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The Paris project before PSG, Team Sky's controversy and the week's best sportswriting

It’s Sunday morning and you know what that means… stick the kettle on and feast your eyes on some brilliant long reads.

1. In a bare-bones cafe in the small farming village of Nagrig in the Egyptian Nile Delta, a cheer goes up from the crowd as they watch their old neighbour score his 26th Premier League goal against Newcastle. Just a few years ago, Liverpool forward Mohamed Salah would have been here among them, watching European football with his friends from the village. Back then, everyone would have been supporting different clubs, donning bootleg Manchester United or Chelsea shirts. Now, though, there’s no question who the crowd is rooting for.”

In a country faced with countless setbacks following the Arab Spring uprisings, Edmund Bower explores the ways in which Mohamed Salah’s brilliance for Liverpool brings joy to a small village in Egypt.

EGYPT-MOHAMED-SALAH-FBL Source: AFP/Getty Images

2. “It was just announced on Friday that Jono Gibbes will be leaving at the end of the season, another hole below the waterline for a ship already listing. Given the quality of players leaving, the uncertainty over the future of a number of others, a half-functioning academy and a depleted and obviously agitated management staff, it’s not obscenely pessimistic to suggest that the worst has yet to come for Ulster. That’s a grim thought for fans of the province, and indeed for Irish rugby fans in general.”

‘The Demented Mole’ examines the state of affairs at Ulster following the departure of Less Kiss from his role as Director of Rugby and head coach Jono Gibbes.

Les Kiss Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

3. Among the concerns that have been brought up in recent meetings between fan groups and the club are: the ongoing situation with the move away from the Boleyn Ground, to a stadium they feel is not fit for football; who is actually running the club, given co-chairman David Sullivan’s recent illness and co-chairman David Gold’s age; how much money is actually being invested in the team; what kind of process exists for signing players; ticket prices; media comments by the owners; appropriate recognition of the club’s history…”

In a timely article preluding yesterday’s pitch invasions at the London Stadium, Miguel Delaney explored the reasons why West Ham’s board held meetings with self-professed hooligans.

West Ham United v Burnley - Premier League Source: Christopher Lee

4. “I am proud of every single one of you,” Patric Morrison told his players. He addressed the seniors. “No matter where you go or what you do, I will always be a contact for you.”

Many of the seniors had been teammates since fourth grade. Now they were crying. The face of Webster, the lineman, was red, his body trembling. He struggled to gain enough composure to talk.

“I’m not crying because we lost, because it really doesn’t matter that we lost,” he said.

“I’m crying because it’s over.”

For the New York Times Juliet Macur uncovers a deeply unsettling and simultaneously inspiring story of how American football has helped an Indiana town cope with the pain of addiction and suicide.

5. I read those words again now, as the bricks come tumbling out of the Team Sky edifice, and I wonder: did I do enough? Could I have pressed harder? Should I have somehow spotted something in Brailsford’s manner – a nervous cough, a fleeting shiftiness – that might have brought all this to a head sooner? Maybe there’s a special look a guy gives you when his cycling team is surreptitiously administering banned corticosteroids to his star rider – as a parliamentary committee has now found – and really, really wants you to know about it. Who can say?”

In a week which has thrown up yet another controversy surrounding Team Sky, Jonathan Liew writes of how its fairytale rise and crushing fall can be seen as a sad parable of our own wretched nature.

Le Tour de France 2016 - Stage Twenty One Source: Chris Graythen

6. “BBB and Vytautas are already cozy. “You take care of me in Lithuania, I take care of you in L.A.!” LaVar says, with his signature grin, to Seskus later in practice. The two show off their new handshake for the Ball in the Family cameras: spin around and dap. Pijus Mykolaitis, who handles the team’s media, watches in awe. “This is the best thing to happen to Lithuania in 10 years. This will be so fucking awesome.”

Mirin Fader tells the story of 16-year-old American prodigy LaMelo Ball, who plays basketball for Vytautas Prienai–Birštonas in the Lithuanian Basketball League.

Vytautas Prienai v Zalgiris Kauno Source: Alius Koroliovasalius@fotografas.eu

7. “Six years before Neymar was born, in the summer of 1986, Enzo Francescoli, the Uruguayan forward known as El Principe, blazed the trail when he was snared by another club that believed it could combine the allure of Paris with apparently bottomless wealth to create, almost from scratch, a team of superstars. Before Neymar, before P.S.G., there was Matra Racing de Paris.

“It would be too simple to present the grand project — fueled by Qatari money — at P.S.G. as simply a repeat of Racing’s boom and bust in the 1980s. The differences are too pronounced for the parallel to hold.”

Ahead of PSG’s Champions League last sixteen clash with Real Madrid earlier this week, Rory Smith and Elian Peltier examined the rise and fall of Matra Racing, who — like the Ligue 1 champions — also tried to take Paris by storm many moons ago.

Enzo Francescoli Source: Icon Sport via Getty Images

8. “I’ve never been comfortable sharing much about myself. I turned 29 in September and for pretty much 29 years of my life I have been protective about anything and everything in my inner life. I was comfortable talking about basketball — but that came natural.

“It was much harder to share personal stuff, and looking back now I know I could have really benefited from having someone to talk to over the years. But I didn’t share — not to my family, not to my best friends, not in public. Today, I’ve realized I need to change that.”

In an emotional piece, Cleveland Cavaliers forward Kevin Love talks about his experience of suffering panic attacks, trying to keep his feelings bottled up and of how important it is for everyone to be up-front and honest about their mental health.

2018 NBA All-Star - Media Day Source: NBAE/Getty Images

9. “It is high time doping in any form to win money was made a criminal offence in Britain, because that, of course, is what it is: deception by fraud. Until it is punishable by law, it will never stop. It’s that or go on ignoring our lyin’ eyes while waving our flags and applauding like seals.”

In the wake of Team Sky’s latest storm, Damian Reilly writes about the shame of British sporting heroes in a world of doping and cheating where we sometimes fall into the trap of believing the lucrative lies that unfold right in front of us.

10. “Ichiro appears to be searching for people and stories to fill the place once occupied by his father. He loves old baseball players and their histories. He formed a relationship with former Negro Leagues star Buck O’Neil, and when the Mariners played the Royals in Kansas City, Ichiro took himself to the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum. He didn’t tell anyone, and they wouldn’t have known except for someone in the business office noticing his name on a credit card receipt.

“When Buck died, Ichiro sent flowers to the funeral and wrote a personal check to the museum in his memory. He’s visited the graves of old players whose records he’s broken, George Sisler in suburban St. Louis and Wee Willie Keeler in Queens, and in Japan he visits the grave of the scout who discovered him. He remains connected to his own history.”

Writing for ESPN, Wright Thompson outlines how five days in February reveal what Seattle’s signing of Ichiro could not, as the future Hall of Famer remains haunted by the life he simply cannot escape. 

Seattle Mariners Spring Training Source: Masterpress

‘You’re part of the club forever because you’ve worn that red shirt…it’s just magical’

‘There were some really dark days’ – Niamh Briggs finds a new lease of life

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Aaron Gallagher

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