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Behind the scenes: What it takes to broadcast a Champions League final

MADRID – Emili Planas didn’t look like a man in charge of the biggest event in club football. Wearing jeans, runners, and a blue polo, he walked around the sprawling TV compound at the Wanda Metropolitano with a breezy gait and a casual grin. There were 12 hours to go before kickoff at the 2019 Champions League final, and Planas was in no rush at all.

That was the theme on this sunny Saturday morning. No one was running around, and no one was panicking. Many of Planas’ colleagues had staged a show like this before, and it showed.

Planas, the chief technical officer at Spanish production company Mediapro, had already done his work. The cameras were in position, the cables were connected, and the instructions had been handed out. So yes, he did have time to sit down and speak with reporters about everything that happens behind the scenes of a European final.

Emili Planas at the Wanda Metropolitano Anthony Lopopolo / theScore

Mediapro, which won the right to transmit the international feed for the match, provided the live pictures on DAZN Canada, TNT, and several other networks all over the world. Planas led a crew of more than 150 people that also worked on individual feeds for FOX in Argentina and Mexico, beIN Sports in the Middle East, and Canal+ in Spain.

Mediapro had served as the host broadcaster for the Champions League final in both 2010 and 2014, but it didn’t rest on its laurels. Preparations for 2019 began a year ago, starting with a visit to the 2018 final in Kyiv, Ukraine, between Real Madrid and Liverpool.

“This is the most important event in the sports year. We cannot produce this as a traditional match,” Planas told theScore.

Indeed, with a potential audience of 400 million viewers, it’s easy to understand why.

The best of the best

For the 2019 final, Mediapro’s production team dropped 52 cameras all around the stadium. Its reference point was El Clasico, the only other match on the club calendar that demands as much from its staff, and even that pales in comparison to the Champions League. Mediapro used between 30 and 35 cameras for that fixture last season.

Luckily, the Wanda Metropolitano, Atletico Madrid’s new home ground, is a familiar spot. As the host broadcaster for La Liga, Mediapro travels across Spain to cover the country’s biggest teams all season long.

Planas and his troupe borrowed some of the things they use on a weekly basis, including an automated sound mixer that adjusts volume without human intervention.

Mediapro’s automated sound board Anthony Lopopolo / theScore

“It allows the audio director to concentrate on the detail of the ambiance,” Miguel Mur, operations manager at Mediapro, told theScore. “The nice, big sound. The director doesn’t have to worry about fading in and out when the ball is in play.”

The mixer knows, for example, to turn up a mic near the byline when a goal-kick is taken. It moves by itself, with its keys going up and down in rhythmic fashion.

Drawing on historical data, Mediapro’s innovative tracking system also allows it to locate the approximate position of the ball and each player on the pitch. It provides 60-to-70 pages of data, including kilometers covered, passing accuracy, and other useful statistics that coaches and journalists reference after matches. Additionally, Mediapro was obligated to hand over this information, as well as every video recording, to the two clubs that participated in this year’s final, Liverpool and Tottenham.

But there are many things unique to the final. Operators participate in workshops for nearly a year to establish the right broadcasting style, and directors work with manufacturers to commission industry-leading cameras. Mediapro had to request permission from UEFA to eliminate seats – even at the cost of potential revenue – so it could position cameras in certain places. It hired a specific TV director to coordinate the shots for the pre-match show – “this is not sports, this is another kind of production,” Planas said – and it needed clearance from the local airport to capture images from a helicopter circling above.

Shaun Brooks / Action Plus / Getty

It’s not just about doubling the recipe, though. More cameras are great, but that’s not the only prerequisite.

“We need the best professionals for these kinds of events,” Planas added. “We need people from all parts of the world: Portugal, Argentina, Miami, Madrid, Barcelona, Valencia, and France.”

Talent off the pitch

Everyone in the TV compound knew what they were doing. They were so confident in their work that they were relaxed on the morning of the match. Mediapro had not only assembled a team of technical wizards – who else could tell all the blue wires from the green ones? – but one that could cope with the stress of something of this magnitude.

The production would’ve felt a lot different without Oscar Lago, the deep-voiced Catalan producer who was selected as match director for the final. It was Lago’s responsibility to tell the story of the ensuing 90 minutes, ordering his operators to switch between camera views. Among other moments, Lago was responsible for what the world saw after Liverpool scored their early penalty: a sequence of images showing Mohamed Salah celebrating, Hugo Lloris in disbelief, and fans going wild.

John Powell / Liverpool FC / Getty

“Oscar is spectacular,” Planas said. “When he is directing, he’s calm, but when he needs to be speedy, bam, bam, bam, bam, bam. He keeps calm, but he switches 25 cameras per minute or more. With all the replays and with intensity.”

Twenty-five cameras per minute. And it’s not just mindless splicing; it’s a methodical selection of shots that improves viewers’ understanding of the game.

That’s why it’s important for Lago to work in peace and quiet. The atmosphere in Mediapro’s production booths is far from the chaos you’d see in Italy or the United States, where jumping and shouting is the norm.

Instead, Lago and his colleagues decided a few years ago to make sure each production is done with maximum calmness. The match director, for example, is sitting down. And rather than putting operators at the mercy of one loud intercom, headsets were introduced for one-on-one communication.

“When you come to the room, it’s complete silence,” Planas said. “Nobody is speaking loud.”

Anthony Lopopolo / theScore

Of course, all the state-of-the-art equipment would go to waste without someone as capable as Lago making important editorial decisions. Sometimes, the temptation is there to use the highest-quality camera, but if it’s not necessary to tell the story, Lago won’t consider it. He understands the rhythm of the game and, when the play begins to wane, he knows how to ratchet up the broadcast.

It certainly would’ve taken some clever maneuvering to keep viewers’ attention in a final as uneventful as Saturday’s. Lago had his hands full with Liverpool and Tottenham proving to be unwilling sparring partners on the pitch.

But in the end, Planas, Lago, and their team can only adapt to the conditions in front of them. And who wins isn’t something they worry about.

“I’m not a football fan,” Planas said. “I played basketball. I like Formula 1, Moto GP, but this is something that helps from a technical point of view. For me, who plays on the field doesn’t matter. I see (camera) quality, I see colors, I see different technical questions. For me, the replays have to be perfect and the quality of the cameras has to be the best.”

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Transfer window preview: 50 players who could move in January

Find the biggest stories from across the soccer world by visiting our Top Soccer News section and subscribing to push notifications.

With the January transfer window set to open on the first day of the new year, we’re teeing up the wheeling and dealing by presenting 50 players who could be on the move.

LEAGUE DEADLINE DAY
Bundesliga Feb. 1 (12 p.m. ET)
Ligue 1 Feb. 1 (5 p.m. ET)
Premier League Feb. 1 (6 p.m. ET)
La Liga Feb. 1 (6 p.m. ET)
Serie A Feb. 1 (7 p.m. ET)

Note: Estimated transfer values provided by transfermarkt.com.

Premier League ?gbeng

Aaron Ramsdale (Arsenal)

Age: 25
Position: Goalkeeper
Estimated value: €28M

Unseated by the arrival of David Raya, Ramsdale’s future is a little murky. Arsenal are unlikely to sanction a loan move, especially to a Premier League rival, but with an eye on Euro 2024, the netminder needs more minutes.

Lloyd Kelly (Bournemouth)

Age: 25
Position: Center-back
Estimated value: €16M

Bournemouth don’t want to lose him, but with Kelly’s contract set to expire in the summer and no sign he’ll renew, defender-needy clubs like Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur are circling in the hopes of sealing a midseason signing.

Ivan Toney (Brentford)

Age: 27
Position: Striker
Estimated value: €35M

Toney’s eight-month ban for betting breaches ends in January, and his return to the pitch could precipitate a transfer. He’s a proven scorer with 32 goals in 68 Premier League appearances, and plenty of clubs need help up front.

Marc Cucurella (Chelsea)

Age: 25
Position: Left-back
Estimated value: €25M

Despite his recent injury, Cucurella headlines a trio of defenders who may leave west London this winter – Ian Maatsen and Trevoh Chalobah could also depart. Chelsea, as ever, will be fascinating to watch when the window opens.

Conor Gallagher (Chelsea)

Darren Walsh / Chelsea FC / Getty

Age: 23
Position: Midfielder
Estimated value: €42M

One of the window’s most intriguing names. Only Axel Disasi has played more minutes for Chelsea this season – Gallagher has even worn the armband – but he represents the Blues’ best chance of making a sizeable profit in January.

Noni Madueke (Chelsea)

Age: 21
Position: Winger
Estimated value: €25M

January is about finding opportunities to bolster your squad or, in some cases, find a piece to push your team over the top. Madueke, clearly very talented but getting few chances to shine at Chelsea, could fit the bill.

Joao Palhinha (Fulham)

Age: 28
Position: Defensive midfielder
Estimated value: €60M

After coming agonizingly close to joining Bayern Munich in the summer – Palhinha was literally in Bavaria waiting, in vain, for a deal to be closed – the excellent midfielder will once again be a hot, though expensive, commodity.

Kalvin Phillips (Manchester City)

Age: 28
Position: Defensive midfielder
Estimated value: €28M

Nobody needs a January transfer more than Phillips, whose career has derailed since joining Manchester City; Pep Guardiola has repeatedly apologized for his lack of opportunities. Juventus are reportedly interested.

Anthony Martial (Manchester United)

Age: 28
Position: Forward
Estimated value: €15M

Erik ten Hag may say that Manchester United aren’t looking to move Martial, but the Frenchman’s limited amount of playing time this season speaks louder than the manager’s words ever will.

Jadon Sancho (Manchester United)

Matthew Peters / Manchester United / Getty

Age: 23
Position: Winger
Estimated value: €23M

With Sancho and Ten Hag perpetually at odds, it’s in everyone’s best interest to just part ways. A loan seems most likely in January, with United having a better chance of recouping some of his huge transfer fee in the summer.

Raphael Varane (Manchester United)

Age: 30
Position: Center-back
Estimated value: €25M

Real Madrid and Bayern Munich need help in central defense, and Varane could represent excellent value. His familiarity with the Spanish club would make his transition seamless, which is always a key consideration in January.

Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg (Tottenham Hotspur)

Age: 28
Position: Midfielder
Estimated value: €28M

Hojbjerg has only started three Premier League matches this season under Ange Postecoglou. In what will become a common refrain on this list, the Dane could depart in search of more regular playing time ahead of Euro 2024.

La Liga ??

Ferran Torres (Barcelona)

Age: 23
Position: Forward, winger
Estimated value: €35M

Despite getting consistent opportunities since joining the club, there’s always been a sense that Barcelona don’t truly believe in Torres. Already fierce competition for minutes will be more extreme following Vitor Roque’s arrival.

Miguel Gutierrez (Girona)

Age: 22
Position: Left-back
Estimated value: €20M

Gutierrez has been one of the breakout performers helping to fuel Girona’s fairy-tale title push. Real Madrid reportedly have an €8-million buyback option on the youngster, who seems destined for a big move soon.

Juan Miranda (Real Betis)

Fran Santiago / Getty Images Sport / Getty

Age: 23
Position: Left-back
Estimated value: €9M

Miranda, a product of Barcelona’s famed academy, is another soon-to-be free agent who could yet leave in January if his club wants to procure a transfer fee. AC Milan, seeking defensive depth, are working to sign the Spaniard.

Rafa Mir (Sevilla)

Age: 26
Position: Striker
Estimated value: €5M

Sevilla are among the most obvious candidates for a big January shakeup following a dismal opening half of the season. Mir’s struggles – just two league starts and one goal – are emblematic of the rough campaign in Andalusia.

Serie A ??

Joshua Zirkzee (Bologna)

Age: 22
Position: Forward
Estimated value: €30M

Zirkzee’s been one of the revelations of the European season, helping power Bologna’s top-four push. The Dutchman reportedly has a €40-million release clause, and Bayern Munich retained a buyback option worth half that.

Radu Dragusin (Genoa)

Age: 21
Position: Center-back
Estimated value: €20M

A physically imposing center-back with the necessary on-ball skills to thrive in the modern game, Dragusin is garnering interest across Europe. Atalanta, perhaps anticipating Giorgio Scalvini’s summer exit, are reportedly keen.

Samuel Iling-Junior (Juventus)

Age: 20
Position: Winger
Estimated value: €20M

The Englishman has received little playing time after breaking into Juventus’ senior side last season. If Juve decide to sacrifice one of their young talents to generate funds, Iling-Junior seems the likeliest candidate at the moment.

Victor Osimhen (Napoli)

DeFodi Images / DeFodi Images / Getty

Age: 24
Position: Striker
Estimated value: €110M

Osimhen may have just signed a contract extension with the ailing Italian champions, but that won’t stop the rumors, especially with his reported €130-million release clause. Chelsea remain in desperate need of a proper No. 9.

Lazar Samardzic (Udinese)

Age: 21
Position: Attacking midfielder
Estimated value: €20M

Looking for something – anything, really – to help jump-start their miserable title defense, Napoli have apparently turned their attention to Samardzic, who provides silky dribbling and playmaking ability from midfield.

Bundesliga ??

Piero Hincapie (Bayer Leverkusen)

Age: 21
Position: Center-back
Estimated value: €35M

It’s hard to imagine anyone wanting to leave red-hot Bundesliga leaders Bayer Leverkusen right now, but Xabi Alonso’s preferred back-three doesn’t include the Ecuadorian, which could facilitate a January transfer.

Gio Reyna (Borussia Dortmund)

Age: 21
Position: Attacking midfielder
Estimated value: €20M

Reyna must move to get his once blossoming career back on track. A variety of factors contributed to his recent status as a bit-part player at Dortmund, but he’s flashed enough potential in the past to earn a chance elsewhere.

Donyell Malen (Borussia Dortmund)

Age: 24
Position: Winger
Estimated value: €35M

Dortmund tumbled down the table following a rough run into the winter break, leaving Edin Terzic on thin ice. Against that backdrop, parting with one of your few scoring threats would be a tough sell, but rumors about Malen persist.

Manu Kone (Borussia Monchengladbach)

Christian Verheyen / Borussia Moenchengladbach / Getty

Age: 22
Position: Midfielder
Estimated value: €35M

After several clubs, including Bayern Munich and Liverpool, were linked with his services in the summer, the trail has gone a little cold on Kone of late. That’s sure to change in January. A deadline-day deal is a distinct possibility.

Fabio Carvalho (RB Leipzig)

Age: 21
Position: Attacking midfielder
Estimated value: €14M

Carvalho’s loan move to RB Leipzig simply hasn’t worked out as anyone had hoped. He’s made just three starts, prompting Liverpool to explore the possibility of recalling and sending him elsewhere in January.

Serhou Guirassy (VfB Stuttgart)

Age: 27
Position: Striker
Estimated value: €40M

Scoring 17 goals in 14 Bundesliga games doesn’t go unnoticed. A January move for the Guinean is complicated by his expected involvement in AFCON, but his extremely modest €17.5-million release clause has clubs salivating.

Ligue 1 ??

Tiago Djalo (Lille)

Age: 23
Position: Center-back
Estimated value: €15M

Instead of losing the Portuguese defender for free in the summer, Lille are reportedly considering cashing in now. With Inter, Juventus, and Atletico Madrid all in the mix, the French outfit could incite a decent bidding war.

Leny Yoro (Lille)

Age: 18
Position: Center-back
Estimated value: €25M

Already one of the standout defenders in France despite his tender age, Yoro is someone Lille will fight to keep for as long as possible. PSG, now trying to scoop up every emerging talent in the country, will need to pony up.

Khephren Thuram (Nice)

Eurasia Sport Images / Getty Images Sport / Getty

Age: 22
Position: Midfielder
Estimated value: €40M

Thuram, despite interest from England and Italy in the summer, remained in the French Riviera – who could blame him? Both he and teammate Jean-Clair Todibo will feature prominently as the January rumors swirl.

Hugo Ekitike (Paris Saint-Germain)

Age: 21
Position: Striker
Estimated value: €15M

Ekitike’s big move to the French capital went sour very quickly. PSG tried to offload him in the summer, to no avail. Stuck behind Randal Kolo Muani and Goncalo Ramos, he’s played a measly nine minutes in Ligue 1 this season.

Kylian Mbappe (Paris Saint-Germain)

Age: 25
Position: Forward
Estimated value: €180M

What, you thought we’d get through a transfer window without rehashing Mbappe’s flirtations with Real Madrid? The saga will inevitably heat up again now that Madrid can negotiate openly with the impending free agent.

Around the world ?

Jota (Al-Ittihad)

Age: 24
Position: Forward, winger
Estimated value: €9M

Jota’s move to Saudi Arabia has been an unmitigated disaster for everything but his bank account thus far, sparking rumors that the ex-Celtic star could be one of the first players to make a swift return to Europe from the Middle East.

Thiago Almada (Atlanta United)

Age: 22
Position: Attacking midfielder
Estimated value: €27M

It’s simply a matter of when Almada makes the leap to Europe. The only question is whether the diminutive Argentine will break Miguel Almiron’s €24-million record as the most expensive outgoing transfer in MLS history.

Antonio Silva (Benfica)

Eurasia Sport Images / Getty Images Sport / Getty

Age: 20
Position: Center-back
Estimated value: €45M

Enzo Fernandez’s mammoth move to Chelsea proved that Benfica aren’t afraid to sanction sales of vital players in January if the offer is sweet enough. Silva, whose price tag is only rising, could be next in line.

Valentin Barco (Boca Juniors)

Age: 19
Position: Left-back
Estimated value: €13M

Chelsea are reportedly keen on Barco. Strasbourg, the French side also owned by the Todd Boehly-Clearlake Capital consortium, could be used by the Blues as a means to beat the likes of Manchester City to the Boca starlet.

Tajon Buchanan (Club Brugge)

Age: 24
Position: Winger, wing-back
Estimated value: €8M

Inter are reportedly advancing in talks for the rapid Canadian, who’s viewed as the ideal replacement for the injury-ravaged Juan Cuadrado. Buchanan would serve as Denzel Dumfries’ backup in Simone Inzaghi’s 3-5-2 formation.

Benjamin Rollheiser (Estudiantes de La Plata)

Age: 23
Position: Winger
Estimated value: €10M

Newcastle United, decimated by injuries and in search of reinforcements, are reportedly tracking the electrifying dribbler, who’s lighting things up in Argentina. Not to be outdone, Benfica and Atletico Madrid are also circling.

Brandon Vazquez (FC Cincinnati)

Age: 25
Position: Striker
Estimated value: €8.5M

Vazquez was unable to replicate his breakout 2022 campaign this past year, but that hasn’t deterred clubs intrigued by his blend of power and scoring prowess. Brentford, given the uncertainty around Toney, could make a move.

Nico Gonzalez (FC Porto)

Age: 21
Position: Midfielder
Estimated value: €9M

Things haven’t quite worked out as planned after a summer move to Porto, with the former Barcelona midfielder spending most of his time on the bench. An immediate return to La Liga shouldn’t be ruled out.

Mehdi Taremi (FC Porto)

Diogo Cardoso / Getty Images Sport / Getty

Age: 31
Position: Striker
Estimated value: €12M

Inter continue to show strong interest in Taremi, who was one of their targets in the summer window before they settled for a low-cost option in Marko Arnautovic. The Iranian striker is a free agent at the end of the season.

Santiago Gimenez (Feyenoord)

Age: 22
Position: Striker
Estimated value: €50M

The prolific Mexican is one of the game’s most coveted scorers after a sensational 2023 in which he broke Luis Suarez’s record for most Eredivisie goals in a calendar year. Feyenoord will demand a fortune, and rightly so.

Andre (Fluminense)

Age: 22
Position: Defensive midfielder
Estimated value: €25M

The Brazilian, who was scouted by some of the Premier League’s top teams over the summer, put them all on high alert when he recently said his “big dream” is to play in England. How long can Fluminense hold on to him?

Denis Bouanga (LAFC)

Age: 29
Position: Forward
Estimated value: €10M

On the heels of capturing the MLS Golden Boot in 2023, Bouanga suggested he could soon return to Europe. Any move would require a “hugely expensive” transfer fee, according to LAFC general manager John Thorrington.

Johan Bakayoko (PSV Eindhoven)

Age: 20
Position: Winger
Estimated value: €40M

Wingers who excel at beating their defender and teeing up teammates inside the penalty area are always in high demand, so the collection of big clubs eyeing Bakayoko should come as no surprise. An opulent transfer beckons.

Georgiy Sudakov (Shakhtar Donetsk)

Quality Sport Images / Getty Images Sport / Getty

Age: 21
Position: Attacking midfielder
Estimated value: €18M

Already a regular for his national team, the Ukrainian is being monitored by Juventus, who are looking for more guile and creativity in midfield amid the continued absences of Paul Pogba and Nicolo Fagioli.

Viktor Gyokeres (Sporting CP)

Age: 25
Position: Striker
Estimated value: €45M

Sporting made out like bandits when they signed Gyokeres from Coventry City for a modest €20 million this past summer. The Swede is now worth more than double that amount after going on a tear since arriving in Portugal.

Goncalo Inacio (Sporting CP)

Age: 22
Position: Center-back
Estimated value: €40M

Like his compatriot Silva at Benfica – a player to whom he’s often compared – Inacio has been scouted by some of the continent’s heavyweights. The defender reportedly has a €60-million release clause in his contract.

Claudio Echeverri (River Plate)

Age: 17
Position: Attacking midfielder
Estimated value: €12M

Manchester City are working hard to beat Barcelona to Echeverri’s coveted signature. The ascendant Argentine was one of the standout players at the recent Under-17 World Cup and could reportedly cost up to €25 million.

Arthur Vermeeren (Royal Antwerp)

Age: 18
Position: Defensive midfielder
Estimated value: €30M

Chances are your favorite club has been linked with Vermeeren at some point in recent weeks. Judging by his displays in the Champions League, the prodigious Belgian already looks capable of handling a big transfer.

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La Liga

theScore's 50 favorite moments of 2023: Titles, twists, and one epic speech

This year in sports was defined by inspiring stories, historic achievements, and surreal events that not even Hollywood could script. We loved them all. With 2023 drawing to a close, theScore is looking back on 50 moments that resonated most with us over the past 12 months. Our five-part series, which counts down every Friday in December, continues below with moments 30-21.

Dec. 1 Dec. 8 Dec. 15 Dec. 22 Dec. 29
50-41 40-31 30-21 20-11 10-1

30. Bellingham takes down Barca ?

NurPhoto / NurPhoto / Getty

Jude Bellingham was already hailed as the second coming of Cristiano Ronaldo before he led Real Madrid to victory in his first Clasico. The English midfielder morphed into one of the best finishers in the world after joining the club from Borussia Dortmund. His 13 goals in his first 10 games – including various winning strikes – were two more than Ronaldo scored to start his iconic career in Madrid. But nothing compared to Bellingham’s heroics against Madrid’s bitter rivals, Barcelona. After scoring a spectacular equalizing goal from 30 yards out, the 20-year-old further endeared himself to fans with an opportunistic winner in the dying minutes. – Gordon Brunt

29. Etienne’s Pyrrhic performance ?

Everyone loves a big fantasy football performance – unless you’re on the wrong side of it. Imagine how Travis Etienne felt after posting one of the best games of his career while playing against himself in fantasy football. The running back exploded for 136 rushing yards, four receptions, 48 receiving yards, a pair of touchdowns, and a two-point conversion against the Bills in Week 5. His opponent surely appreciated the 30+ fantasy points, but Etienne was likely happier winning the game in real life on the back of his dominant outing. – Andrew Dixon

28. PGA TOUR, LIV Golf join forces ?

If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em. After more than a year of legal battles, the PGA announced a surprise merger with Saudi Arabia’s LIV Golf, shocking just about everyone. While LIV golfers like Phil Mickelson rejoiced, many PGA golfers found out about the merger through a leaked press release on social media, and members of Netflix’s docuseries “Full Swing” found out on camera. Those who refused LIV Golf’s massive payouts were angered by the PGA’s lack of loyalty, and Tiger Woods was “frustrated” with the lack of player involvement. The tours have until Dec. 31 to finalize the agreement but, regardless of the outcome, June 6 will go down in golf history as a day stranger than fiction. – Sarah Wallace

27. FDU stuns No. 1 Purdue ?

Five years after No. 1 Virginia lost to No. 16 UMBC, New Jersey’s Fairleigh Dickinson handed Purdue an opening-round loss in the same setup. The Knights had to win in the First Four to qualify, while the Boilermakers lost four games to end the regular season before winning the Big Ten title. FDU held off No. 1 Purdue with two clutch blocks in the final minute of play to advance the Knights to the second round. Meanwhile, No. 4 Virginia lost to No. 13 Furman, marking the second time in three years the Cavaliers lost in the first round. – Donald Higney

26. Aces breathe rarefied air ?

The Las Vegas Aces and New York Liberty were on a collision course to meet in the WNBA Finals all season long. Both teams were loaded with stars and dominated in the regular season to earn the top seeds in their respective conferences. The Aces took the first two games at home before the Liberty responded with a victory in Game 3. Las Vegas lost starting point guard Chelsea Gray and starting center Kiah Stokes to injuries before Game 4 but withstood their absences to claim a 70-69 victory. The win made them just the third repeat champion in WNBA history, and the first since 2002. – Josh Goldberg

25. José Ramírez decks Tim Anderson ?

It was a bad, bad year for Tim Anderson. The former batting champ struggled through injuries and underperformed in the most disappointing campaign of his career. But the worst night of his dreadful season came on Aug. 5 when he picked a fight with the wrong guy. The White Sox shortstop hurled his glove to the ground and put his dukes up after getting into a verbal dispute with Guardians slugger José Ramírez – which turned out to be a poor decision. Anderson hit the dirt like a ton of bricks after catching a wild overhand right from Ramírez. The fight led to a bench-clearing brawl and Eloy Jiménez even got stepped on as Anderson was sidelined recovering from embarrassment. – Bryan Mcwilliam

24. Nuggets, Jokic claim 1st title ?

Garrett Ellwood / National Basketball Association / Getty

For the fifth straight season, the NBA got a new champion. The Denver Nuggets won their first championship after taking down the Miami Heat in June. Nikola Jokic dominated the playoffs, averaging 30 points, 13.5 rebounds, 9.5 assists, and 1.1 steals per game – elevating his game as the competition and stakes increased every round. Denver got a boost from Jamal Murray, who put up 26.1 points and 7.1 assists in the postseason as he played in his first campaign after an ACL tear. With this tandem, the Nuggets look to be a formidable championship contender for the foreseeable future. – Higney

23. Coco conquers US Open ?

Greatness was expected of Coco Gauff ever since she made her professional debut at 14 years old. But those expectations quickly became a burden, weighing her down even as she spent her high school years winning various 500- and 1,000-level tournaments. So when she came back from a set down against Aryna Sabalenka to win the US Open in September – clinching her first major title at the grand old age of 19 – Coco had a few things to say. “To those who thought they were putting water on my fire, you were really adding gas to it, and now I’m really burning so bright right now,” she said as the 28,000 at Arthur Ashe Stadium erupted in support. Now it’s no longer about whether Coco can win majors, but how many victories she’ll collect. – Anthony Lopopolo

22. You come at the king … ?

LeBron proved that you can’t count him out, even during his 20th NBA season. After then-Memphis Grizzlies wing Dillon Brooks sent him numerous taunts and a hit in the groin, LeBron got his revenge. Leading by three points in overtime of Game 4 in their opening-round playoff series, the dueling players found themselves matched up – with LeBron driving past Brooks and drawing a timely foul to help put the lower-seeded Lakers up 3-1 in the series. In a cathartic moment, King James burst into emotion as the Lakers crowd went crazy. L.A. went on to win the series, while the Grizzlies declined to re-sign Brooks, allowing him to join the Houston Rockets. – Higney

21. Wild Bill’s legendary parade speech ?

Warning: Video contains coarse language

There have been some incredible Stanley Cup parade speeches over the years, but Vegas Golden Knights forward William Karlsson gave one for the ages in June. The moment he took the mic shirtless and drenched in sweat, it was clear he was about to deliver an all-timer. It’s two minutes of absolute gold: Karlsson initially censoring himself but dropping an actual F-bomb 22 seconds later. The Arizona Coyotes catching a stray. That poor woman trying in vain to get him to wrap it up with a tap on the back, the hand-across-the-throat gesture, a plea of “let’s go,” and finally dragging him across the stage. Perfection. – Josh Gold-Smith

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Why does European soccer keep ignoring African coaches?

The rest of Europe didn’t take notice when Albanian club KF Tirana hauled itself out of relegation trouble before miraculously clinching the title in 2020. For a continent where Champions League glamor and the wealthiest domestic competitions hog the limelight, Albanian football isn’t even an afterthought.

But on this occasion, Tirana’s climb up the Kategoria Superiore table captured the attention of millions outside Europe. Africa was watching.

“I didn’t follow the directive of the owner of the team, or the president or the directors, because they have been doing it the wrong way – and that is why the team didn’t win the league for 11 years,” former Nigerian international Ndubuisi Egbo told theScore about how he became the first African coach to guide a European team to a league title.

“It’s like Frank Sinatra: I did it my way.”

Albania’s most successful club was a mess. In addition to the boardroom issues that contributed to Tirana’s prolonged title drought, Egbo found the squad’s “harmony was destroyed because the players were arguing and fighting with each other.” He tried to ignore club politics and address some of its problems in simple ways, like putting players in their correct positions. Most crucially of all, in his debut at the helm, he masterminded Tirana’s first win over archrival Partizani Tirana in almost six years.

It sparked a 17-match unbeaten run across all competitions. Tirana, once sitting eighth in a 10-team league, went on to win their 25th Albanian title, finishing the campaign with a four-point cushion atop the league.

It wasn’t all good news, though: Egbo’s incredible Tirana turnaround came amid a backdrop of racism from opposing supporters. He had a banana thrown at him. He was spat at. He felt people around the country wanted him to fail because he’s Black.

Egbo in Tirana’s technical area for a match vs. Young Boys DeFodi Images / DeFodi Images / Getty

“It’s what motivates me,” Egbo said about racism he experienced firsthand.

Egbo’s played and coached in Albania. The former goalkeeper, who experienced two Africa Cup of Nations campaigns with Nigeria, became an Albanian citizen in 2014 and speaks the language fluently.

“Even though I’m Albanian by citizenship, still they will always see you as a foreigner,” Egbo said.

Egbo refused to be cowed by the racists, and won. He’s a trailblazer: the first African coach to win a domestic title in Europe, and the first from the continent to qualify for any European competition. Many African and Black coaches called him after his achievements in Albania. He showed them what was possible.

‘A lack of trust’

Egbo’s feat came in 2020, over 130 years after African footballers began making an impression in Europe. A group of African-born stars, headlined by proud Mozambique native Eusebio, famously helped Benfica win the European Cup twice in the early 1960s. Why did it take African coaches so long to follow in the players’ footsteps?

Another rather brutal caveat is that Egbo won a title in what is effectively Europe’s football wilderness. But it’s no surprise the breakthrough needed to happen in a country like Albania, well beyond the continent’s top competitions. Patrick Vieira, the Senegal-born World Cup winner with France, held the greatest coaching job in Europe’s top five leagues of anybody hailing from an independent African nation. Vieira oversaw Crystal Palace for 20 months until he was sacked in March – and the English club certainly isn’t a giant despite its longstanding Premier League status.

Oluwashina Okeleji, a Nigerian journalist for BBC Sport, understands and feels the frustrations of African managers not getting top jobs in Europe, but he thinks someone from the continent will land one soon.

“Gradually, African coaches are punching,” he told theScore.

Okeleji picks out Walid Regragui and Aliou Cisse as coaches he believes are nearing big European breaks. Regragui won two league titles in Morocco: the Moroccan Throne Cup, Qatar’s first division; and the African Champions League. He then moved into international management, where he made Morocco the first African team to reach a World Cup semifinal at Qatar 2022. Cisse’s guided Senegal to Africa Cup of Nations glory and earned qualification to back-to-back World Cups; his side reached the knockout rounds in Qatar despite the absence of star player Sadio Mane.

Serial trophy winner Pitso Mosimane is another head coach whose achievements should place him among managerial candidates of clubs in Europe’s top five leagues, but there’s little to indicate that’s the case. The South African tactician continues to discuss the lack of African managers in Europe since he’s taken over clubs in the Middle East.

Mosimane wins CAF Champions League for Egypt’s Al Ahly picture alliance / picture alliance / Getty

“I don’t know what our future will be. Europe is Europe, man – it’s not how good you are. I’ve got all these European Pro Licence coaches here in Saudi and we’re beating them every day,” Mosimane said in a Radio 2000 interview in May. “Why can’t we get a chance?”

Mosimane ended a turbulent period for Mamelodi Sundowns before igniting the most prolific spell in club history with five South African titles, four domestic cups, and its first and only African Champions League triumph. He then tested himself with a move to Egypt’s Al Ahly in 2020, where he won a league and cup double, and hoisted the Champions League trophy twice in three years. More recently, he guided Saudi Arabia’s Al-Ahli to promotion in his single season in charge before he took over at Al Wahda in the United Arab Emirates in June.

It’s an impressive resume – and just one example of many managers who’ve flourished in African club football (and in Mosimane’s case, even further afield). But Europe’s focus appears to be elsewhere.

“There’s a lack of trust in African managers. There’s a lack of belief in their ability,” Okeleji said.

“Africans are only good at playing football, they’re not good at managing – (it’s) a stereotype that has been going on for so long,” he added.

In an era where clubs rely heavily on data to find marginal gains on the pitch, fine-tune training methods, and uncover players from around the globe, it’s hard to conceive a reasonable excuse for Europe’s failure to find a gifted coach from the world’s second most-populous continent.

It’s not specifically Africans who are overlooked, either. In England, there’s a talent drain of Black footballers once they finish playing. The Black Footballers Partnership reported in January that Black players made up 43% of Premier League squads and 34% of squads in tiers 2-4 in 2022, and added in March that only 4.4% of manager-related roles in English football were held by Black employees.

Egbo believes the lack of diversity among coaches presents a missed opportunity for English clubs to improve communication with their players.

Nigerian icon Nwankwo Kanu and Egbo celebrate on Super Eagles duty Matthew Ashton – EMPICS / PA Images / Getty

“If you look at the English Premiership, you find that the number of Black African players who are playing there is very high,” Egbo, now managing Kosovan side Prishtina, said. “And in many teams you still find they’re being coached by European coaches who don’t know anything about African culture; who don’t understand where the player is coming from, who don’t understand what he’s going through, who don’t understand anything about his family upbringing.”

The challenges

A popular suggestion to make European football more representative of society is to introduce something similar to the NFL’s Rooney Rule. The policy was adopted in 2003 and made it mandatory for NFL teams to interview minority candidates for positions. The Rooney Rule has undergone several revisions, but today includes requirements like interviewing at least two external minority candidates for head coaching vacancies, and that a minority and/or female candidate be included in the interview process for senior positions like club president or executive roles.

But Seyi Olofinjana, who made 239 appearances across the top two divisions of English football, doesn’t feel comfortable with a similar policy for soccer.

“I want to get the job because I’m good enough, rather than some system saying some quota of Black or other ethnic minority should give me a job,” he told theScore.

Olofinjana considered leaving football and “going a different route altogether” once he retired from playing. He studied throughout his career, even obtaining a chemical engineering degree before he made his life-changing transfer to Europe, but always felt the pull of the sport. He returned to the Wolverhampton Wanderers in a non-playing capacity, and eventually landed his “dream” job of sporting director with Grasshopper Club Zurich. The position fit neatly with his other studies: he also has masters degrees in project management and sporting directorship, and carries UEFA’s top coaching qualifications.

The ex-midfielder, a member of Nigeria’s squad for three Africa Cup of Nations tournaments, offers a unique perspective through his year with the Swiss giants. He has empathy for fellow Africans trying and struggling to get into the European game, but also understands some of the barriers preventing this rare leap. He recognizes the huge pool of coaches available in each European country and across its borders, and he’s wary of the “very, very short” amount of time coaches are given to adapt in a results-based business.

And when discussing Africans’ oft-unsuccessful efforts to move north, it’s no surprise that someone with Olofinjana’s education is mindful of the coaching qualifications required to manage in Europe.

Olofinjana celebrates scoring for Stoke vs. Arsenal Neal Simpson – EMPICS / PA Images / Getty

“People always think it’s racism or what have you – some element of it is that. But I see it both ways,” Olofinjana explained. “It’s a lack of trust on the part of the owners, probably a lack of acceptance of who we are as Africans. But on the other side, for some it’s a lack of education on the part of some African coaches.”

There are obvious hints that African coaching certifications – and those issued by non-UEFA confederations – aren’t deemed as valuable as their European equivalents.

A head coach in the African Champions League must hold an “A” license – the top coaching qualification available from the Confederation of African Football (CAF) – or the equivalent top-level coaching certification issued by FIFA’s five other confederations. For the European Champions League, only UEFA coaching badges are accepted.

CAF ensuring its coaching courses and qualifications are of equal value to UEFA, and for this to then be reflected in the coaching regulations for Europe’s leading competitions, could open doors for African coaches.

But that point is moot if they aren’t even considered for roles in the first place. Michael Osei served as an assistant coach for the Under-23 teams of Germany’s Kickers Offenbach and FSV Frankfurt after spending a significant portion of his playing career in the country. Across the two different jobs, Osei helped the teams win three lower-league titles between 2008-2010. However, when a promotion to one of the clubs’ senior teams – which were both competing in Germany’s second tier – wasn’t forthcoming, the former Ghanaian international decided to return home.

“I didn’t get the opportunity. It wasn’t easy for a Black coach to get the opportunity to coach (in the) Bundesliga,” Osei recalled. “That’s why I switched to come back to Ghana to continue on my coaching career.”

Now in charge of Bibiani Gold Stars in the Ghana Premier League, Osei observes another major obstacle for African coaches wanting to obtain UEFA badges: cost. To attain the four UEFA coaching qualifications up to and including the coveted Pro Licence with the English Football Association, it would cost around $18,300 (£14,995).

The average monthly wage for head coaches in the Ghana Premier League is less than $1,000, another boss working in the competition told theScore. So even if a head coach is taking home $1,000 each month, the UEFA coaching qualifications cost the equivalent of over 18 months’ salary. That considerable cost is augmented by travel, accommodation, and other daily expenses. Studying also takes coaches away from their main source of income.

The backroom positions that Otto Addo and Gerald Asamoah, also Ghanaian, hold at Borussia Dortmund and FC Schalke are among the reasons Osei has hope that things will change. However, he estimates it will be another 10-15 years before an African head coach is hired by a prestigious European club.

“We have to believe it,” Osei said.

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