“Stand out of my light.” So goes the punchline in Plutarch’s retelling of the one and only meeting between Alexander the Great and Diogenes of Sinope, the Cynic philosopher, the latter of whom had only the preceding request for the Macedonian king. To take the tale at face value, there couldn’t have been too many duos less alike in ancient Greece around 336 BCE. As powerful as almost any human being ever, Alexander is infamous for having wept at the notion that he had no worlds left to conquer. Diogenes sought out poverty, thriving in destitution and sleeping in a ceramic jar.
As cavernous as the gap between Diogenes and Alexander was, so, too, is that between the teams meeting in Saturday’s UEFA Champions League Final. With a cursory glance, one may suspect that the teams share few similarities. Part of that, of course, comes with comparing any team to Real Madrid in the European Cup; having won ten of them, more than any other club, gives you an air of esteem and pomp without parallel. Their opponents in this case, however, are achingly familiar with flying close to the sun as their wings start to melt. Like Alexander after meeting Diogenes, Real may leave San Siro stunningly impressed with the exploits of Atlético Madrid.
For all its faults and the criticism it generates, the international break in soccer does, at the very least, afford us the opportunity to survey the first third of the European domestic leagues. A cursory look at the tables as they stand now reveal mostly what you’d expect with even a rudimentary knowledge of how these things tend to go: Barcelona leads in Spain, tracked closely by both Madrid squads; Bayern Munich is on top in Germany with the kind of goal differential that is reminiscent of a college student’s bank account (which is to say, impressive for the soccer team, and dire for the student); Paris Saint-Germain is looking to have the French title wrapped up by Christmas, when its focus turns to completing an undefeated domestic season; Inter and Roma are sharing some space with Fiorentina, which is awfully (suspiciously?) charitable of them; and the two Manchester clubs are firmly slotted in the top four in England, with Arsenal and Tottenham closely trailing.
Leading that latter group, however, is an unheralded and unexpected group, with a Jamaican international serving as captain, who are only two seasons removed from promotion. While not the most desolate of England’s clubs, Leicester City is not among its notable fat cats either. With an incendiary scorer, a host of heady midfielders, the keeper son of a keeper man and a well-traveled manager, however, King Power Stadium may yet see meaningful continental matches and, with more than a bit of luck, a trophy.
On Wednesday, FC Porto, last year’s third-place Portuguese club who only made it into the UEFA Champions League by virtue of the Play-off round, beat reigning Bundesliga kings Bayern Munich, with noted machinist Pep Guardiola at the managerial helm. The German giants had lost only three games all season coming into the match, depending on when you started counting, and looked poised to similarly dismantle the ostensibly outmatched Porto. But a funny thing happened on the way to the semi-final.
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When he was 21 years old, a Minnesotan under the pseudonym Bob Dylan recorded his breakthrough album, The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan. On it, he displayed a full cultural fluency with American traditional folk music and the lifestyles of those who inspired and created it, though his brand came with a unique twist upon which he would expand with subsequent releases. Many music critics believe that his three-album run of Bringing It All Back Home, Highway 61 Revisited and Blonde on Blonde from 1964-’66 is among the finest eras of creative output produced at the hand of any single artist. His antagonistic attitude toward the media and the fans who turned against him fueled the rage which would revolutionize popular music over the course of the 1960s and ’70s. Some may disagree with his sensibilities and style, but it is impossible to discredit his impact.
By the time he was the same age, Bobby Fischer had recorded the only perfect score in the history of the U.S. National Chess Championship, striding into an impressive prime. A stunning rise in the chess world would see him become an American hero upon beating the Soviet Boris Spassky for the World Championship in 1972. He was already hinting at the unhinged tendencies which would eventually force his withdrawal from the public eye at the height of the Cold War before re-emerging as a hate-spewing shell of his former self.
Fans of Liverpool F.C. hope to see a similar prime from an exceptionally polarizing new signing. Mario Balotelli is equal parts Bob Dylan and Bobby Fischer, brilliant and maddening in complementary doses.
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With Saturday’s 6-3 home victory over league-leading Arsenal, the Manchester City Football Club now sits at third in the Barclays Premier League table, with 32 points. City, as the team is colloquially called by admirers and detractors alike, is in exceptional form as of late: earlier in the week, the team defeated defending UEFA Champions League winners Bayern Munich in a come-from-behind 3-2 victory in Bavaria. Even more surprising than all of this, however, may be the state of Manchester City’s biggest and closest rivals, Manchester United. By far the most successful team in Premier League history, United is under the direction of a manager not named Sir Alex Ferguson for the first time since 1986, and the team is firmly in the middle of the table, a full ten points behind its cross-town rivals. People are already calling for the head of Ferguson’s successor on a plate, and the tide in Manchester is facing a Lakers/Clippers-like shift for the first time ever.