THURSDAY'S BIG STORIES
You'll Never Guess Who Is About To Sign For Barca
With Euros safely out of the way, it's time to return to what football is really all about. Transfer. Contracts. The gathering and dispersal of large amounts of money. But for fans of transfer sagas, of hasty tattoos and bickering superclubs, some bad news. It's all agreed. Only the signature is needed. Lionel Messi's staying in Barcelona.
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For five more years. We'd assumed, perhaps naively, that Messi's wantaway instincts were still present, more or less. That any new contract would be a deferral, not a recommittal: two more years and then off to the USA. Shows what we know.
And five years! Messi turned 34 last month, so when this contract expires he'll be [counts on fingers] 39. Now, the careers of the very excellent are getting longer. Cristiano Ronaldo's Juventus deal runs until he's 37, and we suspect he'll rack up another few years after that, though perhaps not in Turin. Zlatan Ibrahimović is still contorting himself around at the sharp end of Serie A, and he's a few months shy of 40.
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What will a 39-year-old Messi look like, as a player? In some ways there could be no better player to watch getting, since his game has never been anchored on explosive pace or his strength. You can easily imagine him playing on for longer, perhaps forever, hair white and beard long, offsetting his decaying body with an ever-sharper mind: playing the same passes, taking the same free-kicks, sliding past challenges with inexplicable efficiency, never breaking walking pace but still somehow scoring 40 goals a season.
Whether you could build a functional superclub's first 11 around such a player is another question, but happily Barcelona are such a well-run club that they must have thought this all through. Look to camera. Raise eyebrow.
The big headline is that Messi has taken a pay cut, since Barcelona have no money. In fact, given that we're talking about debt, they have less than no money: they have a yawning black hole of not-money that will, over time, suck in other money that they also don't have. But hey, that's a problem for the future. Messi stays. The rest is details.
Incidentally, if he keeps playing at the rate he's playing and scoring at the rate he's scoring — say 50 games and 40 goals a season — then by the time this deal is done, he'll have made over 1,000 appearances and be pushing 900 goals. Which is, however you look at it, completely ridiculous behaviour.
Barcelona players will be happy Messi is sticking around
Image credit: Getty Images
New Eiffel Tower Just Dropped
Speaking of ridiculous numbers, Gianluigi Donnarumma is 22. At this young and tender age he has already picked up 33 caps for Italy, which is more than Buffon had at the same age. And he's already played 251 games for AC Milan, which is honestly quite a respectable career in itself.
Now he's off to PSG. More numbers. PSG's record appearance holder is Jean-Marc Pilorget, who racked up 435 games over 13 seasons. We can expect Donnarumma to play more than 40 games a season, given the ever-bloating Champions League, which means he should end up passing that mark in nine or 10 years. That is to say, he could break PSG's appearances record at the age of 32, which is usually when goalkeepers are just starting to get the hang of things.
There's no big point here, expect to marvel at how good he's become, how quickly, and how well PSG have done in picking him up. Assuming he doesn't turn out to be secretly rubbish, and assuming Juventus don't lure him back to Italy with the promise of "titles forever, but in Italian", then PSG have sorted their goalkeeping position for the next 15 years. Which when it comes to football time, is practically geological.
And a moment for Keylor Navas. This is now the second time he's moved to a superclub, been brilliant, and then been shunted to one side in favour of somebody younger and taller. The relatively short, extra springy goalkeeper is an endangered species at this highest level of the game, and now the finest of them all is looking for work again.
Marcus Rashford Can Have A Rest
It's been common knowledge that Marcus Rashford has needed surgery on his shoulder since at least January of this year. Some reports estimate that it's been two years since he's played without pain. And if you asked the Warm-Up to name the most knackered human being on the planet right now, at this very moment, we'd probably say: it's the Warm-Up. But we'd have Rashford a close second.
So happy news: we're getting a cup of coffee, and he's getting surgery and a few months to recover. Obviously having your shoulder cut open and rearranged and stitched back together doesn't exactly count as a holiday, but even time spent convalescing has to be better for the body than time spent carrying an entire football team around.
This will delay the arrival of Manchester United's coming front three: a thrilling all-English assault trident of Rashford and Sancho either side of Greenwood. Although Greenwood's presence here makes the traditional naming convention a little awkward: RaSaGr doesn't really roll off the tongue. SaGrRa. GrSaRa. Needs work.
Marcus Rashford will be out of action for a while
Image credit: Getty Images
But a little more anticipation will do nobody any harm, will do Rashford a world of good, and impatient United fans will just have to make do with Edinson Cavani. Or Anthony Martial. Or Dan James. What a weird squad they've got up there.
No, the people that should be really worried are Britain's entire political class. While he playing through pain, Rashford managed to do a better job forcing the UK government to attend to its basic moral duties than any of the people who are, in theory, supposed to be doing that for a living. Tremble, stuffed suits of England, at the thought of Marcus Rashford now: still righteous, still kind-hearted, still engaged, and with just a little more time to post.
IN OTHER NEWS
Very much enjoyed "Gary Neville does the Olympics against Olympians", although — spoilers — we suspect we won't be getting many more episodes. Poor Gary. We were so looking forward to the fencing as well.
We're taking a brief diversion to the Serious Opinion Pages today, for this piece from sociology professor Ben Carrington in the Guardian. He locates the powerful statements of England's black players post-Euro 2020 to a wider context of athletes exercising their political agency, and wonders how the world is shifting around these remarkable people.
These young footballers have been plunged into politics through football, and we are witnessing them lead and shape national conversations on racism in a way that has left many politicians on the bench. The question before us remains, then, what type of politics can be constructed out of the messy and fraught terrain of sports in general and football in particular that can be connected to a broader politics of transformation? What new collective identities can sport help to bring about?
Possibly a bit too recent for "retro", but who are you, the Adjective Police? Happy birthday to Vivianne Miedama, Arsenal legend and WSL record goalscorer. Here's the 52 goals that took her to the record, racked up in just 50 games.
If you want to stay up way past your bed time — and on a school night as well — then your reward will be some CONCACAF Gold Cup group stage action: Haiti vs. Canada, Martinique vs. USA, and Guadeloupe vs. Jamaica.
Tom Adams will be here tomorrow, assuming the Adjective Police don't get him first.
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