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Dublin: 5°C Sunday 17 January 2021
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An Italian footballer's stalker hell, the misery of Browns fans and the week's best sportswriting

Stick on the kettle and enjoy the best of what this week had to offer.

Updated 08.44am

1. NO ONE USES the practice mode on Madden. This is because the vast majority of us are reasonable. It seems antithetical to the point of video games, which are an empty-calorie, harmless bit of time wasting. You don’t train in order to enter a bouncy castle. And you don’t practice video games; you play.

This, however, is what 10-year-old Derek Carr liked to do with his brother David.

Baltimore at Oakland Source: Jose Carlos Fajardo

The Ringer’s Kevin Clark on the The Unprecedented Education of Derek Carr

2. Supporting the perennially hapless Cleveland Browns clearly has to be a labor of true love. To stand by their men, who have recorded just one win in their past 26 games, including none so far in their dreadful 2017 campaign, takes a special kind of devotion, so it’s not without good reason that those die-hards who bleed orange and brown are often hailed for being as indomitable as their team is inept.

Ian Chadband charts the perennial misery of devoted Cleveland Browns fans across globe for ESPN

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3. At the end of Dani Foxhoven’s second day and fourth practice with the Russian side FC Energiya Voronezh, she sits down in the grass. A wiry, upbeat brunette with a big grin, she’s feeling good—tired and good. The team is in Belek, Turkey for preseason and she has spent the past hour doing one-touch passes. She’s untying her laces when Vasilich, her 64-year-old coach, charges her, shouting in Russian. He leans down over her, grabs her by the earlobe, and yanks her to her feet. He does not let go of her ear. With his other hand, he open-hand slaps her across the face.

The team translator, a 24-year-old named Tanya whom the club found in the language department at the local university, comes running over. “He wants you to stand up!” she says, fretting and apologetic. “He says, ‘Women should not sit on the ground.’” She explains that sitting on the grass can affect a women’s fertility, that the cold ground is not good for her organs.

Dani looks at Tanya, looks at Vasilich, and says, “Tell him to never lay a hand on me again.”

Sports Illustrated’s Gwendolyn Oxenham investigates the unseen side of women’s soccer

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4. “Shut me down? Shut me down!?!”

Jamal Crawford stares at the sideline, incredulous. It is August on the outskirts of Seattle. In a few months Crawford will debut for the Timberwolves, his seventh team in 18 NBA seasons, expected to do what he’s always done—get irrationally hot irrationally fast. But for now, on a summer Sunday night, in a half-empty college gym that smells of hot dogs and sweat, he is playing for pride. Still, this is his turf—his pro-am, in fact, the appropriately named Crawsover. And some guy on the opposing bench has the temerity to suggest that Crawford can be locked up because, why? He’s too old? Washed up?

If this were 20 years ago, it would be on. Back then Crawford lived to embarrass defenders. Didn’t matter who, where or when. Blow past you, and Crawford might instead pull it back out so he could cross you over a second time. No one was off limits. When he was a 16-year-old at Rainier Beach High, the SuperSonics invited him to an open run, even though he looked 13 and weighed a buck-forty. Jamal? He dribbled down in transition, saw Detlef Schrempf—three-time NBA All-Star Detlef Schrempf, pride of Seattle Detlef Schrempf—and, well, “I can’t even articulate what he did,” Sonics assistant Steve Gordon later told the San Jose Mercury News. “He basically broke Detlef’s feet at half court. We thought Detlef was hurt.”

Chris Ballard with an excellent piece of longform on 18-year veteran Jamal Crawford for Sports Illustrated

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5. Growing up in communist-era Bulgaria, Dimitar Berbatov’s day would begin at 6 a.m. when he queued to buy bread for his family. After that, though, his focus was football and he had a reputation of his own in Blagoevgrad, a town of 70,000 people.

“My friends would play teams from the other tower blocks,” he tells ESPN FC. “They would say: ‘Berba is coming with his team; we need to prepare.’ I was 10. We played six-a-side, which I still play. I had street cred. Like drug dealers. I walked to school with my chest out.”

Dimitar Berbatov chats to ESPN FC’s Andy Mitten about Spurs, Man United, Ronaldo, Messi and Robbie Keane

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6. In 2009, when Naples native Fabio Quagliarella signed a five-year deal to play forward for his hometown club, it seemed life couldn’t get any better for him, nor for arguably Italy’s most passionate football fans. But after only one season, Quagliarella was sent packing from Naples to play for archrival Juventus. The Societa Sportiva Calcio Napoli faithful—once full of unremitting love for their native son—proved they could express their unmitigated hatred with equal passion.

What the fans did not know—what virtually no one, in fact, knew—until earlier this year was the torment Quagliarella was being subjected to during his time with the club.

Kelly Naqi with a fascinating look for Bleacher Report inside the stalker hell of Italian footballer Fabio Quagliarella

Italy: Torino FC v UC Sampdoria - Serie A Source: SIPA USA/PA Images

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