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In the weeks since sport came to an abrupt ending, its only significant story has been its own cancellation

The best way to annoy a group of scholarly historians, if you ever have an urgent need to annoy scholarly historians perhaps in some kind of emergency situation is to propose a counterfactual analysis of events.

You know the kind of thing. What if Winston Churchill had died of a heart attack in 1941? What if skiffle, rather than the music of the Beatles, had seized the imagination of the world in 1963?

This is an inflammatory line of reasoning, interesting to readers of alarming pulp novels about the Third Reich taking over the world, but likely to cause an outbreak of pipe-chewing, tweed-flapping rage within the common rooms of Big History. It is also an interesting dynamic when applied to sports writing and sports analysis. Most of it would collapse if the counterfactual analysis were outlawed.

What is Expected Goals, or the Expected Points Table, or a counterintuitive stats-based gallery of the leading creative left-backs in Europe (No 5 will surprise you!) if not the type of unhistorical shit that so enraged the 20th-century historian EP Thompson? What is a revisionist colour sidebar take on the managerial achievements of Jos Mourinho, but the kind of counterfactual parlour game EH Carr, chronicler of the early Soviet Union, would have raged against?

And yet right now counter-facts are all sport has. In the Guardians pages this week you will have seen detailed analysis of a significant staging point: 100 days since coronavirus took hold and changed the world. This has mainly been a business of hard facts, sifted out from an overload of actual real-world news.

But not in sport. It is a month now since the first cancelled Premier League Saturday, a month since sport basically stopped. And this is the one significant event sport has to offer, its own cancellation. The story didnt happen. Thats the story. It feels like counterfactual history in action. The best way to understand what happened in sport between March and April 2020, is to understand what didnt happen.

At which point wind chimes tinkle, the screen starts to dissolve, and were back in the undoctored timeline, the one where sport still exists, where the talk of an illness in China remained talk of an illness in China, and where the wheels of Big Sport have continued to grind on.

In counterfactual April 2020 more than 300 unplayed professional mens and womens football fixtures have been played in the last four weeks. Close to 1bn in revenue has still been raked in.

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In the Premier League Liverpool stuttered a little, then romped across the line, clinching the title with victory at Manchester City on 5 April, a moment that confirmed once again in its sheer operatic sweep that Premier League football is, and always will be, the most important thing currently happening to human civilisation.

Pep Guardiola declared himself so very, very happy, albeit in a murderous, glassy-eyed sarcastic whisper. The Liverpool board announced that the title win was vindication for a community club where finances take second place to our football family and lets face it nothings ever likely to test this idea so there you go.

Elsewhere news of Cristiano Ronaldos agreement to sign for Manchester United on a world record weekly wage led to questions in parliament over footballers salaries. We have always backed the right of the market to decide how much individuals earn, this is all good for Britain, Matt Hancock, MP for West Suffolk, announced, to cheers from the benches.

Englands cricketers continued to rebuild the Test team along strict attritional lines, battling out all 10 days of the two-match series in Sri Lanka to seal a triumphant 0-0 series draw. At home the ECB continued to plan for the Hundred, the nonexistent tournament involving nonexistent teams played out in front of nonexistent fans, which actually doesnt sound such a weird idea these days.

Meanwhile, in the one really astonishing turn of the non-Covid timeline, Formula One announced that it would cease to function with immediate effect, having re-evaluated its place in human society, renounced its role as a carbon-fed playground for the mega-rich, and apologised in particular for the last decade of watching the best car win in dubiously-framed locations around the world. So congratulations, there, Formula One.

Away from all this the real business of sport didnt un continue. It was announced that a combined one million miles would not go un-run in the postponed London Marathon, and 50m of charity donations not be deferred in the process. Around the country 350,000 amateur cricketers would not miss their final winter nets, and continue to look forward to another endless summer.

The FA would not cancel completely the seasons of at least 100 leagues in mens and womens non-league football. Similarly the results of the entire sub-pyramid of the amateur game hundreds of leagues, thousands of clubs were not declared null and void and scrubbed from the record.

In the wider world hundreds of thousands of coaches, teachers and volunteers did not stop working away at grassroots sport and the shared health of the nation. A combined two million people from the age of four upwards didnt fail to participate in cancelled parkruns. And beyond this an unquantifiable mass did not fail to take their first step into sport or to come back to some kind of a more active life.

This, then, is the counterfactual history of sport March-April 2020, a month of urgent unhappenings and eventful nonevents. There will be quite a bit more of this to come from here. The important part, when it all starts up again, will be to remember which of those absences seemed to matter the most.

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Harvards Anita Elberse has attracted interest from the likes of Alex Ferguson, Gerard Piqu and Kak. Heres why

Anita Elberse of Harvard Business School is discussing how it all started; how the world of football opened up to her teaching which would see her become a mentor to some of the games A-list names, including Gerard Piqu, Kak and Dani Alves.

Elberse, one of the youngest women to have been promoted to full professor with tenure in HBSs history, had begun to cross over into sport from entertainment and media, making a case study for her students on the tennis player Maria Sharapova. This led to a research project into whether it paid to have an athlete endorsing a brand.

There was a case on LeBron James and it started snowballing from there, Elberse says, American accent obscuring her Dutch roots. And then, all of a sudden, Alex Ferguson calls and, all of a sudden, Im doing a project with him.

It was the summer of 2012 and, according to Elberse, the then Manchester United manager and the people around him were looking for what might be the next challenge for him after his active coaching career and maybe him talking about what hes learned. Elberse met Ferguson for breakfast in Boston. I only realised later that it was a sort of audition, she says. He wanted to see if I could be the person to help him tell his story about the leadership that hes brought to soccer.

Ferguson would retire at the end of the 2012-13 season so Elberse might have been privy to a bombshell exclusive. Looking back it was pretty naive not to have realised: Oh, this might be his last year, she says, with a smile. I didnt know that was going to happen. I was able to follow him along for that last year. I visited the United training ground at Carrington, I went to his house and met his family, I saw him at the stadium. I even saw him in the famous room where he meets with the coach of the opposing team after matches.

Elberse made a case study about Ferguson which asked what it took to run United, and they also wrote an article together for the Harvard Business Review, published in October 2013. It was entitled Fergusons Formula, and it distilled the eight leadership lessons that had formed the basis of his approach. Elberse commented at the time that many of them can certainly be applied more broadly, to business and to life.

By that time something else had changed in Elberses career. She had developed a course for HBSs MBA students on entertainment, media and sport and, as the way she wrote and taught her case studies gathered repute, she was receiving more and more requests from people in various industries to sit in on her classes. She made a decision to launch an executive education version of the course.

The first edition of the four-day Business of Entertainment, Media and Sport programme took place in June 2013 and Ferguson was one of the guest speakers a very special moment, she says. Ferguson has since been to Harvard several times to watch Elberse teach his case study and to answer questions from students.

In previous generations a retired footballer might open a pub or a sports retail store but, as Elberse says, it is rather different now. Top players can be brands in their own right and, in some instances, they have started to push high-end business ventures before they retire. Elberses executive course aims to highlight via open-ended case studies the patterns that exist in the worlds of film, television, music and sport; to show how to market and manage creative products and talent; and how to build businesses around content.

Elberse with clockwise from left Dani Alves, Edwin van der Sar, Kak, Mario Melchiot and Nuri Sahin. Photograph: Courtesy of Anita Elberse

It runs every year for 80 people each of whom pays $10,000 (7,700) with the admissions committee looking to offer a well-balanced room, containing athletes, actors, musicians, agents and senior executives. They live a student life on the Harvard campus, which is a great leveller, a facilitator of equality and what Elberse calls one big community. There is a cross-pollination of ideas in an environment that attendees have described as inspiring. It is a perfect space for networking.

Piqu was the first footballer to attend and he has been followed by Kak, Alves, Mario Melchiot, Nuri Sahin, Edwin van der Sar, Tim Cahill and Oliver Kahn. There have been plenty of American sports stars, including Dwyane Wade, Chris Paul, Pau Gasol and Chris Bosh (all from the NBA), plus Michael Strahan and Brandon Marshall (from the NFL), while from the entertainment sector there has been the actor Channing Tatum, the rapper LL Cool J and the singer Ciara.

If you look at Gerard Piqu he is an active player at Barcelona but he has an investment company called Kosmos and he has already established a significant business, Elberse says. Hes had a stake in the Players Tribune from the get-go; he had a video game company as part of Kosmos and he has bought the Davis Cup in tennis for $3bn. Its pretty simple what the footballers want from the course. They come to learn about the world of entertainment more generally, to discover patterns that are there in those industries that they can benefit from.

I think the outside world looks at these people and says: You are a footballer, this is what you do and that is probably all that youll do. Well, no. What Ive learned is that they can do a lot more than what weve seen them do on the field. There are some lessons that are very transferable performing under high-pressure situations, working as part of a team, which all businesses are. They have worked under great leaders and probably bad ones, too.

One of the things we do, and its almost implicitly, is to show them that they actually know a lot more about business than they think they might. You might not know the jargon or the ins and outs of financial management or what it means to have the operations side of a business but there are a bunch of things that you do know and might be very good at.

Kak and Alves, former Brazil teammates, did the course together and Elberse remembers how the latter, now playing for So Paulo, turned up in full Harvard garb. He had the Harvard tie, the Harvard cardigan, the Harvard pants he was completely Harvard, which was very, very funny, Elberse says. He was by far the goofiest of the players that Ive had in the programme. He is completely crazy and he is proud of being as crazy as he is. But he was great to have for the group.

He has an audience of millions through social media and he can do whatever he wants to do. The same goes for Kak, who is a really smart business guy. I can imagine him being the president of a soccer club.

Van der Sar was appointed the chief executive of Ajax in 2016, having hung up his footballing boots in 2011, which represented a relatively quick transition from player to businessman. He was the Ajax CEO when he was in the class, Elberse recalls. Its really interesting to hear what hes learned from his playing career and how hes trying to apply that now that hes on the other side.

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Elberses case studies present a story and invite questions and discussion. Dwayne The Rock Johnson is a famous film star why would he bother with a digital channel? she says. What is LeBron trying to build in Hollywood? What is Disney trying to do with the investments it is making in films?

Elberse focuses the bulk of the course on her case studies but, on the final full day, a tradition has built whereby some of the more well-known members of the class sit on a panel and take questions. What has stood out is the searing honesty of the answers.

Kak talked about when he went from Milan to Real Madrid and felt like the biggest failure, Elberse says. Hed been the world player of the year, the fee had been a record and it didnt work out he talked about what that does to you as a person and how you recover. That was very powerful.

Similarly, when Oliver Kahn was here, he talked about having won the Golden Ball and Golden Glove at the 2002 World Cup and then, for the 2006 World Cup, which was in Germany, his country, he was dropped. He talked about how he had to support Jens Lehmann, who became the No 1 goalkeeper, what he had to tell himself.

Everyone was choking up. I was supposed to lead this and I was choking up. Those are the moments that have stuck with me.

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Plus: when footballers Christmas parties go bad and more

I see Chris Kamara has released a Christmas album, which led me to wonder if any football teams have ever released a Christmas record? asks David Wesley. QPR released this oddity but as a lip-sync it wouldnt have been released.

Unbelievable though it may seem Jeff readers, Kamara has indeed released an album of festive songs but, much like his pitchside reporting for Soccer Saturday, his overexcitement has affected his performance in the charts. By releasing Heres To Christmas in November it would appear that he has peaked too soon at No 8 in the album charts last month and has slipped down the top 100 to No 64 at the time of publication. Kamaras velvet singing voice is worlds away from the yelping character we see trying to make sense of football matches every weekend and when he was given the opportunity to warble into a microphone in a more tuneful manner he could not pass it up.

Well, Ive always liked a bit of singing, Kamara told the Express and Star. So to sing with a 22-piece big band and a conductor, it blows your mind away. Its all your Christmases coming into one. Its like a dream. Even if people dont like my singing, they can listen to the music. Its incredible. Its certainly incredible he was given this opportunity.

In answer to Davids question then, we havent found an official Christmas record by a football team, but there are plenty of unofficial festive ditties that have been released by clubs down the years for us to get our teeth into. Do you want to see Neil Lennon conducting a choir singing We Three Kings? Heres Celtics Christmas offering this year then.

Lovely, yes? And heres Petr Cech drumming his way through a collection of seasonal ditties at Arsenal back in 2015. Much like the QOR effort above, Everton did their best to bring their fans a little cheer back in 2013 with some lip-syncing.

Perhaps the most festive football team in Europe is Union Berlin, now of the Bundesliga. The right-on Berliners host an annual Christmas carols singalong in their stadium in which players and up to 30,000 of their fans can wave candles around sing Christmas songs on the pitch until they are full up on seasonal cheer.

Not so tuneful is Aleksandar Kolarov reciting the words to Jingle Bells from a clipboard as though Manchester City were holding him against his will in 2012. It proved so popular that fans demanded he spread more Christmas cheer the following year.

And yes, yes, we know this isnt a footballer singing a Christmas song, but fitting 119 footballers names into the tune of Do They Know Its Christmas is still some feat.

Knowledge archive

After seeing Old Traffords finest looking especially tired and emotional after their party, I wondered what misdemeanours players have got up to at Christmas parties, asked Alex Perkins in 2008.

Before we summon the ghosts of Christmas parties past, lets start with something nice and innocent: a food fight. Never mind Pizzagate: in the 1960s the Spurs players showed that yes, folks you dont have to dislike someone to toss oven-prepared savoury snacks in the direction of their noggin. Bill [Nicholson, the Tottenham manager] had sent our trainer Cecil Poynton over to haul us out of the pub, remembered Jimmy Greaves of his first Spurs Christmas do, possibly to a background of laughter from Ian St John. I can still remember him coming in now only to be greeted by a cloud of nuts, fag boxes and sausages on sticks, forcing him to retreat, hands on head, back into the road. It launched a food free-for-all. The youth team players, desperate to stay on good behaviour, were like sitting ducks.

Tottenhams players do a Knees-Up at a Christmas party in the 1960s. Photograph: Daily Mail /Rex

Better a sitting duck than a standing ashtray. That fate befell Manchester City youth player James Tandy in 2004 when Joey Barton mistook his eyelids for a cinderbox and eased a cigar into both of them. Barton was fined three weeks wages.

Still, mistakes are easily made when youve quaffed so much lager and pink champagne that you cant see beyond your own nose. In 2001, West Hams Hayden Foxe fulfilled his dream of becoming a somebody, mistaking a bar for a urinal and deliriously spraying his shame all over it. The entire Hammers group were thrown out of Sugar Reef, while Foxe was fined two weeks wages and given a free transfer at the end of the season. The whole thing got blown right out of proportion, said Foxe.

Another West Ham centre-half, Neil Ruddock, got in trouble along with Trevor Sinclair in 1998: Razor met the rozzers when he was arrested after West Hams fancy-dress party in and you couldnt really script this Romford. Ruddock was charged with affray and Sinclair with criminal damage after a woman claimed that two men ripped bits off her car. Ruddock was acquitted due to conflicting evidence; Sinclair was fined 250 and forced to pay 225 compensation.

Explore our previous Christmas specials in the Knowledge archive, including: which football teams appear in the Bible? and who were the first team to use the Christmas tree formation? And for thousands more questions and answers look through our archive.


Can you help?

What is the shortest distance a team has flown to get to a match? enquires Leo Eleftheriadis.

Out of interest, and boredom at work, what is the highest attendance for a non-league league match in England? ponders Ethan Mackintosh. No cup finals at Wembley, just league games.

Ollie Davis (@Ollie_Davis)

The shirt numbers for Liverpools starting XI adds to 670 (1,222 including the subs). Surely the highest for a competitive game in England? @TheKnowledge_GU

December 17, 2019

Just looking at Ipswich starting to stutter somewhat in League One and it got me wondering: is the club in the lowest domestic division of all the European clubs who have won a European trophy? asks John Wall.

Colm Kearns (@ColmLearns)

Much is made of who is top at Christmas (roughly marking the season’s halfway point). What clubs have been ‘winter champions’ (as the Italian phrase goes) the most times without ever winning the league title?

(Or at least, whose ‘winter titles’ outnumber their official ones?)

December 10, 2019

Robbie Gotts appeared on the bench for Leeds United for the 31st time against Cardiff City, but is yet to make his professional debut. Is this a record for an outfield player in the English game? wonders Brian Smith.

Mike Mujahidean (@Linhem)

@TheKnowledge_GU have any players, like Europa League playing Malms Markus Rosenberg today, ended his career, of his own volition, right after advancing from the group stages of a tournament?

December 12, 2019

Hellas Verona found themselves 3-0 down at home on Sunday, making three second-half substitutions and all of them scoring to bring it back to 3-3 at full-time, begins David Dunn. Have all three second-half substitutes ever scored before? Or all six for both sides?

Email your questions and answers to or tweet @TheKnowledge_GU.

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When Shakira lost her voice she was so desperate she went to Lourdes. Now its back and after re-evaluating her life shes got her sights set on a J Lo-assisted Super Bowl show

There was a time, in late 2017, when Shakira thought she might never sing again. After suffering a haemorrhage in her vocal cords, she could barely speak. I always thought there were going to be things in my life that would go away, like beauty, youth, all of that stuff, she says. But I never thought that my voice would leave me, because its so inherent to my nature. It was my identity. So when I couldnt sing, that was unbearable. There were times I couldnt even get out of bed I was so depressed.

Theres something almost fairytale-like about this: a cautionary fable about the danger of taking happiness for granted, starring the Colombian singer who sold a reported 75m records and became one of the richest women in pop. To give her voice the best chance to recover, there were periods when Shakira wouldnt speak at all. I had to communicate through signs and nobody could understand me.

Her children then two and four couldnt read, so writing didnt help. She says she never fought with her partner, the Barcelona defender Gerard Piqu, so much as when she couldnt speak. He jokes that you would think you would want your wife to shut up but when I had to remain quiet, he felt like one of those ex-convicts who are given their freedom and dont know what to do with it. How did she stay positive? I was not positive. I was so pessimistic. I was a bitter person to be around. She laughs. Gerard saw the worst of me.

Doctors told her she needed surgery, but she wasnt convinced it would work. Instead she tried hypnosis and meditation, even going to Lourdes to get holy water. Either I needed surgery or divine intervention. When her voice eventually returned, without an operation, it felt like I was having some kind of religious experience. On her El Dorado tour, which shed been forced to postpone, every night on stage was a gift.

A film of the tour is about to be released, which is why were meeting in a hotel suite in Barcelona, by the window in the late afternoon, a darkening sky outside. Shakira sits cross-legged and tiny in a giant armchair, eating gummy sweets. A publicist is somewhere across the room in the shadows.

Watch a trailer for Shakiras El Dorado tour film

There is a palpable joy to Shakiras concert performances, filmed mostly at her Los Angeles show in August last year. She dances in sparkly fishnet leggings, her voice filling the stadium as she sings such Spanish-language favourites as Chantaje and her English-language crossover hits, including Whenever, Wherever and She Wolf. She thinks the experience has made her a better singer. You go out in search of affirmation that youre good, that people like you. But this time it was different I was out there because I wanted to feel the pleasure of singing.

In February, Shakira will perform with Jennifer Lopez at the Super Bowl half-time show, viewed as a career high for many artists. At least it was until 2016 and the NFLs treatment of the San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who had started kneeling during the national anthem in protest at racial inequality and police brutality. Many artists, in solidarity with Kaepernick, reportedly turned down the chance to perform at half-time. Did his protest have any impact on her decision to take to the stage? She looks down. Well, you know, I think its the right thing to do for the Latino community because weve also been through so much in Trumps America, with walls being built and She doesnt finish the sentence. Its an opportunity to celebrate our culture, you know?

Why has Latin pop become so big? Well, it was about time, says Shakira. Now 42, she wrote her first songs at just eight and recorded her first album, Magia, at 13. When I started, Colombia had a nonexistent pop scene. I had to overcome so many obstacles to become an international pop singer. Later on, even when I crossed over to the Anglo-American market, I had to fight my own record company to put out music like Hips Dont Lie. My music always had some kind of fusion Colombian and Middle Eastern influences, so it made my path even harder.

She lives in Barcelona with Piqu and their two sons. This tour is her first as a mother. I had no idea how this was going to feel, she says. At some points, I thought it was going to be impossible. My kids were so little, running around amok. She tried to arrange the dates so they would coincide with school holidays and they could be with her, but other times they stayed at home with Piqu. Those separation periods were hard.

Keeping the balance Shakira and Gerard Piqu, with their sons Milan, left, and Sasha at a New York basketball game in 2017. Photograph: James Devaney/Getty Images

Being a mother, she says, is the hardest job Ive ever done. Im never sure if Im doing it right. Im always second-guessing myself. I love being a mother but its challenging to keep the balance to not let motherhood prevent you from reading a good book, going out with your boyfriend-slash-husband, having an adult conversation. Has it affected her creativity? It could if you dont protect and defend that space.

Her children attended her show for the first time and saw their mother perform to tens of thousands of emotional fans. In the film, there is footage of her sons with their father, watching Shakira and looking a little bewildered. It must have blown their little minds. Yeah, I think a little too much. Im trying to give them some normalcy and thats one of the hardest things, because were not normal. At least, we are normal people but our lives are very unnatural in a way. We try to hide all the unnatural things and pretend were a regular family.

Its a work in progress, she says. I dont want to overload them with every single detail of my career, or every victory. Im more interested in them learning about the obstacles, my difficulties and their dads. They werent born when I was back in Colombia and every single door was shut in my face. Those are the stories I want to tell them because life isnt always easy. Not everything happens as you planned.

Shakira Isabel Mebarak Ripoll grew up in Barranquilla, on the coast of northern Colombia. Her father, who is Lebanese but grew up in Colombia, ran a successful jewellery business until he went bankrupt when Shakira was a child. She and her mother went to stay in the US for a while and, when they returned, her father had sold everything, including their furniture, to pay debts. Though largely insulated from the countrys decades-long armed conflict, she was still very aware of it. When youre born in a country where there is huge social strife, and a few people have a lot and a lot of people have nothing, you grow up intolerant to that inequality.

Every Friday, her Catholic school would send its students into poor neighbourhoods to teach other children how to read and write. It was almost an impossible task. They were barefoot, shirtless in the sun. There were no proper resources or infrastructure. It was so unfair that some kids were able to go school and university, but for others that wasnt an option. I had to succeed, make money, become someone relevant in society, because I felt that only that way could I do something.

When her third album Pies Descalzos (Barefoot) was a hit, Shakira taught herself English, released the crossover album Laundry Service and became an international star. She also started the Pies Descalzos Foundation, which opens and funds schools in Colombia. She has since campaigned for education on the global stage, advised committees and presidents and formed an unlikely friendship with the former British prime minister Gordon Brown.

Her reputation as an activist and philanthropist took a hit this summer when she appeared in court in Spain answering allegations that she had avoided 14.5m in taxes. A statement released at the time said the singer had paid all tax due, and the issue was about when she had become resident in Spain (previously, she had been resident in the Bahamas; in 2017, she was also named in the Paradise Papers, the investigation into offshore finances). But she wont talk about any of this, says her PR, because of the legal issues involved.

Palpable joy Shakira in concert. Photograph: Xavi Menos

The film portrays her as fiercely determined, with laser-focused knowledge of what she wants. I am very structured and I make the rules, she says at one point, sitting on a private jet, travelling between shows, and I dont allow myself to fail. That sounds exhausting, I say, and she laughs. I dont remember saying that, but maybe I say so many things. Actually, with time Ive learned that you have to allow yourself to make mistakes. I guess we all have a little fear of failure we were trained that way but its true, its an exhausting way of living. Does she still have a fear of failure? Of course. But I fear other things a lot more. I fear for my familys health, their wellbeing. There are things that are much more important than personal and professional success.

That doesnt mean shes ready to take her foot off the gas. I want to continue growing and continue being an interesting lady. There are so many other things that I still want to achieve. Such as? Like one day waking up on a farm and being able to just mow the lawn, and milk some cows. One day I want to have a farm life. I dont think I could ever be bored of being in nature. Eat all I want. Sometimes I think theres going to be more to life than my actual life.

She smiles, not entirely serious. I dont believe her anyway. There is a shot of her at the end of her concert, a tiny tornado, all wild hair and pink leopard-print, performing an inhuman leap. She looks as if she couldnt be anywhere else.

Shakira in Concert: El Dorado World Tour is in cinemas worldwide on 13 November via Trafalgar Releasing. Find your local cinema at

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(CNN)Hundreds of thousands of children are estimated to go missing every year in the US alone and now one leading European football team has decided to use the power of its social media accounts to help publicize the search for some of those kids.

Inspired by US rock band Soul Asylum — who used the music video for “Runaway Train” to promote the search of 36 missing children — the Serie A team has partnered with charities National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC), Telefono Azzurro, Missing People and Missing Child Kenya.
And with every transfer announcement Roma makes this summer, the club will share two videos of missing children — one from the US and one from Italy initially.

    ‘Not for self-promotion’

    Due to the lack of a concrete definition and unreliable statistics, it’s not known how many kids go missing every year worldwide but estimations suggest over one million cases are reported annually.
    Roma’s posts will show the faces of just some of the missing children and will include details of the search which has been provided to the club by the respective charities.
    “It’s not about Roma trying to be original or to get a pat on the back, it’s actually more about how we can do as much as possible to try raise awareness,” Head of Strategy at AS Roma Paul Rogers told CNN Sport.
    “If we can help in any small way in maybe finding someone who has a piece of information that might result in someone getting back in contact with one of the charities, then it would be a great thing.”
    Roma has established a leading reputation on social media in the way it has welcomed new players to the club. From Hollywood style videos to purposely bad photoshop, no idea has been too weird or strange to welcome new players to the club.
    It’s official Twitter account has nearly two million followers, while the Italian team’s English handle has another 445,000 followers.
    “There’s a lot of self promotion and we’ve certainly done that sort of stuff in the past,” added Rogers, who said there was no real hesitation in changing tone.
    “But we thought this year, why don’t we try and do something that had a bit more meaning to it than just promoting ourselves.”
    The current campaign was launched on Sunday with the signing of Leonardo Spinazzola. The video has had over six thousand retweets on its English language channel and was viewed over one million times in the first 24 hours.
    Rodgers admits the campaign has been more popular than the club thought and has been buoyed by the positive response.
    It’s yet another demonstration of the influence sports clubs can have on the wider community, he says.
    “I definitely think it can grow bigger than this,” said Rogers, who confirmed the club was interested in talking to a number of other charities around the world.
    “If another organization or sports team decided to do something similar. I think that would be great success.”

    ‘It absolutely can find missing children’

    According to the American-based NCMEC, the initiative has already had an impact on the amount of traffic coming to its site — it recorded an increase of 600 followers on their social media accounts after the first video was posted.
    The charity has been working to help missing children and their families for 35 years but have never entered a partnership quite like this one.
    “I think it absolutely can find missing children,” Rebecca Kovar, Senior Communications Program Manager at NCMEC, told CNN Sport.
    “It takes one person to see an image of a missing child and come forward with information. The more people that can see the image, the greater that chance is.”
    The charity worked closely with Roma to select children who would benefit most from the international exposure, namely critical cases where the children are thought to have left the country.
      Having initially been a little cautious about partnering with a football team, the charity has praised the support it has received from the Italian outfit.
      “This is very unique to us, and really quite an amazing chance for exposure to bring these kids home,” added Kovar.

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      Artwork joins list of footballers bronzes that received less than glowing reviews

      From Cristiano Ronaldo to Diego Maradona, a dubious likeness in bronze has become almost de rigueur for any self-respecting football superstar.

      Now the late, great George Best has been added to the list, after fans heaped criticism on a life-size bronze statue of the Manchester United legend that was unveiled in his native Belfast this week.

      The footballer on the pitch for Manchester United in 1968. Photograph: PA

      Critics claimed the statue, erected near Windsor Park where Best produced magic on the field for Northern Ireland in the 1960s and early 70s, looked nothing like the midfielder. One claimed it looked more like Lionel Ritchie than the man once christened the fifth Beatle in his heyday.

      The statue was revealed to the public on Wednesday to mark what would have been Bests 73rd birthday.

      But the figure has split his fanbase, especially those in Belfast. Some compared it to the White Walkers from Game of Thrones, while others said it resembled fellow Manchester United star Paul Scholes with a 70s haircut.

      White Walkers from Game of Thrones. Photograph: Helen Sloan/HBO

      Another critic said it resembled the legendary Spurs, Arsenal and Northern Ireland goalkeeper Pat Jennings, who helped unveil it.

      Northern Ireland fan Davy Boyd said the statue was worse-looking than the Ronaldo one, referring to the statue that was eventually replaced at Madeira airport following a barrage of criticism.

      Ronaldo and his statue. Photograph: Twitter

      Bests sculptor, the Belfast artist Tony Currie, insisted he was happy with the statue.

      Anybody thats important his family and his fans theyve all agreed that its his likeness and thats enough for me, he said.

      However, Gerry Armstrong, the ex-Spurs player whose winning goal against Spain in the 1982 World Cup propelled him into to the pantheon of Irish football heroes, defended the statue.

      Read more:

      Bit players such as Mark Francois are basking in an unusual degree of attention

      Sick of Brexit? Yeah, me too. Partly because it becomes clearer with each chaotic day that for some of the second-tier Brexit ultras no one much cares about (Mark Francois, Steve Baker, Andrew Bridgen, Bernard Jenkin et al), this is the most attention theyve ever had and are ever likely to get in their sad, blustering, self-important lives. While its Remainers who are supposed to be the soppy drama queens, just look at this bunch flapping about the media, mouth-breathing through their camera-time, sparkly eyed with their own significance. Brexit as a debilitating national crisis? Hardly. Theyve never felt so alive.

      Listening to Steve Barker: Jacob Rees-Mogg, Boris Johnson and Peter Bone in parliament on 11 September 2018. Photograph: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

      Its increasingly difficult to ignore the fact that some very unimpressive politicos appear to be having a good Brexit, achieving a prominence that until now not so mysteriously eluded them. When the likes of Boris Johnson scuttled off to perfect leadership bids, a vacuum appeared and into it swooped whos that? characters to variously spray sub-military, spittle-flecked drivel into television cameras (Francois), rant about bulldozing Westminster (Baker), brag about refusing to compromise (Bridgen) and wail about no deal (all of the above). Politically, theyre hardened Brexiters having their moment, but a dark psychological subtext also hints at near-nonentities lapping up the attention theyve long craved.

      Weve all met types like this at school or work people who suddenly appear in some unlikely position of importance, who havent got the wit or intelligence to hide the fact that a little bit of power and attention has gone straight to their heads. These situations can initially seem amusing, but such people are dangerous, not because of their charisma, rather their lack of it. These are characters who may have (resentfully) accepted that they were destined for the parliamentary equivalent of collecting the books at the end of class. Suddenly, Brexit transforms them into major players, mavericks, star-makers. Theyre on the news, being questioned, criticised, studied, noticed. All thats got to be hard to give up.

      Im not suggesting that this is the reason that no resolutions could be found, just that on some level it must have suited them when they werent. After all, a resolution means being plunged back into obscurity. No more BBC radio or Sky TV to provide balance. No more green rooms and lovely attention. Back to endless boring MP-nothingness, sorting out bin collection disputes.

      Never underestimate how much the also-rans of Westminster crave the tiniest beam of spotlight. Nor mistake this for revenge of the nerds (nerds tend to know their stuff). See them for what they are: a parliamentary voodoo carnival of the self-sabotaging, mediocre and overlooked.

      Brexit ultras, though? More like Brexit extras in the thespian sense, bit-part players, understudies, spear carriers. Or competition winners. Perhaps its time to prise those needy little fingers away from the golden ticket of political stardom that they believe has fluttered so unexpectedly into their grasp.

      Dont knock painting by numbers it brought art to the masses

      Dan Robbins: a masterful creator. Photograph: Jim Newberry/Alamy Stock Photo/Alamy Stock Photo

      Dan Robbins, the US artist who created the paint-by-numbers kits, has died, aged 93. Paint-by-numbers is a great example of a product that was sneered at by the elite, but sold shedloads and became part of the culture. While it isnt perfect (those fiddly little pots!), and there are obvious limitations in terms of artistic expression (the whole point is that you rigidly follow the rules), you can see why its enduringly popular helping ordinary people create something beautiful.

      The kits were inspired by Leonardo da Vincis teaching techniques, and became very varied, but that didnt stop purists worrying that they devalued true art. Maybe so, but not everyone is fortunate enough to attend art college or even to be talented.

      While painting by numbers may have idiot-proofed art for the masses, it also democratised it. The technique has since been used to keep children focused on art projects, when they might otherwise lose heart. Then there is the therapeutic effect for adults who just want to sit and be still a form of meditation, if you will.

      So, RIP, Dan Robbins. His invention may not have been about high art, but it showed he knew about humans.

      Fines dont tackle racism on the pitch. Its time to kick off

      Danny Rose: happy to turn his back on football. Photograph: Paul Childs/Action Images via Reuters

      Whatever stops a football career (age, injury), it shouldnt be racism. The England and Tottenham Hotspur player Danny Rose, who was abused during the Euro 2020 qualifier in Montenegro, said: When countries get fined what I probably spend on a night out in London, what do you expect? Rose added: Ive got five or six more years left in football and I just cant wait to see the back of it.

      First, Im up for a night out with Rose such a fine would be around 42,500 but, realistically, thats not much in international footballing terms and we all know what Rose means. In the UK, racist abuse remains rife, despite the No Room for Racism campaign by the Premier League and the sports anti-discrimination organisation, Kick It Out. Only last week, Wymeswold striker Linford Harris was racially abused as he was sent off during the Vase cup final, leading to a fight involving both players and fans and the match having to be abandoned.

      Rose and Harris are literally in different leagues in footballing terms, but thats the point Premier League or amateur, theyll both have had a gutful of racist abuse. This behaviour isnt representative of the average fan, but its still painful to behold, not least because football remains a proud bedrock of working-class culture. However much big money sloshes around, despite the attempts to gentrify it, football has stayed stubbornly working class in spirit, which is miraculous. Racism degrades this achievement especially as other events attracting large crowds (other sports, music festivals) prove that such ugliness isnt inevitable.

      Its sickening that someone such as Rose is counting down the days. What can be done? sStopping matches as soon as the abuse starts, the same way concerts are halted if bottles are thrown? While efforts have been made, theyre not enough. Wheres zero tolerance when you need it?

      Barbara Ellen is an Observer columnist

      Read more:

      (CNN)His is a life that young, football mad kids dream of. A Premier League footballer, who also plays for his country, living in a beautiful house in one of London’s most desirable suburbs.

      The house’s style is minimalist and of exquisite taste. Relaxed and frequently smiling, French international Mamadou Sakho sits on a sofa in an immaculate white T-shirt.
      If he smiles a lot Sakho is also extremely thoughtful. He talks of his desire “to study” in the future — “football is a closed world and I like to open my mind,” he tells CNN Sport — and he is keen to discuss his charity projects, one that will involve working with South London barber Nikky Okyere.
        When he talks to his wife Majda and two young daughters, Sakho slips into French. Upstairs the couple’s newborn baby is asleep. His eldest children gleefully stand behind the cameras and seem slightly awed by the hustle and bustle of of the photo shoot. To them he’s just papa.
        Life wasn’t always like this for Sakho.
        “I had quite a difficult life when I was young, but those hard moments helped me to grow up and be the man who I am today,” said Sakho as he reflected on his journey from Paris to the Premier League.
        “Nobody can tell me that I don’t know what it’s like to not have food in the fridge, or nobody can tell me what cold is outside, to sleep outside or to ask for some coins, or to rob just to eat some food, because it was my life when I was young. It was my real life.”
        He was raised in the Parisian district of Goutte d’Or, which is close to Montmartre. These days it’s been described as a “creative hub,” but by the sound of it life was a bit tougher for Sakho.
        He grew up in a family of seven siblings — three brothers and three sisters — and when he was 13 his father died, though he’s keen to emphasize his home life was filled with a “good ambiance.”
        However he hints at how a forthright attitude may have played in his eventual success: “I had my own story … and I think we all grew up with a different mentality.”

        Move to England

        So later that year Sakho joined Premier League side Liverpool. The Merseyside club came close to winning the Premier League title during the 2013/2014 campaign — Sakho made 19 appearances — but the following season he had a run-in with manager Brendan Rodgers after being dropped for the Merseyside Derby.
        Rodgers was soon to be replaced by Jurgen Klopp, but in 2016 Sakho tested positive for a fat-burning substance — higenamine — in a sample taken after a Europa League match with Liverpool against Manchester United on March 17 of that year.
        Sakho was provisionally suspended for 30 days and missed out on playing for Liverpool in the Europa League final and also representing France at Euro 2016.
        European football’s governing body UEFA subsequently revealed that the WADA-accredited laboratory in Lausanne did not test for the substance at all while Cologne, where the former Liverpool defender’s sample was sent, did.
        In July UEFA then ruled that it had “decided to dismiss the case against the player” in light of the evidence.
        Although he was cleared of any wrongdoing, a strained relationship with Klopp, who sent the defender home from Liverpool’s US pre-season tour, ultimately lead to Sakho’s move to Crystal Palace.
        “I have already made all my dreams,” reflected Sakho. “My dream was to be a professional in PSG. Thank God I made it. I wanted to be captain in PSG. I made it. I wanted to win the first league with PSG. I did it.
        “I played for the French national team. Thank God I did it, but I want to do it again, because it is my objective to.”
        Last season Crystal Palace lost their opening seven games but after the arrival of new manager Roy Hodgson, Sakho played a key role in helping the club avoiding relegation from the Premier League.
        His form saw him put on stand-by by French coach Didier Deschamps for the 2018 World Cup in Russia and the Palace defender was also part of the Les Bleus squad for the recent games against Iceland and Germany.

          Sordell: Footballers ‘need to talk’ about mental health

        Charity work

        It was while playing for PSG, that Sakho and his wife, launched Amsak, which undertakes charitable work in France, England and Africa.
        “So Amsak means Association Mamadou Sakho. I started my association when I was 18 or 19, when I was in PSG … I think it’s important to go in Africa and help people here in the UK.
        “When I was in Liverpool [I] went to a few places, in a hospital to speak with the kids and to give what I could give.”
        “Like I said, we can all help … before I had nothing, really nothing, and now everything is good. I work hard just to get what I can get and I try to give back.
        “For me the most important thing is that I don’t need people to say Mamadou Sakho is a good guy. I don’t need that.
        “If you only have salt to help someone with salt then do it. If you have enough money to build a city or a village then do it.”
        Sakho’s latest charitable project will involve him mentoring young people in Okyere’s South London barbershop.
        While the choice of a barbershop has much to do with a shared desire to help young people, it also speaks to the uniqueness of the barber’s chair — there are very few spaces that all people, irrespective of wealth or affluence, share.
        “When I first came here, when I came from PSG in France, I [started] with Liverpool, so I had to find a new barber in the UK,” said Sakho.
        “So after I came here in London, it was the same, it was the same job. I spoke to a few players to find who was the best barber here in London. A few of them told me Nikki was really good. So I called him and started to work with him.”
        Over the last few years London has been hit by a knife crime epidemic. By September over 100 murders had taken place in the British capital during 2018. Three in five of those murders were stabbings, while a third of the victims were aged 16 to 24.
        Sakho’s mentoring message will be the importance of hard work.
        “For me this is the key for success. Just to touch your dream you have to work hard. You can’t just wake up and say I want to be a professional footballer or any other job.”
        Sakho’s charitable work does not end there.
        In April, Sakho tweeted, “Meeting friend with the same mindset is rare … #FamousFriendsProject #BeReady #Amsak” alongside a picture of Manchester United player Paul Pogba.
        Although reluctant to divulge too much about the upcoming project, Sakho suggested that it would unite the worlds of sport and music.
          “It’s coming from December. Yes it’s true, with Pogba, a few footballers and a few singers. Two or three names but Pogba, Blaise Matuidi, Tinie Tempah. We have Omar Sy, a big actor in France. We have quite a few people, DJ Snake.”
          “It will be good things for Amsak and the only objective is to help people and start to build one orphanage.”

          Read more:

          Simon Burnton: Franois Omam-Biyiks goal and an unheralded team of journeymen defeated Diego Maradonas world champions in Italy

          Of the great World Cup upsets the USAs victory over England in 1950, North Koreas over Italy in 1966 and Algerias over West Germany in 1982 probably push it close this one stands alone in myth and memory. It was not a perfect match but it was an irresistible narrative, as the World Cup champions, led by the great Diego Maradona, were vanquished by an unheralded team largely assembled of journeymen players from the French lower divisions though for some of them even that was either an impossible dream or a distant memory.

          In the space of 90 minutes African football, once derided for being all about juju magic and Zairian defenders with a limited grasp of free-kick regulations, became credible. The result was celebrated not only in Cameroon, where impromptu street parties erupted across the nation and a reporter from the Telegraph wrote, intriguingly, that a lady in a floral dress and turban did a hand-stand, but across Africa and beyond. When they were finally knocked out a woman in Bangladesh committed suicide, writing that the elimination of Cameroon means the end of my life.

          No one thought we could do anything here against Maradona, but we knew what we could do, the goalscorer, Franois Omam-Biyik, said after the game. We hate it when European reporters ask us if we eat monkeys and have a witch doctor. We are real football players and we proved this tonight.

          The match is best remembered for the moment, two minutes from the end, when Claudio Caniggia, Argentinas flaxen-haired substitute striker, went on a run down the right. Italia 90 was something of a festival of simulation during which neither Caniggia nor any other Argentinian was to become known for their refusal to go to ground under any kind of challenge, but with his side trailing and time running out he stayed up when an imprecise tackle came flying in, kept going despite a second attempt to bring him down, and was promptly taken out in the most emphatic style by Benjamin Massing, an assault that sent the tacklers right boot, and possibly a few body parts, flying across the pitch, and earned Cameroon their second red card of the day. As Pete Davies put it in his peerless book about the 1990 World Cup, All Played Out, it was a kind of full-pelt, waist-high, horizontal flying bodycheck. The general intention seemed to be not so much to break Caniggias legs, as actually to separate them from the rest of his body.

          The opening match set the tone for a tournament that was to feature precisely twice as many red cards as the 1986 World Cup in Mexico, which itself had seen more than any previous finals. Cameroon neutralised Maradona mainly by kicking him, wrote Matthew Engel in The Guardian. He spent much of the game horizontal despite wearing calf pads as well as shin pads. His 10 team-mates seemed too stunned to make any trouble but they were kicked as well, if they got in the way.

          Though the first red card, shown to the goalscorers brother Andr Kana-Biyik for a foul on Caniggia, was harsh the French referee, Michel Vautrot, had little choice but to follow Fifas newly handed-down guidelines for ultra-strict arbitration. Brian Glanville, in his Story of the World Cup, insists that a bruising game was made worse by [his] draconian refereeing but in the following days Express, James Lawton proclaimed his victory over a rising tide of wild and often cynical tackling as perhaps the greatest triumph of the night. Sepp Blatter, then Fifas general secretary, boasted before the tournament began that, as a result of their fair play initiative, players will behave in a decorous manner in all phases of the match. The players, it turned out, hadnt really been listening. Im unhappy the referee was forced to intervene as he did, but Im pleased that he did, Blatter said after the match, having criticised the behaviour of players who want to destroy the game of soccer instead of letting creativity and genius flow.

          But though a recording of this match will never be of much use to anyone learning the art of clean tackling, there was significantly more to Cameroon than studs and muscle. I dont think they had any intentions of beating us up to win the game, said Maradona. I cannot argue, and I cannot make excuses. If Cameroon won, it was because they were the best side.

          This was no fluke, the better team won, wrote David Lacey in The Guardian. They won, moreover, after finishing with nine men on the field Such was their superiority that the Africans still finished looking as if they had more men on the pitch than their hapless opponents.

          Argentinas Diego Maradona juggles with the ball as he runs past Cameroons Benjamin Massing. Photograph: Daniel Garcia/AFP/Getty Images

          Napoli, with Maradona their inspiration, had just won the Serie A title from Milan by two points, and the local fans delighted in his downfall, so much so that the Argentinian, who had been suffering from an ingrown nail and played with the aid of a protective carbon fibre bionic toe, claimed he had cured the Italians of racism. The whole stadium was shouting for Cameroon, he observed. Wasnt that nice?

          They say in Douala that limpossible nest pas camerounais, and never has the saying seemed more true than for those three weeks in 1990. For the Cameroon team that redefined the way the football of their continent was perceived arrived as if intent only on reinforcing stereotypes. Their preparations were shambolic, their squad divided, their players unappreciated, but for all that it took the unequalled penalty-earning skills of Englands Gary Lineker to beat them in the quarter-finals, when England came from behind to win 3-2 just as it was starting to look like Cameroon would be swept irresistibly to a showpiece reunion with Argentina on a wave of supple-hipped, corner-flag-bothering hysteria.

          To say they were underestimated before kick-off would be to wrongly suggest that they were estimated at all. The Soviet Union is a tough opponent, but Im generally pleased, the Argentina manager, Carlos Bilardo, said after the draw the previous December. Our group is not the easiest but we should have no problems in qualifying for the second round. Cameroon were widely quoted at 500-1 to win the tournament, among the rankest of outsiders.

          A couple of years earlier Paul Biya, the countrys president, had asked the Russian FA to send over a few coaches who wouldnt mind helping out for a while. The first to arrive was Valeri Nepomniachi, an unexceptional ex-player whose only experience of first-team management had been a single season at the helm of an obscure Turkmenistani club in Russias third division. Biya appointed him national team manager, even though he spoke no French and almost no English. At the World Cup his team-talks were translated by the man normally employed as a driver at the Cameroon embassy in Moscow, and by various accounts freely disregarded by the players. Nepomniachi only just made it to Italy, having come close to the sack after the countrys hapless displays at that years African Cup of Nations, where as reigning champions they lost to Zambia and Senegal and were eliminated in the group stage.

          After that failure, and just a few weeks before the World Cup, Biya made another intervention. He called Roger Milla, a 38-year-old who had retired from international football three years previously and moved to Runion, a tiny French-controlled speck in the Indian Ocean, where he played for a team called Saint-Pierroise. Biya demanded the strikers return; Milla announced that he was always ready to be called to my countrys colours and back he came.

          Cameroons pre-tournament training camps in Bordeaux and Yugoslavia not only featured frequent defeats to obscure club sides in warm-up matches, but also intense bickering, both about Millas arrival and the delayed payments of bonuses due to the players. The goalkeeper Joseph-Antoine Bell became the voice of the players demands for cash. Perhaps, having just come second in the voting for Frances footballer of the year, he felt his position in the team was secure enough to survive a little controversy. But then, on the eve of the tournament, he criticised his team-mates in a newspaper interview, saying they had no chance of coping with Argentina, or any other team and that they will go out in the first round without much glory. Even though his place had, he insisted, been absolutely guaranteed by Nepomniachi, he was dropped. I used to believe that he selected the team, he said. I dont any more.

          Bell seems to be an unusually divisive figure. In 2011 he published a memoir, Vu de ma Cage, with a controversial section on the 1990 World Cup that was dismissed by the defender Stephen Tataw as 500% lie. I dont do reflections, I write about facts. The book tells what I have done, it tells the facts of my life, insisted Bell. Every time he spoke his tongue dripped with the poison of selfishness, countered Tataw. Bell returned to the team for the 1994 World Cup; when Cameroon were eliminated in the group stage fans back in Douala burned down his house.

          Until just a few hours before kick-off in Milan Thomas NKono had considered himself unlikely to even be in the matchday squad Bell didnt like him, and wanted the relatively inexperienced Jacques Songoo on the bench instead. Suddenly he was first choice, a decision taken so late, and so unexpectedly, that his wife missed his moment of glory having decided to go shopping instead. I thought it was a very bad team and we were going to lose, NKono told Jonathan Wilson in the latters book on goalkeeping, The Outsider. Suddenly the coach said I was going to play. Five hours before the game. I said no way. I had no confidence in the coach. The federation, the minister of sport, seven or eight people were telling me I had to play and I was saying I didnt feel ready. They said if I wasnt going to play they would play Songoo, and if he didnt want to play they would put an outfielder in goal. I went to talk with the president of Cameroon, and eventually I agreed to play.

          The replacements performances at the World Cup proved so good that a promising 12-year-old midfielder from Tuscany decided that hed prefer to be a goalkeeper all things considered, and bought his first pair of gloves. It was NKono and his spectacular saves that made me fall in love with the position. He became my hero, the kid said, many years later. As an adult, he named his son Thomas in the Cameroonians honour. The young Italians name was Gianluigi Buffon.

          Roger Milla relaxes by a swimming pool during Italia 90. Photograph: Getty Images

          Argentina shared a few of their opponents problems, including controversial team selection Jorge Burruchaga was surprisingly chosen ahead of Caniggia and goalkeeping issues. Still, their evening did not start so badly. Everything was under control until Cameroon went down to 10 men and we got disorganised, said the Argentina manager, Carlos Bilardo. Six minutes later Cameroon scooped a free-kick into the penalty area, Cyrille Makanaky flicked it on and Omam-Biyik rose unfeasibly high, while his nominal marker Nestor Sensini hesitated. His header flew low towards goal, though neither very hard nor very far from the goalkeeper, but Nery Pumpido, a World Cup winner in 1986, inexplicably shovelled it into the net. Eleven minutes into their second match Pumpido broke his leg, and he would never play for his country again. Like NKono his replacement, Sergio Goycochea, went on to have a fabulous tournament, excelling in the penalty shoot-outs that took Argentina through the quarter- and semi-finals even if he was beaten by the one penalty that really mattered, Andreas Brehmes in the final.

          Bilardo called this defeat the worst moment of my sporting career, and after it Carlos Menem, the Argentinian president, and his predecessor Ral Alfonsn both phoned him to recommend certain tactical tweaks. Everyone called me to tell me what to do, Bilardo said. I heard from the president, two former presidents and the opposition leader. The politicians clearly had some decent ideas, as Argentina made five changes for their next match, and improved sufficiently to reach the final. I have never seen anything like it before in my life, said Bilardo. I have never seen anything unify the nation like that. Not politics or music or anything. Everyone was watching and hoping for the team. And when we came home, they were happy for us. We were proud to have reached the final.

          Milla played only the final nine minutes of this game, but settled into his role as Cameroons supersub and scored twice against Romania in their second game and twice again against Colombia in the second round, becoming one of the sensations of the tournament. He returned in 1994, where he broke his own record as the World Cups oldest goalscorer by grabbing his sides consolation in a 6-1 thrashing by Russia at the age of 42 years and 39 days. Ill tell you something, he told France Football after Cameroon were finally knocked out in 1990, if we had beaten England, Africa would have exploded. Ex-plo-ded. There would have been deaths. The Good Lord knows what he does. Me, I thank him for stopping us in the quarter-finals.

          Having played for Laval in the French second division, Omam-Biyiks performances earned him offers from some of the biggest clubs in Europe, but he refused to break an agreement to join Rennes. Shortly after the tournament he was asked in an interview with the Guardian whether his match-winning goal against Argentina had been the best moment of his career. It was one of them, he replied. The best moment, if I can stretch the definition of the word, was the whole of that wonderful time we spent in Italy the experience we gained, the atmosphere, and the money.

          The team returned to a rapturous welcome, with the government announcing a national holiday to enable everyone to celebrate. When we arrived at Douala airport, the aeroplane had to pull up and come around again, said Omam-Biyik, because the runway was totally flooded with people. The players victory parade lasted two full days, and ended with President Biya conveying honours not only upon the players, but their coaches, the support staff, and even journalists.

          Twelve years later the holders were again beaten 1-0 by unheralded Africans in the opening game of the World Cup finals, France falling to Pape Bouba Diops goal. But while 11 of Cameroons 22-man squad in 1990 played for domestic clubs and not one outfield player was based at a European top-flight team, by 2002 all but two of Senegals 23 was based in Europe and 16 of them played in the French top-flight. No team could ever again do what we did in 1990, said Milla. The element of surprise is not there. Everybody knows everything about all the teams now.

          What The Guardian said: David Lacey, 9 June 1990

          The fanfare for Diego Maradona was drowned by the drums of Black Africa in Milan last night as Cameroon defeated Argentina, the World Cup holders, to open the 1990 tournament by destroying a whole package of preconceptions.

          This was no fluke, the better team won. They won, moreover, after finishing with nine men on the field, the result of Michel Vautrots determination to obey Fifas guidelines in dealing with persistent and cynical fouls. The French referee sent off two Cameroon players but such was their superiority that the Africans still finished looking as if they had more men on the pitch than their hapless opponents.

          This result, the biggest shock in a World Cup since Algerias 2-1 defeat of West Germany in the opening phase in Spain in 1982, has immediately thrown the new tournament off its predicted course.

          Argentinas chances of winning Group B already look slim. On last nights evidence one would not give much for their hopes of defeating either the Soviet Union or Romania. Maradona began brightly but when he faded the whole team fell away, losing rhythm and confidence and looking just another poor side.

          Benjamin Massing is passed a tracksuit after being sent off against Argentina. Photograph: Colorsport/Rex Shutterstock

          England, if they finish runners-up in Group F, will meet the second-placed team in Group B in Genoa in the second phase. Now Bobby Robson might prefer it not to be Cameroon. Better even Maradona than the inspirational Francois Omam-Biyik, who scored the winning goal five minutes after Kana-Biyik had been sent off and departed blowing a farewell kiss to an adoring crowd.

          The Third World has long since threatened to arrive on the wider footballing stage in style but nobody seriously expected Cameroon to make the entrance they did on a balmy Milanese evening after half an hour of noisy pomp and ceremony had made it a natural setting for Maradona.

          Long after the finish, in a stadium empty except for reporters, the PA system suddenly burst forth into the theme music from Ben Hur. Certainly this was one race which had seen several collisions and the finish that the majority wanted. The Milan supporters, remembering the way Napoli had pipped their team for the Italian championship, made sure that Maradona did not feel at home by whistling and jeering every time he touched the ball.

          Cameroon, and in particular the tall muscular figure of Benjamin Massing, one of four French League players in the side, fouled Argentinas new ambassador for sport at almost every opportunity. Maradona must have felt he was encountering a distant relative of Claudio Gentile.

          Massing became the second Cameroon player to be dismissed when Vautrot showed him the red card two minutes from the end after he had taken out Caniggia, sent on by Argentinas manager Carlos Bilardo in the second half to give his struggling team an extra attacker, thigh-high. Massing had been the first of three Cameroon players to be cautioned, so he had to go.

          And so did Kana-Biyik, without the preliminary of a caution, for coolly tripping Caniggia just past the hour. To him fell the distinction of being the first player to receive a red card in the opening game of a World Cup since referees started carrying red cards.

          Fifa had been specific in its instructions on how to deal with this sort of offence and Vautrot set the sort of disciplinary standards the World Cup needs to heed, otherwise there will be anarchy.

          While there was a natural inclination to rejoice with Cameroon, ugly images of their tackling lingered in the minds eye. But when all is said and done it was a joyous occasion which did not lack a sense of irony. Four years ago, when Maradona sent Burruchaga clear to score the winning goal in the last World Cup final, their green-shirted opponents West Germany collapsed in the centre circle in despair. When the game ended last night the green shirts, what was left of them, dissolved into a celebrating heap, leaving Argentina to wonder if the new roof of the San Siro had not fallen in on them.

          Cameroon never looked like a side which had been sent into the opening match to play stooge to Maradona. Their man-to-man marking system was tighter, they were first to the ball in all parts of the field, they created space with greater ease and opened up ever widening gaps near goal as the holders defence became threadbare.

          From the start Omam-Biyiks willingness to run at a retreating defence looked like causing Argentina problems. Not only that, Cameroon had more skiil on the ball than their supposedly superior opponents.

          There was little hint of a shock at the start, which was an anticlimax after all the hype. A couple of touches from Maradona might have given Argentina two goals had not NKono, keeping goal instead of the more experienced Bell, somehow blocked the danger.

          A goal then might have settled the holders. As it was, they became unsettled by Cameroons close marking and hard tackling and never got their act together thereafter.

          Midway through the first half Burruchaga was just able to flick the ball away from an empty Argentina net after Omam-Biyik had caught them square with an early through ball. Seven minutes before half-time the same player produced a sudden shot from a narrow angle that nearly went in under Pumpidos body.

          When Cameroon scored Pumpido was badly at fault. Ironically the goal followed a gratuitous Argentinian foul by Lorenzo, who conceded a free-kick on the right.

          Cameroon players pile on top of each other as they celebrate the only goal. Photograph: Bob Thomas/Bob Thomas/Getty Images

          As the ball came across, Lorenzo rose with Makanaky and it spun off the defender high to Omam-Biyik, whose header was well aimed but should not have carried the power to beat a goalkeeper of international class. However Pumpido appeared confused by its direction, reacted like a dosing slip fielder and allowed the ball to squeeze under his right hand and over the line.

          Argentina could not believe it, the crowd could not believe it, the world television audience probably did not believe it and even now it seems like something out of a fantasy. It is one thing to beat Argentina with a full side but to finish on the attack with nine men is rather rubbing it in.

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          Manchester City were vulnerable at times at Old Trafford but their hosts never looked like taking advantage due to tactics that do not fit with Manchester Uniteds stature or attacking heritage

          About 10 minutes before half-time, the plea went up around Old Trafford: Attack! Attack! Attack! Its a chant that dates back to the 1960s. It was heard, for instance, at Wembley in 1968 when Manchester United beat Benfica to win the European Cup as fans revelled in the refusal of Matt Busbys side to rest on a 1-0 lead even in a game so freighted with emotion and importance. By Louis van Gaals time, the chant had taken on a different tone: something between mockery of an approach based on risk-free possession and a demand for something more uplifting. Its hard to interpret this latest outbreak as being anything other than a complaint.

          Jos Mourinho was always going to have his side sit deep. Thats just how he plays in big games and the evidence of Citys last three league games and particularly Pep Guardiolas evident frustration at the approach was that City dont find it easy against teams who set out with few ambitions but to deny them space. This City pose challenges few other teams have ever posed: Mourinhos approach was both predictable and, up to a point, understandable. But only up to a point.

          That he began with Marcus Rashford, Jesse Lingard and Anthony Martial behind Romelu Lukaku was misleading. Four forwards looks positive, but he did that at Internazionale as well, when he would field Goran Pandev, Wesley Sneijder and Samuel Etoo behind Diego Milito and, in big games, watch them defend with great discipline. Mourinhos greatest gift, perhaps, is his capacity to persuade forwards to defend. That, and the management of expectations.

          Uniteds front four did defend: clumsily and, as it turned out, counterproductively in the case of Lukaku, efficiently and diligently in the case of the wide men tracking the full-backs. At half-time, City had had 75% of the ball and United only three shots.

          Little wonder, then, that some home fans became a little restive as they watched a string of long punts aimed in the vague direction of Lukaku, or at least the half of the pitch in which he was mournfully loping. Reactive football is, after all, as the great Russian writer Lev Filatov put it, justifying Krylya Sovetovs use of a proto-catenaccio in the early 50s, the right of the weak. But United are not weak; they are the richest club in the world. Playing like that sits uncomfortably with their self-image. What may work at Chelsea or Porto or even Inter, where reactivity can be accepted as necessary to take on the establishment, doesnt work when you are the establishment, as United are, as Real Madrid are.

          United had played like this against Tottenham, waiting for a mistake that did eventually come. They had played like this at Liverpool, waiting for a mistake that never came. Here, there were mistakes and they served to highlight how many more there might have been had United just applied a little more pressure a little earlier in the game. City, having dominated, became oddly sloppy in the five minutes before half-time. Their opening goal came just after a couple of uncharacteristic misplaced passes, as though they had mesmerised themselves with their possession. Three mistakes in dealing with one simple cross led to the equaliser. At no stage did City seem comfortable dealing with direct balls.

          Nicols Otamendi had one of his shaky days. Fabian Delph for once looked like a midfielder playing at the back, as did Fernandinho for the quarter of an hour he did so before being rescued by the introduction of Eliaquim Mangala. Lukaku and Rashford had chances even before the Ederson double save. With five minutes to go, City were rattled enough to take the ball into the corners, despite their managers oft-expressed ideological commitment to attacking football.

          City were vulnerable and United, just as against Liverpool, not only did not take advantage but did not seek to take advantage. There is a line between reactivity and passivity and in the first half United were on the wrong side of it. When Mourinho did finally have a go, it was two hours too late and he was complaining about the volume of the music in the visitors dressing room. United are not, to use the metaphor Mourinho himself deployed in his first season back at Chelsea to pre-empt and explain the failure of a nascent title challenge, a little horse. They are Manchester United, the biggest, most successful team in English football, and their transfer spending is a net 250m in the two years he has been there. A team of that stature cannot be reliant on Paul Pogba and certainly not on Marouane Fellaini.

          Even in the corporatised, sanitised modern Old Trafford fans expect more than that, and directors will come to. Fans, by and large, will accept any means if the ends follow. Sir Alex Ferguson was not the habitual cavalier many like to portray him as, but he won.

          Resistance for now is limited but the bigger the gap at the top of the table becomes, the more stylistic questions are going to be asked: why betray tradition or self-image, romanticised as it may be, if the result is defeat? And particularly when the suspicion is that a more proactive, more palatable approach might actually have been more effective, might have exposed an opponents weaknesses?

          And this is the second season. This is supposed to be Mourinhos golden time before third-season syndrome strikes.

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