THURSDAY'S BIG STORIES

When Two Become One

We tuned into Scotland against Ukraine partly in the hope that we'd see a good game, but mostly because there wasn't anything else on. What we were not expecting, though, was a philosophical conundrum.
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But then, just before half-time, Che Adams threatened to burst beyond Ukraine's defence, and Valeriy Bondar hurled himself into Adams's chest. Over came the referee, and out came the yellow card. It shouldn't have been controversial: there were covering defenders, which meant it couldn't be a straight red for denying a goalscoring opportunity, and by the Warm-Up amateurish guess the tackle, though staggering clumsy and frankly a little bit weird, fell just on the yellow side of punishment. An orange-ish yellow, maybe. Verging on the terracotta.
The thing about yellow card offences, though, is that two of them are supposed to add up to one red. If Bondar had spread his offences out over two separate incidents - merely tripped Adams here, say, then five minutes later thrown himself bodily through the chest of John McGinn - then he'd have been in trouble. As it is, he appears to have found a loophole in football's laws: you can commit two bookable offences and stay on the pitch, as long as they're both contained in a single offence.
Something similar probably saved Kieran Trippier against Manchester City: that sense that an offence, though it may feel deserving of a red card in total, doesn't quite get over any of the particular tests. We're calling for the officials to reconsider this double jeopardy paradox: not out of any sense of justice or fair play, but because we'd like to see a referee pootle on over, get his yellow card out, put it away, and then get it out again. Howls, bedlam, chaos, laughter. That's what we're all here for, right?
Well, Scotland were apparently there to win the game, and after an hour or so they started turning their pressure into goals. Adams missed several presentable chances but McGinn, the best player on the pitch, rolled his way into a smart first and then Lyndon Dykes scored direct from a corner. Twice. Like it's the 1980s or something.
The selling point for this particular international break is that it gives players the chance to make their case: take me to the World Cup. This is not a concern for either Scotland or Ukraine, both vanquished by the mighty Welsh. Yet we ended up with a decent game anyway. Hampden Park sounded like it was having a good time, and Scotland looked as good as they have for ages. The Nations League, ladies and gentlemen. It shouldn't work. But it kind of does.

Elastic Solidarity

We've been waiting for a while to see how the countries attending the Qatar World Cup will address the host nation's anti-LGBT laws, and now we have the answer. The first part of the answer, anyway. It's an armband.
Harry Kane will wear it, along with the captains of eight other nations. You might, if you look hard enough, be able to make out some colours that look a little bit like the Pride flag hiding inside that heart. Obviously they've tweaked the shades a little, and put a numeral over the top. Wouldn't want to provoke anybody.
Football loves an armband. What looks like a simple piece of coloured elastic takes on all sorts of significance when a serious-faced footballer slides it over their bicep. The captain's armband doesn't matter everywhere, but when it does, oh it matters: here is our leader, it says. Here is our representation, here is our example, here is our statue come to life and to bark at the referee.
So too the black armband for the club legend. It could look insubstantial, or even cheap, but somehow it works: it stands for the complicated diffusion of grief through football, for the strange knot of feelings that develops within the community of a club. How do you love somebody you never spoke to, you only watched, yet who made you happier than you or they could ever understand? How do you mourn them?
The key, though, is that those armbands are in a certain way empty symbols. Not in the sense that they lack meaning; rather, they invite meaning from the outside. They ask you to decode them, and so they involve you in their meaning. They connect to your ideas of leadership and grief, and so they come to stand for those ideas in a way that a more particular, specific symbol might not.
It would, we reckon, have been significantly more powerful had Kane and the other captains simply taken the field wearing rainbow armbands. No hearts, no numeral, no slogan; no carefully calculated campaign with all the edges sanded down. Just the rainbow. Gestures of solidarity are the beginning of any work, not the end. And they have to have space to breathe.

Crisis Management

When it comes to news, the international break is a vacuum waiting to be filled. And into the void clanks Harry Maguire, via ESPN's Mark Ogden, who notes that "Sources have said that Maguire's frustrations with goalkeeper David de Gea's communication and reluctance to defend further away from his goal-line were also a factor in the overall malaise in defence last season."
Now, in an ideal world, Maguire's thoughts on United's problems would be a point of interest, to be debated, to be accepted or ignored. He may even have a point here: certainly, United's defence last season looked like a group of people that weren't talking to each other.
But Maguire is still United captain, and is still - we assume - expected to lead England's defence. And nothing undermines authority like the sense that excuses are being sought. In PR terms, this is the equivalent of any one of Maguire's bookings over the last couple of years: a clumsy tackle in the wrong place.
Maguire could be the worst footballer of all time, and he still wouldn't deserve any of the abuse he gets. But as a footballer desperately short of form and confidence, he needs time and careful management, self-analysis and self-awareness. What he doesn't need is somebody anonymous telling the press 'yeah, well, it's all the keeper's fault'. If these sources are trying to make him look bad, they're doing a wonderful job. And if these sources are his friends, he needs better friends.

IN THE CHANNELS

It is one of life's quieter pleasures, to decide not to watch something. To see the hype, to hear the buzz, and to think: actually I'll probably just let that one go. No shade to anybody that makes the opposite call, of course; just the recognition that there is only so much that can be squeezed into one life. Particularly now that there's a Europa Conference League.
So it was when the Warm-Up first heard about Ted Lasso. And that would have been fine, had we not followed the first thought up with a second, along the lines of "Not like that's going to go anywhere. Sounds daft." Now, as Ted Lasso strolls out of the pretend world of television and into the pretend world of FIFA, we're prepared to acknowledge that we called that wrong. (Still no word on Harchester United. We live in hope.)

HAT TIP

You may have noticed that Antoine Griezmann is only playing the last half hour of Atlético Madrid matches. You may even know that this is so that Atleti can avoid paying Barcelona a decent chunk of change.
But here's Guillem Balague over at the BBC with some numbers — "A two-year loan deal was struck between the two clubs that stipulated that if Griezmann played more than 45 minutes in more than 50% of the games then Atletico would be contractually bound to pay Barcelona 40m euros to sign him permanently" — and, much more importantly, some insight into just how clever slash petty slash on-brand everybody's being.
"This summer Atletico offered Barcelona 20m euros to draw a line under this matter. They did so comfortable in the knowledge that Barcelona did not want to pay Griezmann's wages at any time in the near future. They also knew that Barcelona had already factored in - among the elaborate asset selling, convoluted loan arrangements and number crunching that has been going at the club - the arrival of this 40m euros."
It also mentions, almost in passing, that all of Barcelona's Very Serious Footballers thought Griezmann was well annoying, with his little telephone celebration and so on. The joyless fools.

COMING UP

Into the meat of the international break we go. Belgium host Wales, which means we'll be spending the day watching Hal Robson-Kanu do that thing he did that time. There's also Croatia v Denmark, France v Austria, and Poland v the Netherlands.
Assuming we can tear Andi Thomas away from the video of That Cruyff Turn, he'll be here with another Warm-Up tomorrow.
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