Each week, Luis Miguel Echegaray discusses the latest from the soccer world and shares his opinions, whether you agree with them or not. From standout performances and what you might have missed to what to keep an eye on in the coming days, LME has a few things to say.
On Thursday, Real Madrid officially unveiled their latest star -- and perhaps one of the most important club signings for years to come -- as Bellingham, the 19-year-old prodigious talent, sat in front of the media discussing the reasons for joining Los Blancos and becoming the seventh Englishman to join the club.
"It's a different culture of football, it's a different style," Bellingham said. "So that can maybe give to the players that have only experienced England. Everyone in the national team always wanted me back in England and I appreciate that, but I wanted to get out of my comfort zone. The easiest thing would've been to go back there, but coming to a club the size of Madrid is an opportunity that I had to take."
Jude Bellingham: "I was at the final when Madrid beat Liverpool, that was a huge factor in my decision to join Real." 🏆 pic.twitter.com/RCWVlhCz5l— ESPN FC (@ESPNFC) June 15, 2023
First off, Bellingham's maturity is impressive. At such a young age, he knows who he is -- as a player and a person -- and that's half the battle in succeeding on and off the pitch. The other reason for his maturity is his continental outlook on life, not just his game. Bellingham left Birmingham City for Borussia Dortmund in 2020 as the most expensive 17-year-old in history and three years later, he arrives to Madrid with the mentality of a veteran.
He plays with the creativity of Juan Roman Riquelme, the decision-making of Luka Modric and the dribbling of Luis Figo. His overall game -- from his composure in midfield to his vision going forward -- has a continental approach. There is no anxiety to it. All of this reflects on his decision to join Borussia Dortmund and the Bundesliga, away from the English media and the pressures of the Premier League. Subtly, slowly, like Mr. Miyagi's bonsai trees in "Karate Kid," Bellingham flourished.
What comes next is anyone's guess, but there is no hyperbole when I tell you that this young man can win a Ballon d'Or. Now please, Madrid, stop with the Beatles references.
Jack Grealish: Be you, lad!
As a lifelong Aston Villa fan, it's not easy for me to talk about Grealish without feeling desolation given his move to Manchester City in 2021, so I feel I deserve extra credit for this "Onside." Forget his football, the excellent season he had with Man City or now becoming a historic treble winner. This is about Jack Grealish always being Jack Grealish and why -- in an era of athletes with mundane answers in every interview -- it's refreshing to see someone be themselves and Grealish -- the kid from Solihull who helped his club win the most astonishing of achievements -- is the ultimate example.
On a rainy Monday, as the club paraded their accolades through the streets of Manchester, where Pep Guardiola smoked his cigar, Erling Haaland danced with his shirt off, John Stones sang 2 Unlimited's classic "No Limit" with the Premier League trophy -- it was Grealish who took all the attention. The funny thing is that he doesn't want it. He never does. He wanted to celebrate, and boy did he.
Jack Grealish is a Turkey.. 😂— City Chief (@City_Chief) June 12, 2023
"The turkey needs feeding!"
From almost falling off the victory bus to wearing a construction worker's jacket to screaming at the top of his lungs, "I'm a turkey and the turkey needs feeding!," as Kalvin Phillips obliged by pouring alcohol down his throat, Grealish was putting first-year university students to shame with his antics.
Critics arrived, comparing him to former England international Paul "Gazza" Gascoigne and his eventual issues with alcohol or whether Grealish's place in future squads might be in jeopardy.
Oh, please. Grealish just reached a historic feat of winning the European treble with City (becoming only the second side to do so after Manchester United in 1999). So if he wants to do a real-life version of "The Hangover," then let him. Grealish, the happy-go-lucky local lad who happens to be a professional football player, is having the time of his life.
The USMNT's emphatic victory over Mexico in a Concacaf Nations League semifinal showed many things: the gap in talent between the Americans and their neighbors (Diego Cocca was a terrible choice as Mexico's head coach), how heated this rivalry is given the four red cards Thursday night, the fact that Christian Pulisic needs to leave Chelsea as soon as possible, but most importantly, Concacaf's inability (alongside the Mexican federation) to shut down the disgusting anti-gay chants from Mexican fans.
Yesterday, the game ended four minutes early in stoppage time because of the chants, but that was after multiple warnings and a temporary suspension of play. This chant is not going away unless there are some serious repercussions for Mexico. Empty stadiums? We have passed this point. I am talking about removal of tournaments, specifically the upcoming Gold Cup, empty stadiums in Liga MX and further restrictions. Let's remember this nation will be a co-host in the next World Cup.
Something has to be done. Now.
I'm aware of the argument from the other side. There is a historical and cultural meaning among Mexican and Latin Americans -- that "pu--" is also a general insult, but in the context of a football match, the word is undoubtedly used as an anti-gay slur. It's not enough of an excuse to continue its use. Concacaf must act. Enough of the stadium warnings during matches. The warning has been set, over and over and over again.
Kylian Mbappe, PSG and the saga that never ends
Season after season, the Paris club continue to live in a football version of purgatory where in all the careless spending and the Qatari owners' need to market the brand like a Kardashian, they forget to focus on what's most important: to be a football club.
PSG desperately need a new direction, and the latest Mbappe drama, combined with Lionel Messi's tumultuous exit to MLS, prioritizing star power above investment in local Parisian talent, and the revolving door of new managers, are all reasons why. Qatari ownership should leave the club and allow a new identity, but it's never going to happen given finances in Ligue 1 are difficult to come by. Regardless, they are blind to what's right under their noses. Talented Parisian players -- from Mike Maignan to Moussa Diaby -- left for better opportunities elsewhere.
In fact, Mbappe, who grew up in the suburbs of the French capital -- chose Monaco at 14 years old instead of PSG because he knew it would be difficult to get minutes and notoriety. He ended up at the club eventually, but at a price, one that continues to be a burden today as he has alerted PSG that he won't be taking to the option to extend his contract to 2025, putting them in a predicament: move him on this summer or risk losing him on a free transfer in 2024?
None of this would be an issue if the club paid more attention to what's in their own backyard. Yes, you can buy your superstars, but if your foundation is connected to the city, then everyone -- from ownership to grassroots -- will be better for it.
There's a reason why Dorothy said there's no place like home.
Vinicius Jr and FIFA's anti-racism "plan"
On Thursday, FIFA president Gianni Infantino stated that there will be a special anti-racism committee made up of players who will dictate and suggest tougher punishments for racist and discriminatory behavior in the game. The man to lead the way? Real Madrid's Vinicius.
I appreciate the sentiment, but the reason I place this as an "Offside" is because I hate the fact that Vinicius is the one to do this. Why is it always down to the victim to solve the issue? It's not his job to solve this problem, nor that of anyone who has suffered hatred or discrimination.
True change happens when those not directly affected by racism act to combat it, so here's a thought: Let the FIFA stakeholders take full action. Let those who have never been the target of a racial slur carry the collective action to create change. That's leadership.
Tweet of the week
Are you sure you don't want to go to the World Cup in 2026, Leo? I think you'll still have magic left in the tank, even if it's still a few years away.