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Ernesto Valverde and the Prison of Barcelona’s Past

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The summer before last, Barcelona made the sort of business decision that few — if any — outside the relatively niche world of sports merchandising would have noticed.

Since 2001, Barcelona’s merchandising operation had been subcontracted out to Nike, the team’s jersey sponsor. Through a subsidiary company, Nike ran three official Barcelona stores and 15 licensed stores, as well as overseeing some 328 licensed distributors. The branded products they sold included about 7,000 items: apparel and mugs and all manner of sundry tchotchkes.

Nike’s contract expired in the summer of 2018, and rather than renew it, Barcelona formed its own company — the snappily-titled Barcelona Licensing and Merchandising — to pick up the mantle. The move, the club said, would enable “greater economic profitability and direct control of the brand.”

It was a smart decision. On Monday, the accountancy firm Deloitte confirmed that, over the course of the 2018-19 season, Barcelona had generated more revenue than any other club: $936 million, an increase of $166 million — almost 18 percent — from the previous year.

Deloitte attributed that growth “predominantly to the decision to bring the licensing and merchandising operation in-house.” For the first time, Barcelona had overtaken Real Madrid and Manchester United to become the richest soccer team on Earth.

That is not the only table that Barcelona leads. After winning the Spanish title the past two year, Manager Ernesto Valverde’s team was top of the league, again, this season. Barcelona had qualified with ease from its Champions League group, too, not losing a game as it steamrollered into the last 16. By most metrics, this is a club in fine health.

But not long after Deloitte published its findings on Monday, and after several hours of swirling rumor, Valverde was fired.

That, as much as anything, is what Barcelona Licensing and Merchandising is stamping on scarves and mugs and tchotchkes and selling around the world: not a crest or a logo, not the success of now, not even the style of now, but the sense of what Barcelona is supposed to represent. Those values were not defined by that team of Xavi Hernández and Andres Iniesta and, of course, Messi, but they were embodied by it.

That is the revenue stream that Barcelona wanted to bring in-house: memory. It is a lucrative business, it turns out, but it is also a considerable burden. Like all superclubs, Barcelona has to win. Like all superclubs, it has to win with style, or at least something that can be spun into style. Unlike all of the others, though, Barcelona has to match up — in its own mind, and in those of its fans — to a very specific image of what it was, just a few short years ago. It has to make them feel as they did then.

Valverde passed the first hurdle. He fell at the second. He got nowhere close to the third. To some extent, that was not his fault: Xavi and Iniesta are long gone. Messi remains, of course, as wondrous as ever, but he has found himself let down, increasingly, at an institutional level: directionless, almost random recruitment of players; uninspired coaching appointments, and an aging squad, at times distracted and often over-empowered; a board that has no clear vision of the club’s direction, at least on the field.

Perhaps Setién will fare better. He seems a more natural fit, certainly — where Valverde has always been a pragmatist at heart, his successor has spent his career, as El País put it, “in love with the ball” — though his credentials are oddly threadbare for a coach of the biggest and now richest club in the world.



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Sharp Edges Sports Betting Podcast – NFL Playoff Picks – CFB Playoff Betting Picks – CBB Picks

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After a week off, Calvin and Brandon are back for another episode of the Sharp Edges Podcast. It is a big weekend for football as we have the College Football Playoff Championship Game between #3 Clemson and #1 LSU on Monday night. Before that, we have the NFL Divisional Playoffs on Saturday and Sunday this weekend.

Starting with the CFP, Calvin and Brandon discuss who they think will win the National Championship and why. Will LSU put together another big offensive performance like they did against Oklahoma in the semi-final or will that elite Clemson defense find a way to stop Joe Burrow and company. Can Clemson compete with a team like LSU after playing in a soft ACC? Or is this spread over-inflated due to LSU’s performance against Oklahoma?

The first game on Sunday is between Houston and Kansas City. The Chiefs are a big favorite after Houston managed a comeback win against Buffalo after trailing by 16. The total is climbing, should we tail or fade the rise? The final game of the weekend is between Seattle and Green Bay. Seattle is the only road-favorite this weekend, is that the right move or not? The spread keeps climbing in the Seahawks favor, but why is that? Can Green Bay defend their home turf and advance to the NFC Championship game? Will we be seeing more points on Sunday or are we in for another low-scoring week like last week when all four playoff games went under?

Calvin gives out three NCAAB picks for Friday night. After a couple weeks off to tweak and edit, Calvin believes the formula is ready for a strong second-half run. The formula proved it is ready by perfectly nailing it’s two games last night with near perfect score prediction. Can it stay hot? Finally, Brandon and Calvin give out their Best Bets of the weekend. Listen in to hear who you should be betting and why.

0:00 Intro/Recap
0:29 Clemson/LSU
6:27 Minnesota/San Francisco
10:46 Tennessee/Baltimore
15:17 Houston/Kansas City
19:56 Seattle/Green Bay
23:43 CBB Picks
26:17 Best Bets

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Aamuktha Maalyada performance at Shilparamam, HiTech City on Bhogi 2020 – Part 3

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How Should We Punish Sports Cheaters?

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On Monday, after a lengthy investigation, Major League Baseball announced that the Houston Astros had cheated by using technology to steal signs during the regular season and playoffs of their World Series-winning 2017 season.

Houston general manager, Jeff Luhnow, and manager, A.J. Hinch, were suspended for a year by M.L.B. — and then fired by the Astros’ owner. In addition, the team was stripped of top draft picks and will pay a large fine.

In years to come, this might be the week this age of sports came to be known as the “asterisk era.”

During a decade that brought eye-in-the-sky cameras, rogue chemists, executives with malleable morals and Soviet-era spy craft, those two-fisted disrupters — science and technology — have given cheaters seemingly limitless tools to secure victory on playing fields as diverse as the Olympic Games, Major League Baseball, the N.F.L. and horse racing.

The Houston Astros’ signs-stealing scheme, laid bare in a sober yet searing report from the baseball commissioner on Monday, is the latest embodiment of that old sports saw, “If you ain’t cheating, you ain’t trying.” The 2017 World Series champions mixed high-tech with the low-fi — using a television monitor near the dugout to watch the opposing catcher give his pitching signs, then having teammates bang a trash can to let the batter know what was coming.

For supporters of clean sports, this looked like just one more powerful weapon that athletes, teams and organizations used to win games and skirt the fair-play police, one more instance of the truth about a champion spilling out too late.

In 2014, the Russian Olympic Committee augmented its medal haul by having doping experts collaborate with the country’s intelligence services to switch out urine samples through a hole in the testing laboratory’s wall. On their way to six Super Bowl championships, the New England Patriots have been found guilty of using clandestine video surveillance and of somehow ending up with deflated footballs that allowed their quarterback to get a better grip in foul weather. A horse that staged a historic run to the Triple Crown was found to have chemicals associated with performance-enhancing drugs in his system.

Regulators of Olympic sports acknowledge that they are mostly outgunned on the science and technology fronts. Instead, they rely on law enforcement sources, whistle-blowers and moral outrage, all of which are often in short supply.

“It doesn’t take a philosopher to know that if you cheat to win, you’re not really a winner,” said Travis Tygart, the chief executive of the United States Anti-Doping Agency, who is perhaps best known for bringing Lance Armstrong’s extensive doping operation to light.

Really?

Tygart and international Olympic officials have taken back gold medals and handed out lifetime bans for cheating. Yet Tygart knows there are athletes who keep trying to become faster and stronger through performance-enhancing drugs. The usual rationalizations: Everyone else is doing it, and winning is worth the risk.

Vacating titles and ending careers are powerful deterrents, but in America’s professional sports leagues, the commissioners have been resistant to mete out such punishments.

M.L.B. Commissioner Rob Manfred handed down yearlong suspensions for Astros Manager A.J. Hinch and General Manager Jeff Luhnow. Both were subsequently fired by the team’s owner, Jim Crane. The Boston Red Sox’ owners, John Henry and Tom Werner, also parted ways with their manager — Alex Cora, who was a bench coach with Houston during its sign-stealing operation and was identified as a major part of the scheme.

In addition, M.L.B. stripped the Astros of their first- and second-round draft picks for the next two years and fined the team $5 million. The Red Sox, who remain under investigation for similar violations, may soon be penalized, too.

Still, Houston retains its title as the 2017 World Series champion. Presumably, Boston will retain its 2018 title. Would stripping those titles make a difference?

“If the goal was to uphold the honesty and sanctity of the game for a broader community, the ultimate penalty is to vacate the wins and the titles,” said Ann Skeet, a sports and leadership ethicist for the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics at the University of Santa Clara in California. “But there are some built-in conflicts — the commissioner works for the owners. They share revenue. Their fortunes are tied together.”

Students 13 and older are invited to comment. All comments are moderated by the Learning Network staff, but please keep in mind that once your comment is accepted, it will be made public.



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