrid, who play on Sunday, and 20 points clear of fourth-place Real Madrid, who have played two fewer games thus far.

Malaga 1-2 Valencia

Valencia, who spent the majority of the season’s first half as Barca’s nearest title rivals (while never really challenging), fell to third when they recently lost three straight league games, but have since regained their footing with back-to-back wins, including Saturday’s come-from-behind triumph away to last-place Malaga.

Brown Ideye put Malaga ahead just before the half-hour mark, a lead which remained intact for more than 50 minutes. Alas, Francis Coquelin bagged his first goal for Valencia in the 80th minute to draw level, followed by a penalty kick converted by Dani Parejo five minutes later.

Elsewhere in La Liga

Las Palmas 1-2 Sevilla
Alaves 1-0 Deportivo La Coruña

Sunday’s La Liga schedule

Real Sociedad vs. Levante — 6 a.m. ET
Atletico Madrid vs. Athletic Bilbao — 10:15 a.m. ET
Espanyol vs. Villarreal — 12:30 p.m. ET
Real Betis vs. Real Madrid — 2:45 p.m. ET